Special Collections partners with COD faculty member Kofi Boone to evaluate “lost landscapes” on campus

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Blog post contributed by Lindsey Naylor

In LAR 582: Landscape Architecture Theory and Criticism, students take part in formal class debates and deploy arguments that draw from their growing knowledge of theory. For the first debate, Professor Kofi Boone assigned two teams that argue opposing sides of the question: Is the new landscape for the Talley Student Union a step forward or a step backward?

But only two students had actually seen the previous student union landscape — a visit to the Special Collections Research Center was definitely called for! With access to detailed drawings and archival images pulled from three separate collections, the whole class could grasp the forms, spaces and uses that defined what was then called the Student Center Plaza.

The former plaza was designed by Richard Bell, a renowned local landscape architect who just a few years earlier had designed the Brickyard. Bell’s design for the Student Center Plaza featured a multi-level fountain that stepped down into the site; walls and plantings that created a buffer against the railroad and the traffic of Dunn Avenue; an amoeba-like open lawn; and seating that wrapped around the site and the student union.

 

A 1980s view of the former Student Center Plaza. Dunn Avenue is beyond the wall in the background. UA 003.026

Students in Boone’s class came to D.H. Hill Library on Thursday to see in person the drawings and images from the Richard C. Bell Drawings and Other Materials , the Office of the University Architect Records , and the G. Milton Small Papers .

The Richard C. Bell collection, in the Landscape Architecture Archive , holds about a dozen drawings for his Student Center Plaza design, including grading and planting plans, site sections, construction details and illustrative renderings.

The University Architect collection has dozens of slide images, taken in the 1970s and 1980s, that give a rich picture of the plaza’s use and its human scale. About 25 of the slides were scanned for Boone’s class and soon will be available online in the Rare and Unique Digital Collection s .

The Small collection includes floor plans, elevations and perspective renderings of the Student Center and the Student Supply Store, the two buildings that formed the southern and western edges of the plaza. The Student Supply Store was demolished during the new Talley construction, and the Student Center was gutted to form the core of the new building.

 

Students examine Bell's 1975 grading plan for the Student Center Plaza.

SCRC holds a wealth of materials that give insight into the history of community spaces on NC State’s campus. Boone, who works in the Experience Design Lab at the College of Design, is exploring ways to use digitized archival images and oral histories in conjunction with site-based virtual and augmented reality, to enrich individual experiences of campus and other landscapes.

Boone brought to class an Oculus Gear VR to share a 360-degree image of the current Talley landscape and refresh students’ memories of the existing site design. SCRC Associate Head and Curator Gwynn Thayer brought an early “model” as a fun, historical comparison– a stereoviewer , which was the 19th century’s attempt at creating a three-dimensional alternate reality.

 

Kofi Boone uses the Oculus Gear VR to view a 360-degree image of the current Talley Student Union landscape.

Student Jackson Kiel uses the stereoviewer to view a 19th-century sublime landscape.