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Julian Abele

Julian Abele

The African-American Architect Behind Duke University’s Distinct Look

Long before the first African-American students were allowed to enroll at Duke University, an African American played an integral role in the design of Duke's campuses.

Julian Abele was the chief designer and draftsman at Philadelphia-based Horace Trumbauer, Architect, the firm responsible for creating the Duke campus we know today. Abele, also the first black architecture student at University of Pennsylvania, helped design Duke's most well-known landmarks, such as Duke Chapel, Rubenstein Library, and Wallace Wade Stadium. 

Despite Abele's influence, original drawings of the campus were credited to the Horace Trumbauer firm. Abele only started signing his work after the death of the firm's namesake founder in 1938.

Duke students rediscovered Abele in 1986, sparking interest in the legacy of the talented African-American architect who received little attention for his accomplishments during his lifetime. This past December, Abele's portrait was placed in the Gothic Reading Room in Rubenstein Library, alongside former Duke presidents and university dignitaries. 

"Julian Abele envisioned the physical world of Duke University," President Richard Brodhead said in a news statement in December 2015. "It is time to ensure that his legacy is clearly known so that future generations of students and faculty can be inspired by his genius."

In 2016, the university renamed the main quad encompassing the original academic and residential buildings in Abele's honor. Abele Quad goes from the steps of Clocktower Quad to the steps leading to Davison Quad, then north to Chapel Quad -- a central space on West Campus used for celebrations, protests, and ceremonies.

Scroll down to view Abele's original drawings and current photos of each Duke landmark. To see more original sketches of Duke University's campuses and to learn more about Abele, visit Duke University Libraries' digital collections and university archives.

An aerial drawing of Duke's West Campus:

Julian Abele 1 

 Duke Chapel, which was completed in 1932:

Julian Abele 2

The original David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, completed in 1928:

Julian Abele 3

Baldwin Auditorium, on Duke's East Campus, was first used in 1927:

Julian Abele 4

Wallace Wade Stadium, home of the Blue Devils since 1929:

Julian Abele 5

Drawings courtesy of Duke University Libraries; photos by Discover Durham, Duke Photography, and Advanced Aerial Photography.


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