Doorways For the Future

Updating West Campus doors means balancing progress with staying true to the past

Duke Facilities Management Program Manager Belle Farish stands in front of a repaired door on the Social Sciences Building.
Duke Facilities Management Program Manager Belle Farish stands in front of a repaired door on the Social Sciences Building. Photo by Stephen Schramm.

The doorways leading from the Social Sciences Building to Abele Quad on West Campus are set in peaked, limestone archways, decorated with carvings of flowers.

Belle Farish, project manager for Duke Facilities Management Department, can appreciate the doorways’ beauty. But she also sees why they can make the job of replacing them tricky.

“At this period in its life, the limestone is delicate,” Farish said, mentioning just one of the complicating factors for any work to be done inside the doorway. “And it would be costly to replace.”

This summer, Farish is overseeing the West Campus Main Door Project, which will replace some of the entry doors, on several West Campus buildings with, in some cases, new ones. The result will be doors with standardized hardware, enhanced security features and improved accessibility, waterproofing and insulation.  

But as with anything involving West Campus’ distinct neo-gothic architecture, the project is no easy task. The work of addressing the needs of the buildings’ future while accounting for the character of their past must be done while they’re still being used in the present. 

The first phase of the project, which should be complete by early August, includes replacing two sets of double doors on the Social Sciences Building, which was built in 1931. The list of doors to be replaced in future phases is still being finalized.

“The problem is that these doors are all unique,” Farish said.

The doors are also thick. One building's front door is nearly three inches thick and made of solid oak. Instead of hinges, the weight of the doors now rest on floor-mounted pivots. They’re expected to last roughly 75 years.

“At Duke, we like things with long life cycles,” Farish said.

And the lives of the old doors aren’t finished. Once removed, Farish said they’ll be saved for an as-of-yet-undetermined future use.

At the Social Sciences Building, the old double doors reached to the top of the arched doorway. When the project is finished, oak transoms will hang above both sets of two rectangular doors, making the building more energy efficient by cutting down on the amount of heating and cooling loss. The new design also removes the center mullion that stood between each set of doors, leaving more room for traffic to flow through the doorway.

But the most important feature of the new doors is that they won’t alter the character of the buildings.

“This is your first impression, this is your first connection when you walk into the building,” Farish said. “Each door opening, each portal is incredibly important. You have to treat these with a lot of sensitivity.”