Karsh Alumni & Visitors Center

A versatile, flexible meeting and event facility at Duke University, Durham NC

Flexible rooms for the Karsh Alumni & Visitors Center

Education & Research


The teams at Luke Hughes and Centerbrook Architects first worked together on the Keystone Academy library project in Beijing, for which Centerbrook were the design architects. When Mark Simon of Centerbrook and Luke and their respective teams met up again in late 2018, Mark and his team were in advanced schematic design for the new-build of the Karsh Alumni & Visitors Center at Duke University, in which they intended creating a number of versatile and flexible rooms to accommodate multiple uses for the client, Duke University's Alumni Association.



A Visitor, Alumni and Event Space

The Karsh Alumni & Visitors Center, based around an oak-gabled cloister that relates to much of the architecture of the Duke University campus,  was conceived as a multi-function facility, supporting meetings, events and visitor needs for multiple faculties through a series of flexible room types.

With this in mind Mark Simon and Alan Paradis at Centerbrook designed the building to connect  prestige meeting, event, boardroom and other flexible room spaces to the south east with an existing stone administrative office to the south west. A two-storey administrative block sits to the north west.

Contemporary glulam arches, which reduce in scale as they progress towards the centre of the site frame the main hall and event space, carry consistency through to the Moyle boardroom and the louvred glazing to the arched cloisters and courtyard beyond.

It is a bold, striking and functional building with a contemporary take on the traditional Duke campus aesthetic.

Versatility and Flexibility

Creating easily adaptable configurations in a busy commercial space is never easy, but by being involved early with the design process, the Luke Hughes team were able to prove that the multi-faceted interior layouts required were not only possible, but also achievable within the client’s budget.

The team at Luke Hughes proposed a series of versatile and flexible room layouts for the event hall, boardroom and main meeting lobby and worked closely with Centerbrook and Duke Facilities, and later with Duke’s appointed vendor.

From the outset the space planning of storage for folding timber tables and stacking timber chairs was going to be a key consideration and, in the end, it was proving that the storage and budget were both achievable that won the day.



In addition to standard Luke Hughes folding timber tables and stacking timber chairs, a new sliding sofa was designed for the Moyle Boardroom and the Pitts Family atrium.

To accommodate the contract task chairs the client wished to use in the boardroom we designed and engineered an extra-long 84" custom Luke Hughes Athena folding timber table, which helped maximise capacity in by allowing 3 task chairs to fit between each set of legs.

The folding timber tables in the Moyle Boardroom enable the space to be completely reconfigured with the Athena 84" tables fitting onto a custom trolley for safe transport and storage.

A combination of custom 36" square fixed-leg Athen tables and a set of Athena 72 folding timber tables accompanied by Folio stacking readers chairs upholstered in Duke blue Andrew Muirhead sustainable leather provide flexible elegance in the Pitts Family Atrium.

These are complemented by a set of customised Curvy high-density stacking chairs in the Events pavilion. Working directly with the factory, we customised the back and seats to provide a unique combination of finish and fabric that matches the timber folding tables and stacking timber chairs.

After nearly ten months in the making, the project came together on budget and on time for the inauguration ceremony in the late summer of 2019.

Enjoy the article? Delve deeper into Luke Hughes & Company’s place in the Arts and Crafts tradition with the fascinating new book 'Furniture in Architecture' . Available through Thames & Hudson 

Photographs courtesy of and copyright Peter Aaron/OTTO

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