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the forest at duke commons

project story

Begun under a previous administration, the project initially was designed to improve common amenities in a way that also would express in physical form the Forest at Duke’s identity as a vibrant, active place where intellectual life is important. New leadership continued this focus, additionally implementing an operational transition towards a hospitality model to give residents a more custom, individualized experience.

The primary challenge was to completely transform and modernize the existing commons areas – club, lounge, dining, café, library – to support the original goals as well as the operational transition, and to attract new residents. With a population coming largely from retirees from nearby universities and nationally-known health care centers, expectations for both service and environment were high.

A small expansion straightened the angled façade and provided needed square footage for a reconfiguration and relocation of key spaces – library, living room, bar/lounge, and billiards room –   to flank the new entry. Functional areas are merged, encouraging communal gathering and use throughout the day and evening. Significant study led to a reimagined dining facility with multiple service options and completely transformed kitchen and dining spaces.

In response to the owner’s goals, the design supports social interaction, delivering a sense of comfort and belonging but with a fresh, forward-looking edge Bringing sources and strategies from their hospitality experience, the team worked with the client to develop a tiered budget for materials and furnishings, facilitating future refreshes that will help the community stay fresh and current.


Location: Durham, North Carolina
Square footage: 57,000
Services: architecture, interior design, ffe