President Brodhead's Message to the Duke Community on Julian Abele

Julian Abele. Photo courtesy Duke University Archives

To the Duke Community:

At its meeting this past weekend, the Duke University Board of Trustees unanimously and enthusiastically voted to name the main quadrangle on Duke’s West Campus after architect Julian F. Abele.

One of the most astonishing facts of Duke history is that during the darkest days of racial segregation, an African American designed the campus of the new Duke University. As a principal architect in the firm of Horace Trumbauer, Julian Abele was the lead designer of every building of Gothic Duke, including the iconic Duke Chapel. But Abele’s role remained largely invisible to the Duke community at the time, and only became widely known in the late 1980s.

In recent years, discussion has grown as to how this extraordinary legacy should be honored. After campus-wide discussions last fall, I asked a task force chaired by Executive Vice President Tallman Trask and including faculty, students, staff and Durham architect Philip Freelon, co-lead architect on the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C., to consider the question and make recommendations. The trustees considered these recommendations last weekend.

An early suggestion was to name the renovated West Union for Abele. But as the committee noted, except for three exterior walls, this building has been extensively transformed from Abele’s original design. The committee and trustees were also mindful that Abele’s accomplishment was not any single building, but the whole of the campus—30 buildings in all.

Accordingly, a marker in the center of West Campus will bear the name Abele Quad and inform viewers that every building they now see is the work of Abele’s hand. A plaque inside the Duke Chapel vestibule will explain Julian Abele’s history and accomplishments in more detail. Since much of the Duke community passes through this space almost every day, and since this stretch has been  the historic site for broad community gatherings from joyful celebrations to solemn observances, the recognition of Julian Abele will henceforward be woven deep into the experience of Duke.

More information can be found here:


Dick BrodheadPresident, Duke University