NC State University: D.H. Hill Jr. Library

We were commissioned by NC State University to create an environmental design program for the D.H. Hill Jr. Library.

Their plans called for the renovation of three floors of the building to house a new Academic Success Center, an Office of Undergraduate Research, an interactive Innovation Studio, and a multimedia Data Visualization Studio.

This is our favorite type of assignment: There wasn’t a specific list of requirements. Rather, the library team wanted us to envision a series of visual elements to help define the spaces in an interesting and engaging way. It was a pretty open brief, leaving lots of room for invention.

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The D.H. Hill Jr. Library is the University’s main library facility It was originally constructed in 1953, and has undergone a number of significant expansions over the years.

Working with the University Libraries, Lord Aeck Sargent architects, and the Office of the NC State University Architect, we developed a series of graphic interventions to help articulate the various spaces within the newly renovated floors of the building.

One area of particular importance is the outer curved wall of the Data Visualization Studio, which faces the top of the building's main entry stair. We saw this as an opportunity to create a dramatic and informative feature.
The space offered a large canvas with which to work. We started off by making a model to help the client team (and us) envision how the space would be experienced.

Among the ideas we explored was a “history of data visualization” timeline mural — a survey of ways in which information has been recorded, stored, and conveyed over the years.
This idea seemed fitting for both the library in general and in particular as a component of the Data Visualization Studio.

An early presentation: A review of varying ways information has been documented, stored, and conveyed over the centuries.
Some of our timeline research boards. It was clear to us that there was no way we could convey all there is to know about data collection and conveyance in one mural. It's an ongoing story with a lot of tangential elements.
We chose instead to develop a graphic survey that would suggest how certain developments might have led to others. It would be more of a story than a checklist. How could we show this journey in an engaging and perhaps colorful way?
A noteworthy feature of the D.H. Hill Library is The Color Wall, a kinetic public art installation created in 1972 by artist and NC State College of Design professor Joe Cox (1915-1997) that that uses light projection to produce an everchanging color spectrum.
We wanted to honor this landmark installation in our work. To get started, we did a color analysis of the Cox construction and developed a "sawtooth" structure approach that would allow viewers to experience a variety of color combinations as they walked around the mural.
Early color studies. We wanted to have the colors vary depending on where the viewer stands.
Details of the sawtooth structure. We developed a series of interlocking 4-panel steel modules that could be affixed to the curved wall.

Graphic elements applied to some of the panels. All the imagery from our research was redrawn to work at a large scale, with elements interweaving to suggest a continuum.

Expanded view showing how all the elements fit together.

We built a series of small models as we refined the concept.

Full-size mockup in our office. We performed a series of tests to confirm that the scale would work.

Individual fabricated panels staged on-site in preparation for assembly

Installation in progress

The completed installation. The appearance of the mural varies depending on
outside light conditions and the location of the viewer. It serves as a compelling
centerpiece of the reimagined library.

The corner-based wayfinding system guides visitors on their journey between areas within the building. It provides information at key decision points while leaving ample wall space for displays and digital screens.
Along with the wayfinding system, the environmental design program also includes custom glass graphics and perforated steel decorative wall panels. We specified the locations for all signs.

Alexander Isley
Matthew Kaskel
Shannon Stolting

Special Collections Research Center
NC State University Libraries