Durham Lightrail Corridor


Location: Durham, North Carolina
Project Size: 1.4 Miles
Type: Urban Planning + Infrastructure

The Triangle is one of the fastest growing regions in the county, and currently experiences a blight of traffic that has crippled mobility between city centers. The Durham-Orange County Light Rail (DOCLR) was a solution proposed in the late 1980s by local transit authorities to address ever-increasing demands on vehicular infrastructure in the Triangle. The proposal, which would link Downtown Durham and Chapel Hill via Duke University, offered the means to cultivate communities around congestion-free traffic and sustained by an accessible transit option for all people.

An essential tenet of our philosophy about how we practice architecture and design is: PEOPLE MATTER. The baseline solution put forth for the light rail and related infrastructure, with its concrete vehicle barriers and chain link fencing, was simply unacceptable. We first looked to recalibrate the antiseptic approach taken for the interaction between the light rail and city. Instead of looking to create monofunctional design solutions driven only by the infrastructure’s needs, we aspired to create dynamic and enriching spaces for the city of Durham. This approach is rooted in our fundamental belief that great and inspired spaces beget great, inspired communities, for today and for generations to come.

Such communities are a symphony of diverse ideas, perspectives, values, and histories. We put this truth at the forefront of our design process and leverage it to remind our contributors of our collective vision for Durham: to design accessible, dynamic, community-driven environments that are catalysts for growth and prosperity.

Our research revealed that Durham’s origin story began on the very site of the proposed signature station. Long since demolished and forgotten icons, including a train depot, Hotel Carrolina, and the station clock tower, once acted as the “front porch” to Durham, greeting visitors and imbuing the city with an enduring vitality.

We see immense value in re-establishing this area as the heart of the city with a new icon that simultaneously references the site’s rich history while also serving as an innovative model of connective, multifunctional infrastructure. The five proposals we crafted embrace the uniquely diverse spectrum of Durham’s past, present, and future as a means of generating a destination for locals and visitors.

In 2019, the visionary project was cancelled abruptly, citing budget concerns and lack of collaborative investment in the project, bringing to an end over 20 years of urban planning efforts across Durham and Orange Counties.