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Students Block the Sun

If the architecture students hard at work at Durham Central Park this week don’t get it right, they’ll be the first to know. The leaf-shaped structure they’re building is designed to provide a shady area for park patrons. The scorching sun baking the park with triple-digit temperatures lately has provided a real-world test they just couldn’t get in the classroom.

William Dodge, one of a dozen graduate students working on the project, says the design is innovative, even counterintuitive.

“It’s a shade structure with no roof,” he explains.

See How It Works

In fact, the structure’s modern design is striking in its simplicity. It’s made of a series of 16-foot-tall cypress slats connected to a steel frame. The slats are placed so they filter the sun effectively throughout the day, guaranteeing lots of shade, even in the middle of a very hot summer. As an added bonus, the structure doubles as a stage for concerts and plays in the park.

Laying the Foundation

Students went through a rigorous planning and design process before they began building the structure. They met with city planners, local architects and members of the park’s board of directors, then developed more than a dozen scale models before settling on the final design.

Students carry a steel beam outside Leazer Hall.
Preparing the steel frame turned out to be a heavy-duty task. Photo and rendering courtesy of Evan Lane and William Dodge.

They’ve worked with the city to get permits, raised funds to offset construction costs and spent hours on site, putting it all together. It’s a big job, says Dodge.

“Some parts of the frame weigh 900 or 1,000 pounds,” he says. “Most of the structure has been made by students in the shop, working with a welding gun.”

Theory Versus Reality

The students are receiving guidance from Durham-based architects Randy Lanou and Ellen Cassilly. The summer project—known as a design-build studio—is part of an ongoing effort by the College of Design to provide students with real-world experience.

It’s an effort that meets expectations.

“None of this is theoretical,” Dodge says during a break in construction. “This is reality.”

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  1. I witnessed the participants reaching out for construction materials and donations from NCSU community. Geoffrey Wike’s words below represent our students’ passion and dedication:

    This park is a really great place that is being turned into a much needed performance and play space for its neighborhood. Only a few years ago this park was just another decayed urban space littered with used needles and trash. Through the efforts of the neighborhood and with support from the city, Durham Central Park has changed drastically into a wonderful place for people and children to play and currently includes sculptures, a skate park, and an adjacent farmers’ market and edible garden.
    Our structure is a part of the ongoing change which is part of their overall goal to create a “Wanderland” play area for kids and a place for people to sit, perform, and enjoy the park. Please check out their website to learn more:

  2. What a wonderful project and brilliant idea! I want one of these for our NS State’s JC Raulston Arboretum — right here in beautiful Raleigh, NC! Worth a trip to Durham to see this project…. and I don’t go to Durham for just anything.
    Well done!