Julian Abele portrait
Centennial Spotlights

Julian Abele

Close your eyes, just for a moment, and picture Duke.

You probably imagined Duke Chapel.

It’s fair to say no one person had a greater impact on the look and feel of Duke than the chapel’s chief designer, Julian Francis Abele. Abele was behind not only the 210-foot tower that anchors West Campus, but iconic buildings all over Duke, including many lining the quad that now bears his name.

And yet the contributions of Abele, a Black architect during segregation, were barely known at the time and went largely unmentioned until the 1980s, when Duke students and others brought attention to his work.

Born in 1881 in Philadelphia, Abele was recruited to the architectural firm of Horace Trumbauer, where he became chief designer in 1909. He designed a home in New York City for James Buchanan Duke, who was impressed enough to hire the firm to begin planning for what would become Duke’s campus.

Though it’s unclear if Abele ever visited Duke, his architectural skill and imagination is manifest all over campus. He redesigned East Campus, including the creation of Baldwin Auditorium.

Cameron Indoor Stadium was his. His final design was the Allen Building, completed after his death in 1950.

A portrait of Abele was placed in the lobby of the Allen Building in 1988. And in 2016, the West Campus quad was renamed in his honor, with a marker on the quad’s busiest pathway providing a constant reminder of Abele’s crucial role in Duke’s signature visual style.

Plaque dedicating Abele Quad