Duke University has a unique building style on campus that integrates its historical Gothic and Georgian architecture with modern design. This design style has evolved over time from the Duke Chapel and Duke’s East Campus to the Brodhead Center and Grainger Hall. Regardless of the design style, sustainability is incorporated from the glass and steel that make the walls, to the bike racks that are close to doors, to the trees that surround the entire building.

photo of Grainger Hall

Duke University's Grainger Hall


Duke follows Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards, with the goal of LEED Silver for all new construction and renovations. As of spring 2021, Duke had over 51 buildings on campus that are LEED certified or registered for certification. This represents over 30% of the university's total square footage.

Green Building: Past, Present, and Future

In 1993, Duke adopted its first Design Guidelines, which contained elements of sustainable design. This guideline has been updated over the past couple decades to include language that promotes LEED guidelines and life cycle cost analysis.

In 2019, Duke University adopted its High Performance Building Framework, which creates a standard for new construction and major renovation on campus. This framework takes a holistic view of green building at Duke by outlining an improved process for planning campus buildings, a rigorous sustainable design standard, and a new tracking and rating system to examine how facilities perform in the long-term. 

Some examples of sustainable buildings on campus include the French Family Science Center (LEED Silver), School of Nursing (LEED Silver), Duke Lemur Center (LEED Silver), East Campus Steam Plant (LEED Gold), Marine Lab’s Pilkey Research Laboratory (LEED Gold), and Grainger Hall (LEED Platinum).

Photo of Orrin Pilkey Research Lab

Photo of the Orrin Pilkey Laboratory at the Duke University Marine Lab.


Sustainable Building 101

Sustainable design on campus helps Duke reduce energy and water use, builds community within and around buildings, fosters healthy ecosystems locally, and saves money for Duke University.

From the planning of the building to cutting the ribbon on opening day, Duke considers how sustainability can be incorporated.

When siting the building, Duke aims to preserve Duke’s natural landscapes and minimize environmental impact from tree protection zones during construction to planting native species after construction concludes.

With Duke’s goal of 30% energy use reduction in new construction and major renovations compared to a baseline building, selection of materials such as locally sourced wood and high-efficiency lighting and equipment is of utmost importance.

Sustainable building goes beyond the materials used to construct the buildings to include the human experience. This means the natural light that floods work and study spaces, open common areas to foster community, trees and greenery to express the relationship between people and nature, and bike racks to encourage sustainable commuting.

Photo of Brodhead Center exterior

Duke's Brodhead Center for Student Life


Your Role in Greening Campus Buildings

Sustainable construction is only one part of the sustainability of buildings on campus. People living and working in those buildings also play a major role in the success of Duke. For those who want to take sustainability to the next level in their workplace, lab, classroom, or dorm, Sustainable Duke has created a Green Certification program. This program provides a checklist of actions that you can take to make the space you live and work more sustainable. Below is a list of these programs with additional resources.