Buildings in the Warehouse District look mostly the same.
Low in height and uniformly brick — many were once storage tobacco warehouses turned into offices and apartments.
But that uniformity is changing.
In March, construction began on the first buildings of the ambitiously-named Innovation District. Two modern, seven-story buildings will rise there — hoping to lure up-and-coming science and technology companies to Durham’s downtown core.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The firm designing that transformation — one that’s been based in the Warehouse District for 20 years, Duda/Paine Architects.
Founded in 1997 by architects Jeffrey Paine and Turan Duda, the duo’s firm has been based in Durham long before the renaissance of downtown. It made its name designing buildings outside of the Triangle, but now it’s taking part in its hometown’s transformation.
“Working in this area is kind of a new thing,” Paine said. “Ten years ago people didn't know that much about us. I have to say, (colleagues) have whispered in my ears for years, ‘why don't we do more work local?’”
BASED IN DURHAM, WORKING ELSEWHERE
Paine and Duda started the company that bears their names after working together for 15 years at the famed architect Cesar Pelli’s firm in New Haven, Connecticut.
Pelli, who serves as a mentor to the firm’s founders, has designed notable buildings around the world — from the Bank of America Corporate Center in uptown Charlotte to the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which were the tallest buildings in the world until 2004.
Duda/Paine started out with just three employees. They had no work to start and were entering national design competitions hoping to nab contracts. They quickly began receiving a steady stream of national projects, building large commercial towers and office campuses across the South in Austin, Texas, Atlanta and Charlotte.
But it was Duke University that brought their work to the Bull City. Before starting the firm in Durham, Paine and Duda worked on Duke projects, such as the Schwartz-Butters Athletic Center and an addition to Cameron Indoor Stadium with Pelli’s firm.
“They are among the group that has done the most work on campus,” said Paul O. Manning, director of Duke’s Office of Project Management. “We’ve known them since the ’90s, when they left Cesar Pelli and started Duda/Paine. They were a perfect fit — they already knew our style and we had worked well on past projects.”
For Duke, the firm has done both small and large projects, ranging from a meditative quiet room in Duke’s Cancer Center to the Trent Semans Center for Health Education at Duke’s School of Medicine.
Now — with around 60 employees, many of them young — the firm is scoring transformative projects in the Triangle. It’s partly a reflection of the area’s ascendance in recent years.
“When we started here, people would ask us, 'Durham? What's in Durham?’” Paine said.
Duke University used to be the only reference point to outsiders, but “things have so dramatically changed for Durham,” he said, noting that the firm has no trouble recruiting talent to Durham now.
Including the Innovation District buildings, Duda/Paine was also commissioned for RTI International’s office tower in Research Triangle Park and The Dillon, an immense 17-story mixed-use project in downtown Raleigh.
It has also been tapped by other universities besides Duke — the firm designed N.C. State University’s modern Talley Student Union and N.C. Central University chose selected them last year to design its new student union.
“Seeing the impact you have on the community is something that you don't get to experience when the project is in Atlanta,” Paine added. “Here you run into someone at the grocery store, and they will say we were just at your project and we loved it. It’s nice to have interaction.”
A SWIFTLY CHANGING CITY
Unlike other cities in the “New South,” the large metropolitan areas where they’ve worked for years, like Austin, Texas, Atlanta and Charlotte, Paine thinks Durham has a chance to develop differently than other cities.
“If you think about Durham versus places like Charlotte or Atlanta, you know, we were too poor in the ’60s and ’70s to knock down our buildings and build parking lots,” he said referencing the Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi.”
The city has a chance, from a design point of view, to combine the old with the new more easily than other places, he added. The firm said that change will be best reflected in its design of the Innovation District.
“Context is really important in our work. We are always driven by the site and how we respond to it,” said Sanjeev Patel, a design director at Duda/Paine.
The history of the Warehouse District is important “but we also knew the Innovation District has a progressive forward looking stance ... So it’s one foot in history and the other foot looking forward.”
That combination can be replicated throughout downtown, Paine added.
“I think where you are really going to see Durham change is not so much with old buildings coming down and new buildings going up, although that will be the case in some places,” he said. “It will be the gaps in Durham’s urban fabric that will be filled in ... and I think we can do some great (architecture) in Durham and still keep the grittiness and its context.”