New NC State Library Features State-of-the Art Technology: Robotic Stacks; Futuristic Design

By Liza Roberts

North Carolina State University has broken ground on a landmark, state-of-the-art library it promises to be “the best learning and collaborative space in the country,” as well as the new heart and soul of its 25-year-old Centennial Campus.
The $115 million James B. Hunt Jr. Library — named for the former North Carol­ina governor who deeded the Cen­tennial Campus land to NC State — will also serve as “the symbol of the next wave of development” for the research campus, says Gene Pinder, its marketing director. That new wave will more than triple the campus’ existing 2.7 million square feet of constructed space and quadruple the number of people working and living in the futuristic technology footprint.
But even with all of that expansion, the 205,000-square-foot Hunt Library will be impossible to miss.
Amid a sea of indistinct brick boxes, the unabashedly glamorous glass-and-metal-sheathed library — with its reflective, loom-like, zig-zag design — aims to honor North Carolina’s heritage in textiles while embracing its technology-led future. Views of Lake Raleigh and the downtown skyline will be visible from its elevated site on the campus’ central oval.
In its effort to create an iconic building, the school did not settle for second best. It hired as lead designer Snøhetta, a Nor­wegian firm that won the 2009 Mies van der Rohe Award — considered Europe’s most prestigious architecture prize — for its design of the National Opera House in Oslo. Local partners are the Raleigh/Ashe­ville architecture firm Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee Architecture, known for its work on the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh.

Robotic Stacks
Inside, the Hunt Library also has ambi­tious plans. New technology will foster digitally aided collaborative work. Instead of stacks, the library will house its more than 2 million volumes in a climate-controlled chamber accessed by robotic cranes. The system uses one-ninth the space of traditional library shelves and protects the books and tracks them at the same time.
So instead of getting lost in the stacks, students are meant to use the library’s expansive setting to study, to work in groups, to access technology, even to share a meal. Because the Centennial Campus is also home to a number of businesses — Red Hat, ABB Inc., and MeadWestvaco are three — the library also aims to provide a meeting ground for students, potential employers, and research collaborators.
It’s all a big departure from the present. NCSU currently has enough library seats for fewer than 5 percent of its student body, compared to the UNC university system recommendation of 20 percent. As of now, as many as 16,000 NCSU students crowd its existing libraries every day.
“We’re just overwhelmed,” says David Hiscoe, head of external relations for NCSU libraries. The Hunt Library will more than double the number of seats available and “create a place where students can gather and do the collaborative work that students more and more are encouraged to do.”
The library will also house the Institute for Emerging Issues, a public policy think tank focused on economic issues in North Carolina led by former Gov. Hunt.
The Hunt Library’s ceremonial groundbreaking took place Oct. 23, and construction is scheduled to be completed in 2012.