Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects designed the twelve-acre Duke University Water Reclamation Pond site to meet the University’s mission in support of the following criteria:

Design Excellence

The design balances formal and informal elements to ensure that the pond seamlessly mediates both its natural and cultural contexts. The northern edge of the pond is designed as a successional woodland and the south edge introduces wetland shelves facilitating multiple access points, views, and experiences for visitors. Diverse plantings along the pond edge, carefully chosen to withstand fluctuations in water level, provide resilient beauty as well as significant ecological and hydrological function. The pavilion and boardwalk bring structure to the water’s edge. Along with the arcing bridge that responds to the more formal elliptical edge of the forebay, these elements offer strategic views and opportunities for visitors to enjoy access and proximity to the water. A prominent elevation gauge located on the pavilion piles encourages visitors to consider the rise and fall of the pond water surface, which fluctuates up to 4-feet during typical storm cycles. Throughout the landscape, paths are carefully and gracefully graded to ensure universal accessibility and to facilitate views and recreation opportunities for the whole community. From a historical perspective, the sensitive and multilayered design also fulfills the original 1920’s Olmsted Brothers vision for the campus which included a prominent pond at the site of the current Duke Pond.

Environmental Stewardship

Campus cooling infrastructure currently uses 182 million gallons of municipal water each year. The pond is on target to reduce potable water use to 39 million gallons annually by 2020.

Feeding into one of America’s most endangered rivers, Duke Pond now plays a critical role in cleaning stormwater before slowly releasing it downstream. The ridge that holds the edge of the historic campus sends water into the Cape Fear River and Neuse River watersheds. Approximately 35 percent of streams and 27 percent of estuaries in the Cape Fear Basin are impaired. The Neuse River was listed in the last decade as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers due to municipal and agricultural pollution. Ongoing monitoring has shown that Duke Pond reduces the flow of sediment, nitrogen, and phosphorus to downstream areas by between 54 and 82 percent, as averaged across a range of conditions.

The lush, vegetated edge planted with trees, shrubs, and over 40 herbaceous plant species (emergent, wetland, and upland) is carefully calibrated to respond to fluctuations in the water level depending on rainfall and campus demand. These plants tolerate both hot, dry summers and soaking wet conditions. Through newly created habitat, the site has become a model for biodiversity, supporting numerous species of birds, insects, fish, and mammals. Bald cypress are also featured prominently to stabilize wetland shelves, and their cypress knees will provide visual interest as the landscape matures.

A thoughtful use of grading saved as many existing trees as possible, maintaining the important role forests play in improving water quality. Harvested timber was milled locally for the pond’s wood structures and cladding, decking, handrails, and hardwood mulch at paths and around plantings on site. Leftover lumber was designated for additional construction projects across campus. Local Duke Stone was harvested from the University’s private quarry and used thoughtfully across the site.

Education and Student Life

Formally a disused, disconnected, and unhealthy site, the new landscape is now deeply integrated into the daily rituals and activities of campus life. The landscape design creates connections to the University community maximizing its potential as a recreational and educational amenity. A major path through the site facilitates strong connectivity to the heart of the campus for cyclists and pedestrians. The pavilion, boardwalk, nearly mile of paths, amphitheater with lawn seating, overlook, and bridge provide diverse opportunities to interact with the pond and landscape. The site has become a place of respite for students, faculty, and staff who use the pond to study or have a quiet moment outside. The Nichols School of the Environment monitors the functionality of the pond and faculty and students are using it for ongoing research projects. Duke Pond has become an oft-referenced model of multi-functional infrastructure by engineers and designers from other municipalities and universities.

Working within the constraints of topography and existing utilities, the landscape architect succeeded in artfully balancing ecological services and infrastructural needs, while creating a beautiful landscape for the enjoyment of the University and the greater community.

Other designers involved in the design of landscape
Mark Hough, FASLA, University Landscape Architect

Project location
Duke University
Durham, North Carolina 27708
United States

Design year: 2010 through 2016
Year Built: 2016


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