Duke opened the doors of its newest building last month.
The Wilkinson engineering building is named after the Wilkinson family. Jerry Wilkinson, Pratt '67, has been a long-time donor and philanthropic presence at Duke. Planning for the $115 million building began in 2008, and the project accelerated in 2016, when Vinik Dean of Engineering Ravi Bellamkonda arrived.
Construction began in 2017, wrote Mitchell Vann, director of facilities, infrastructure and safety for Pratt, in an email.
“Duke Engineering is undergoing an ambitious reimagining of our undergraduate and graduate students’ learning experience, as well as our faculty's ability to collaborate with each other across disciplines,” Bellamkonda wrote in an email. “Everything about the building was thoughtfully architected to encourage people to mingle, share ideas and work together to solve societal challenges.”
One subtle yet striking feature of the Wilkinson building is the amount of natural light it receives. Near the entrance of the building is a tall stairway which allows light from a skylight to seep through all five levels.
Despite the large number of windows, the building is still environmentally friendly.
“We’re proud to have built a facility that reflects Duke’s commitment to sustainability—we expect the Wilkinson Building to be LEED Silver with a chance at achieving Gold,” Vann wrote.
The building contains energy-efficient glass, a roof color designed to require less energy and to reflect the sun’s heat, and a lab exhaust system based on intensive wind model tunneling.
The Wilkinson building is built to allow interdisciplinary collaboration, with four active-learning classrooms equipped with whiteboard walls and reconfigurable furniture. The building also has three research “neighborhoods” that bring faculty together to focus on health and innovation, environmental health and sustainability, and advanced computing and intelligent systems.
According to Vann, more than 60 classes and labs are taking place at the Wilkinson building this semester.
“The Duke Engineering curriculum is increasingly focused around creative problem-solving, where we bring teams of students together to design solutions to authentic engineering challenges,” Bellamkonda wrote. “The Wilkinson Building greatly expands our capacity to do that, with new teaching and design labs where students can build prototypes and fine-tune projects both in and out of class.”
First-year Caroline Wayhas class in the Wilkinson building’s auditorium this semester.
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“The auditorium we’re in is really nice. I can see the screen well, and I can see the professor well,” Way said. “I also am glad to have a class in person, and to have a space where everyone in our class can spread out safely and we can all still come and see the lecture with other people and not on Zoom.”
Way is optimistic that the Wilkinson building will not be known as just another engineering building, but as a place for everybody.
“I do think [the space] will help bring people together,” she said. “I hope it will be a place that will feel welcoming for everyone, I'm not sure just yet if it is going to end up being somewhere where only people in Pratt come.”
Aside from the environmentally-friendly design and spacious classrooms, Duke plans to open a coffee shop on the first floor.
Leon Grodski de Barrera, co-owner of Durham coffee shop Cocoa Cinnamon and Little Waves Coffee Roaster, wrote in an email that Little Waves will provide the coffee and the Cocoa Cinnamon team will coordinate on the feel of the location.
“[Bellamkonda] specifically stated that he wanted the ‘best coffee on campus’ to be in the Wilkinson Building,” Vann said. “Due to the pandemic, the opening will need to be delayed, but we look forward to that happening as soon as we can safely do so.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the coffee shop in Wilkinson would be a branch of Durham coffee shop Cocoa Cinnamon. This article has been updated with information from Cocoa Cinnamon's co-owner, reflecting that the coffee shop will not be an official Cocoa Cinnamon branch.