James B. Hunt Jr. Library
Raleigh, NC, USA
Clark Nexsen (formerly PBC+L) (Architect of Record)
Snøhetta worked closely with the NCSU Libraries to set a new benchmark for technologically-sophisticated collaborative learning spaces, with the goal of establishing new planning trends for libraries as their relevance is questioned by the public at large. The library is designed to be a decisive competitive edge for the university by democratizing access to the technologies currently driving global economies. The design team worked to create spaces that encourage physical and social interaction. Students are allowed to talk in the new collaborative learning spaces, write on walls, and experiment with 3D visualization and prototyping technology. The library’s bright yellow stairs make clear the building’s circulation and encourage students to use the stairs over the elevator. Additionally, the design team aimed to meet and exceed sustainability goals by employing solar blades, hot water solar panels, radiant panels, and active chilled beams in the design of the building. For the design of the landscape, the symmetry of the Oval paths break down as one moves south towards the new library, increasing nodes of activity and pockets of lawn for informal gathering. The assymetrical balance provided by the grove of trees and the library on either side of the formal access reinterpret the pastoral patterns traditionally found in such situations. In keeping with the high-tech research facilities which the campus serves, Snøhetta has designed a high performance landscape. The library plaza incorporates exposed drainage, stormwater treatment bioswales, and rain gardens in a learning landscape programmed to serve as an extension of the reading room. The fragmentation of the oval into a network of rooms creates both vibrant social space and places for quiet study. Custom designed wood furnishings provide a unique texture and scale.
The new James B. Hunt Jr. Library is among the most celebrated new buildings on campus. Snøhetta worked closely with NCSU to challenge the historically conservative context of the University by building a contemporary building on a campus of brick and mortar buildings and also providing provocative program solutions in a campus generally defined by property lines and platonic interior planning. The design team was also challenged to balance the dual desires for a powerful central open space and an iconic new building that will serve as the lynch pin in the development of NCSU’s new Centennial Campus. Snøhetta collaborated closely with the University to re-inform the existing campus master plan and to facilitate a transition from a formal, symmetrical language to an informal, pastoral green which opens up views to Lake Raleigh. Continual meetings with the Library staff, students, educators, technology specialists and the University Architect ensured the new project met the University’s goals. The Hunt Library is also a successful example of a budget and spatial challenge resulting in a effective design solution that improved its context. During our work, 11 million dollars were removed from the construction budget toward the end of schematic design as a result of state budget cuts due to the State’s financial crisis. Snøhetta, together with the client and the Construction Manager worked successfully to resolve the issue. A cost analysis was done to the adjusted functional arrangement options and it was determined that by implementing and submerging the library’s Automated Book retrieval system below grade by 50% there was not only a significant cost savings despite the added excavation, but a more functional and efficient building. The building represents a progressive and distinctive architectural exploration while also working within very restrictive institutional budget limitations.
Libraries are dynamic and continually changing. This library balances well understood pre-existing needs with the emerging needs of the present and future. While clearly a contemporary structure within a traditional context, the Hunt library provides a positive platform for influencing the atmosphere of its surroundings. Both technical and programmatic innovations are celebrated as part of the learning experience and provide a versatile and stimulating environment for the user. The building also integrates complementary functions not specifically related to library use. These include a political think tank as well as facilities for academic offices and an auditorium. Main library functions include collections, learning commons, group study rooms, graduate commons, creativity labs, and a quiet reading room. Generous open spaces connect all floors of the library and open stairs emphasize an interactive and social environment alongside more focused study areas. A wide variety of study and learning environments and technology-focused experimental labs go beyond the now ubiquitous model of the learning commons. “Disruptive” learning spaces with colorful, dynamic furnishings exist adjacent to more traditional study rooms. The building’s design recognizes the power of chance encounters and celebrates the role physical space plays in the intellectual stimulation of its users. Technology zones are integrated throughout the Library as well. Interactive digital surfaces and high definition video display screens deliver both programmed and live-feed information. The Game Lab serves as a testing lab for the video game design and development program, and provides students with a fun study break area. The Tech Showcase allows users to experiment with new technology and borrow the latest electronic devices. Staff areas are consolidated on one floor rather than dispersed in clusters on each floor.