Duke Sculpture Park

Duke University, Durham, North Carolina, USA

Duke University’s 8000-acre campus is renowned on many levels—its breathtaking neo-gothic architecture, the Olmsted brothers’ splendid landscape plan, and an edenic setting within the greater matrix of the Duke Forest. Campus life shifts between East and West, with the Olmsted Brothers’ designed Campus Drive as the meandering link between.

Working with the conditions of the natural topography, buildings, and heritage of the prestigious university, a series of key moments helped alleviate and restore the site into a new centerpiece for the Arts District.  Today, the Nasher Plaza is the first phase in a longer vision that connects the museum to the surrounding topography through art, encouraging visitors to explore the previously unforeseen landscape beyond the museum’s walls. The design includes two core values – inviting the campus into the space and extending the museum out into the landscape. The newly made plaza is in a direct relationship with the existing Rubenstein arts plaza, now a duologue of spaces that can be used throughout the whole day. Away from a previously car-dominated drop-off slope, the intervention creates a pedestrian-friendly, soft and celebrated arrival into the museum that works with the topography to encourage the museum to flow outside of the transparent walls.


The contemporary and minimalistic design of the plaza was chosen to differentiate but not compete with the traditional architecture seen throughout the Duke campus. Bluestone paving, famously used throughout the campus in an Ashler Pettern, has been re-invented in two complementary modules. Blurring the lines between interior and exterior, the existing courtyard paving now extends beyond the walls of the museum, creating connections with the exterior walkways around the museum.

Within the Plaza, the most impressionable element is the forty-five feet long and over five feet wide sculptural bench is an inviting opportunity for interaction. A perfectly horizontal datum point sitting across the sloping site, the bench provides the keen viewer a subtle experience of the level changes in the plaza. Moreover, with a clear outlook of both the courtyard and the soft, undulating landscape of the knoll beyond, the horizontality accentuates the dialogue between architecture and the landscape – framing the elevation of the pine veil behind.

Photography: Sterling E. Stevens

The Three Valleys Masterplan:
In 2015, West 8 was commissioned to envision a world-class sculpture park set amidst the 140 acres of beautiful creeks, valleys and forests that unites Duke’s two campuses and borders Campus Drive. West 8’s vision plan defined the sculpture park’s extents, including features such as an improved campus drive, Museum gardens and plazas, sculpture slope, valley walkways, and a logic for stitching the Park into the greater University Campus. This plan, “The Three Valleys: An Iconic Sculpture Park at Duke University” brings identity and conceptual vision to the hidden landscape that lies at the heart of Duke University’s Campus. At the heart of the Sculpture Park lies the Nasher Museum of Art and the design vision positions the building’s interior courtyard and five gallery layout to great effect. Phase One of the Sculpure Park opened in 2019.


Duke University