I recently visited the James B. Hunt, Jr. Library, on the North Carolina State University campus in Raleigh. The building opened in 2013, and is designed as a flagship research library for the NCSU system. The architect is Snøhetta, with executive architects Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee (now Clark Nexsen), and construction by Skanska. For a detailed article featuring some of the backstory of the project, click here.
I first saw the building in photographs, and I was intrigued by its shape: at once streamlined and blocky, its ship-like form seeming to float on a sea of earth beneath an open sky. It did not disappoint in person. My first impression was that this thing is huge: as wide as a football field, and 1½ times as long. On its west side it rises 88 feet above the sidewalk, creating a canyon effect against the buildings on the opposite side of the street. Inside is over 220,000 square feet of floor space.
Yet for all its mass, the building conveys that feeling of lightness that I saw in the photos, especially on the less-crowded east side, where it sits at the edge of an open field. The bulk is mitigated by the angular lines and open textures of the exterior, which contribute a sense of airiness and motion. In these photos, shot at sunrise, the cladding takes on the rosy color of the dawn, as opposed to its usual silver-gray.
Inside, there is playfulness, with bright-yellow stairs and festively colored furniture. In the main reading room, a deft lighting arrangement continues the impression of movement: not the repetitive movement of a machine, but the more organic movement of wind, or waves. Indeed, the reading room is called the “Rain Room,” perhaps for this reason.
Oddly (at least to someone who is not a digital native), there aren’t many books to be seen. There is a bit of open shelving, running to some 35,000 volumes, but it doesn’t scream “library” in a space this big. Most of the collection—over 1.5 million volumes—is housed in the bookBot, a robotic retrieval system that you can watch through a viewing window on the first floor.
There’s lots of other interesting programming , including a gaming lab, a makerspace with 3D printers, and a visualization lab with 270-degree projection. As a state-owned library it’s open to the public, so if you find yourself in Raleigh, it’s well worth a visit.