Despite widespread criticism of the Physics Building and its facilities, a new space is not at the top on the University’s list of priorities.
Despite widespread criticism of the Physics Building and its facilities, a new space is not at the top on the University’s list of priorities.

Although the physics department will eventually be able to call a new building home, plans for construction are not in the University’s immediate trajectory.

Duke’s current plans call for an entirely new building rather than renovations to the existing one. The current Physics Building has drawn criticism for both aesthetic and practical reasons, but sufficient funds have not yet been provided for construction. Funding for the project is being raised as part of the Duke Forward capital campaign, noted Paul Manning, director of the Duke Facilities Office of Project Management.

“I would be extremely happy to tell you we’re going to go ahead [and build], but I do understand that trying to find money takes time,” said Haiyan Gao, physics department chair and Henry Newson professor of physics.

Over the spring and summer, University architects conducted a study to determine the feasibility of building on different sites. The area between Gross Hall and French Family Science Center was ultimately chosen as the best option, Gao said.

The problems of the current building are both aesthetic and technical. Described by Gao in the physics department’s 2011 newsletter as “old and unattractive,” it is the oldest building on Science Drive, built in 1948 and expanded in 1963.

The building’s laboratories have proven particularly inadequate, Gao said.

“We just don’t have very good quality lab space, and it’s detrimental to the research of the colleagues already here, but we’re also trying to recruit outstanding faculty to our department,” Gao noted. “If we don’t have high quality space to offer that other places have, do you think we’ll be attractive?”

She also noted the building’s lack of space for interaction and conversation, citing the many angles and dearth of open areas.

“That’s important—the kind of space where people can run into each other, not run into corners,” she said.

It is not only physics faculty who have found shortcomings with the building. Physics and math teacher John Burk, Trinity ’98, cited Duke’s Physics Building in a blog post as an example of how a college’s physics building tends to be “the ugliest building on campus,” and current students echo the sentiment.

Physics graduate student Jonah Bernhard called the building’s design “strange,” noting the odd placement of windows, the narrow hallways and worn carpets.

“The place is archaic,” said freshman Zach Ford, who has two classes in the building. “We need white boards [rather than chalk boards].”

Also unsatisfied with the building’s design is freshman Anne Talkington.

“It’s frustrating that not all the hallways are connected, so you can go up or down the stairs and be on the right floor but still not able to get to the right classroom,” she said.

Junior Kushal Seetharam, president of the Duke Society of Physics Students, also wrote in an email Sunday that the building was in need of a makeover, specifically citing the bathrooms.

Despite the widespread criticism of the building’s qualities, however, there is not yet a concrete plan for construction of the new facility due to the lack of funds.

“If you know anyone who wants to donate, let me know,” Gao said.