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When it comes to cutting-edge design and a multi-concept space, university dining halls hardly seem an innovative venue. The new West Campus Union Hall at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, could change that perception.

New York–based designer Vincent Celano created a new dining experience that defies the cafeteria quality and drab interior. He says it all started when Rick Johnson, the head of housing and dining at Duke, decided it was time to take student dining “to the next level.” Johnson reached out to Celano and they formed a team—including renowned kitchen designer Jimi Yui—that would not only work on the design but the menus and branding for the concepts, too.

“It started with putting together the team that could brainstorm and create these concepts because they didn’t have the food; they didn’t have the menus. We were very much a part of creating that,” Celano says. “One of the things we talked about as a group was … how do we bring forward the food experience? How do we bring the food theater forward to the customer and make it part of the experience?”

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