By: David Hiscoe
On April 3, 2013, North Carolina State University will officially dedicate the James B. Hunt Jr. Library. Setting a new benchmark for architecturally inspiring and technologically sophisticated learning and collaborative spaces, the Hunt Library is designed to be a decisive competitive edge for the university, an institution that has forged its reputation by teaching students to live on the fore of change and enabling its researchers to do transformative work.
A central tenet of the Hunt Library is to democratize access to the technologies that are driving our economy and culture.
Five huge Christie MicroTiles high-definition display walls give faculty and students hands-on experience with the large-scale visualization tools that are reshaping how we create and view data and digital media. The Game Lab supports NC State’s Digital Games Research Center by providing an experimental commons to explore collaborative game design and the role of gaming in education and training.
The library’s Teaching and Visualization Lab and the Creativity Studio offer unique visualization and simulation capabilities that help define the next generation of teaching and learning spaces. 3-D printing and extensive digital media production facilities enable rapid iteration for prototyping and give students and faculty more of the tools they need to lead tomorrow’s workforce. State-of-the-art videoconferencing and telepresence technologies enable collaboration with colleagues across the state and around the world. And technology permeates all of the group study rooms throughout the building where students gather constantly to learn and work together.
The Hunt Library’s robotic bookBot automated retrieval system is capable of holding two million volumes in 1/9 the space of conventional shelving. Virtual Browse, which brings serendipitous discovery to the 21st century, allows users to see a virtual shelf of the materials that are classified near the resources found by their initial search.
Early projects that have already capitalized on the library’s technologies include an immersive simulator to train naval ROTC midshipmen to operate the bridge of a modern warship, a 3-D recreation of St. Paul’s Cross during John Donne’s tenure at the cathedral that demonstrates the impact of 17th- century sermons as they were actually delivered, a student-created video game based on the Hunt Library’s book circulation patterns, and prototypes of a range of engineering projects including tactile models to allow the visually impaired to navigate complex traffic intersections.
The bold architecture of the building itself reflects its bold purpose: to provide the inspiring spaces that encourage future leaders to learn, work, and create more brilliantly. Recently named one of the ten most innovative architectural firms in the world by Fast Company, Snøhetta—the Hunt Library’s lead designer—has been honored with the Mies van der Rohe Prize for Contemporary Architecture and the European Award for Urban Public Space. The firm has won international acclaim for such projects as the Library of Alexandria, the Oslo Opera House, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum Pavilion, and the redesign of New York City’s Times Square. Executive architects Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee are responsible for some of the most memorable buildings in North Carolina.
There is perhaps no library anywhere that has been more consciously crafted with what Snøhetta principal Craig Dykers has called “the unseen aspects of place-making”—the ability for the architecture to create spaces that encourage collaboration, reflection, creativity, and awe. The inspirational impact of the new building is reflected in the more than 1,700 Instagram photos that the NC State community has uploaded to the My #HuntLibrary social media site since the library opened on January 2, 2013.
The Hunt Library serves both as NC State’s second main library and as the intellectual and social heart of the university’s Centennial Campus. Named the nation’s top research park in 2007, Centennial Campus is a nexus of collaboration where students and faculty work with more than sixty corporate and governmental partners to craft the innovations that will shape tomorrow.
“This building was designed from the start to be an icon, a dramatic representation of how transformational technology and a commitment to the growth of our community will thrust NC State University even further into the foreground,” explains Chancellor W. Randolph Woodson. “It embodies what NC State stands for, a beacon for technology and transformation in the 21st century.”
“Our vision was to give NC State a signature library that would help us recruit the very best students and the very best faculty and to serve the community as an inspiring place of excellence and passion and ideas and vision,” concludes Susan K. Nutter, vice provost and director of the NCSU Libraries. “You cannot be in this building without realizing that something very important is happening at this university.”