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Duke Names Quad in Honor of Julian Abele

This and other steps recognize the contributions of the African-American architect

Abele Quad

From the steps leading to Clocktower Quad to those leading to Davison Quad, the new Abele Quad houses more than two dozen academic and residential buildings. Photos by Chris Hildreth/Duke Photography

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To recognize the contributions of Julian Abele, the African-American architect of Duke University’s original campus, the university will name the main quadrangle encompassing the original academic and residential buildings Abele Quad and will take several other steps to make Abele’s role at Duke more prominent, President Richard H. Brodhead announced Tuesday.

The university’s Board of Trustees approved the naming at its meeting last weekend.

Abele, who in the 1920s was the chief designer of the Philadelphia architectural firm of Horace Trumbauer, played a central role in the creation of Duke’s East and West Campuses and continued to contribute to the design of the growing campus until the 1950s. His contributions, however, weren’t widely known on campus until the mid-1980s, when Duke students and others brought attention to his role in the launch of the new university that was established in what was at the time North Carolina forest.

Since then, Abele’s work at Duke has been recognized on campus and in national publications. In 1988, his portrait was placed in the lobby of the Allen Building, the university’s main administration building, and in 2015 another portrait was hung in the newly renovated Gothic Reading Room in Rubenstein Library, joining former Duke presidents, board chairs and university dignitaries, including historian John Hope Franklin.  Further recognition of Abele was raised in the recent campus debates on racial issues.

Abele Quad goes from the steps leading up to Clocktower Quad to the steps leading up to Davison Quad, and north to the Chapel Quad -- the principal gathering space for celebrations, protests, concerts and ceremonies, in addition to being the busiest portion of West Campus. More than 30 buildings and spaces designed by Abele are now part of Abele Quad, including West Union and the Perkins and Rubenstein Libraries, which have undergone major renovations in recent years to transform his iconic Gothic designs into modern, state-of-the-art educational and gathering spaces.

Also included is the Allen Building, the university’s main administration building and Abele’s last work that was completed after his death in 1950. A marker designating Abele Quad will be placed on the most-trafficked pathway at the center of the quad between the academic and residential sections.

“Julian Abele brought the idea of Duke University to life,” said Brodhead. “It is an astonishing fact that, in the deepest days of racial segregation, a black architect designed the beauty of this campus. Now, everyone who lives, works, studies and visits the heart of Duke’s campus will be reminded of Abele’s role in its creation.”

Abele quad in front of the Library

The Abele Quad is at the center of West Campus' academic and student life.

Last fall, Brodhead appointed a committee, chaired by Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, to consider how the university might best recognize Abele’s historic role at Duke. The 11-member committee included Durham architect Phil Freelon, lead architect of the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.; Dean of Humanities Rick Powell; Nasher Museum director Sarah Schroth; University Archivist Valerie Gillispie; professor of art, art history and visual studies Annabel Wharton; Duke Chapel sexton Oscar Dantzler; trustee Michael Marsicano; and students Michael Norwalk, Keizra Mecklai, Alisha Hines and Seth Pearson.

Map of the newly named Abele Quad

Map of the newly named Abele Quad

The committee reviewed the history of Abele’s contributions and consulted with surviving members of the Abele family to develop a comprehensive plan for the commemoration.

In addition to the designation Abele Quad, a plaque explaining the architect’s role in Duke --  and American -- history will be placed in Duke Chapel, the most celebrated of his designs, and his name and Trumbauer’s will be added to the cornerstone of the chapel.

Duke will also purchase the rights to the Odili Odita mural “Shadow and Light (for Julian Francis Abele)” and make it a permanent installation at the Nasher Museum of Art. The mural is currently a temporary installation at the Nasher that is scheduled to be removed in three years.

Also based on the committee’s recommendations, the university will commission a biography of Abele, and fund the annual event celebrating African-American student achievement in his honor.

Below: "Shadow and Light," a mural made in honor of Julian Abele, will become part of the Nasher Museum's permanent collection.

Shadows and Fog