Construction never stops: Duke breaks ground on new alumni building

<p>The Karsh Alumni and Visitor’s Center is set to open in the summer of 2019.</p>

The Karsh Alumni and Visitor’s Center is set to open in the summer of 2019.

Striking a balance between nostalgia and the future, the Karsh Alumni and Visitor’s Center broke ground on its West Campus location.

Located between Chapel Drive and Duke University Road, the new facility will feature four buildings, hosting meeting spaces for visitors and graduates in addition to a new office for the Duke Alumni Association. Rather than serving as the exclusive home for alumni activities, the center is envisioned to be a kind of centralized hub from where graduates and visitors can branch off and explore campus, explained Scott Greenwood, chief operating officer of the Alumni Association. 

“Our job in Alumni Affairs is to engage alumni back into the life of the institution, and so to do that we don't want them just off to a building on the side where they're not interacting with anybody else,” Greenwood said. “We want them wandering through the West Union and eating and talking with students, so I think for us this is a place [that can serve as a hub]—it is not an end destination.”

Opening in the summer of 2019, the center’s plans include several individual venues, such as a coffee shop for visitors to sit down and converse, as well as a larger event space for planned activities, he noted. The planners have also included interactive panels and displays across the visitor center that will showcase old newspaper headlines and maps of the University’s campus in prior years.

Greenwood described these features as an opportunity to both reflect on Duke’s past as well as its evolution in the years since.

“This [will be] an interactive sort of chance for history, but also to look at where Duke has come and where it is going," Greenwood said. "Duke is such a forward moving institution that nostalgia is probably less important here and more about where it's going to be.”

For Rebecca Stackhouse, Trinity ’14, the center will complement the sense of nostalgia she feels when visiting.

“I think alums are seeking that feeling of nostalgia—it's a chance for us to relive and reflect on our time at Duke in a way that doesn't happen in our daily lives,” she said. “Even though campus buildings may change, the feel of the campus remains the same. Events like Homecoming are also a great chance to reconnect with friends who now live all over the country.”

Although the center is primarily tailored toward visitors and alumni, Greenwood said that he and his staff also want undergraduates and other students to take advantage of its open spaces.

“We will make it a place where we hope students will want to come. There will be places where they can study,” he said.

Greenwood explained that linking undergraduates to the center would also liven the alumni experience, since visitors are often eager to share in student accomplishments.

“If you're an alum at Duke, the pride you have in the institution is often because of what today's current students are doing,” he said. “So we want all of them to meet [students] because [they’re] amazing. And if an alum talks to a student, they're going to walk away feeling better about the institution because of all of the things you guys are engaged with.”

Also advocates of student engagement, Bruce Karsh, Trinity ’77, and his wife Martha Karsh have provided the center with a major gift toward its construction, for which they will be recognized in the center’s name.

As an alumnus, Karsh sat on the Board of Trustees and was previously been chair of the Duke Management Company (DUMAC), which manages Duke's endowment. To recognize his contributions, Duke awarded him the University Medal in 2016, its highest honor.

“Karsh has been an amazing volunteer for Duke and has given up so much of his time and obviously of his financial ability,” Greenwood said. “The family really wanted to honor his contributions to the [University] and the [University] wanted to honor him [for his help]."

The namesake gift comes as a new addition to the project, which was scheduled to begin construction in fall 2016. Greenwood noted that this delay was not a major concern and was set to ensure that the entire project was fully funded in addition to making last minute changes to the center’s plans.

Designing the center, he explained, was a joint effort between the Board of Trustees and the University’s own campus design committee. Architecturally, the center will feel like a mix between Duke’s classic and modern features.

“We don’t want to make this feel like any office type building that you could go to. We want it to feel like when you walk in, you say ‘oh yeah, this feels like Duke,’” Greenwood said. “So it will have the arches and in a way that will not be directly the same, but reminiscent so that people will know they're in a Duke building.”


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