The Library of Light

Despite design challenges and a global pandemic, university and private partners deliver a spectacular result in the Hill Library renovation

An image of the new stairs at the D. H. Hill Jr. Library
The new stairs in the Hill Library lead from the ground floor to the first, second, and third floors, flanked by a four-story window that floods the lower floors of the Hill Library with natural light. Tzu Chen Photography ©

When you enter the Hill Library from the Brickyard, you will tilt your head back and look up. If it’s a lovely, sunny day, you’ll squint and open your mouth in slight awe. And your face will break into a wide smile.

A major renovation of the Hill Library was completed in fall 2020 with the goal of enhancing student and faculty success. And as you walk up the grand, sunlit stairs, you’ll see abundant enhancements—new technology-rich Libraries spaces including the Data Experience Lab, Innovation Studio, and Visualization Studio, plus a new Academic Success Center and Office of Undergraduate Research.

But your open-mouthed smile will be all about the sun-drenched staircase.

“Anyone who used the Brickyard entrance at the Hill Library before the renovation is likely to be shocked by the scale and appearance of the new four-story stairwell,” Patrick Deaton, Associate Director of Learning Spaces and Capital Management, says. The stairs now lead from the ground floor to the first, second, and third floors, flanked by a four-story window that floods the lower floors of the Hill Library with natural light.

“More importantly,” Deaton adds, “visitors will be able to see into many of the renovated areas as they ascend via the stairs or elevator. We tried to think of everything that the students and faculty might need.”

That’s what the Hill Library renovation is really about—meeting the ever-changing needs of the university’s diverse students and faculty and matching their spirit through inspiring design and innovative new Libraries spaces and services. The renovated Hill has become NC State’s hub for learning, teaching, research, collaboration, and experimentation.

“Students are working hard in our spaces, so we want these to be spaces that can bring them joy,” Greg Raschke, Senior Vice Provost and Director of Libraries, said to NC State News. “We wanted to create a one-stop shop for academic success.”

A space for innovative work & teaching

The Innovation Studio showcases NC State’s “Think and Do” culture and provides a platform for teaching methods of innovation to the campus community. A new type of learning space for the Libraries, the studio features interactive exhibits of student and faculty work and offers workshops and events to teach about tools and methods that spark innovation and entrepreneurship.

“Students are working hard in our spaces, so we want these
to be spaces that can bring them joy.” 
– Greg Raschke, Senior Vice Provost and Director of Libraries

Exhibits come alive through a four-projector array with integrated depth sensors—imagine a tabletop with projections on it that you can move your hands over to make menu choices and launch multimedia content.

“The Innovation Studio is meant to celebrate and catalyze innovation on campus,” says Adam Rogers, the Libraries’ Head of Making and the Innovation Studio. “We hope to grow NC State students’ understanding of innovation and its role in society, spur their creative thinking, and give them tools and methods for bringing innovation to their academic and other work.”

The Academic Success Center
The Academic Success Center is a collaboration between the Libraries and the Division of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA). Image Tzu Chen Photography ©

A space for digital research & data wizardry

As data transforms the economy and the academy, students, faculty, and researchers need data skills to succeed. The Data Experience Lab (DXL) is a community hub for data science, data visualization, digital research and scholarship, and scholarly communication. Data Science Consultants offer drop-in support, and professional library staff and graduate student employees provide more in-depth, one-on-one consultations.

“The Data Experience Lab is like a makerspace but for people interested in data,” says Mike Nutt, the Libraries’ Data Experience Manager. “We want the DXL to be an inclusive place where anyone can come to talk about and learn about data, whether you are a complete beginner or an advanced analyst.”

A space to visualize immersive research and scholarly work

Dynamic visualization makes research and scholarly work impactful. The Visualization Studio facilitates student and faculty work from all disciplines in a dazzling, immersive space. Featuring 360-degree projection and surround-sound capabilities in a round, 29-foot-wide projection room, the Studio’s unique design allows faculty, staff, and students to work with Libraries staff to develop highly powerful presentations.

“The new Visualization Studio will give faculty and students the opportunity to explore the visual world—from Neolithic tombs in the Orkney Islands to modern comic books,” says Shaun Bennett, Research Librarian for Business, Education, & Data Literacy. “Patrons will be able to explore unique visuals, present their own material in an immersive environment, or simply enjoy events designed to share interesting research on campus.”

The Academic Success Center

Located on the second floor in the north tower, the Academic Success Center features the University Tutorial Center with tutoring, writing, and speaking services, and offers career counseling and academic advising services. Under the auspices of the Division of Academic and Student Affairs (DASA), the Center’s goal is to facilitate degree completion by providing a comprehensive variety of free programs and resources that promote academic skill development and independent learning within the university environment.

an image of the Innovation Studio
The Innovation Studio features interactive exhibits of student and faculty work. 

The Office of Undergraduate Research

Relocating to Hill, the Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) supports and promotes discovery, inquiry, scholarship, and creativity-based opportunities through mentored experiences with NC State faculty and other national and international scholars and professionals. Staff and student ambassadors are at the ready to help undergrads begin navigating their particular realm of research and to connect them with funding, presenting, and publishing opportunities.

A unique, university-private partnership

Students and faculty have been oohing and aahing over the renovation. But if you want to ooh and aah, consider planning, managing, and executing a major renovation of one of the university’s busiest buildings without closing it or compromising its operations, and bringing the project in on time despite the unprecedented challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. This accomplishment is thanks to a unique partnership between the Libraries, the university’s Capital Project Management (CPM) group, the Office of the University Architect (OUA), construction contractors at Holder Construction, and designers at Lord Aeck Sargent (LAS).

The key team members in the partnership include Deaton; Danelle Gambrell, Construction Project Manager at CPM; Chris Johnson, Facility Planner in the OUA; Shaun Haycock, Jordan Moran, and Daniel Snyder at Holder Construction; architects Kelly Yates and Neil King, and interior designer Janene Winstead, at LAS; and Director of Library Environments Gwen Emery. Additionally, in order to plan and prepare for the renovation, dozens of Libraries staff were involved in moving nearly one million books to Hill’s upper floors, as well as planning the technologies, staffing, and service models for each new space.

During the design phase, Deaton and Johnson worked with Yates and her team to determine what the new library spaces would be, finishing the design in January 2019. Gambrell oversaw the bidding process that spring, and construction began in May. 

an image of the Visualization Studio
The Visualization Studio features a sawtooth graphic treatment on its outer walls designed by Alexander Isley (‘82). Tzu Chen Photography ©

Then, Holder’s on-site team moved in for a demolition phase over the quieter summer months, which transitioned into construction as the 2019-20 school year began. Gambrell managed the construction phase, and Holder completed construction on schedule in July 2020, in time for the start of the fall semester in August.

As the point person in the Libraries guiding the Hill renovation from conception to launch, Deaton takes pride in the close coordination of so many partners. “During the design phase, it was a pleasure to work with the Building Committee, the Office of the University Architect, and the staff at DASA and OUR on the location and design of their new spaces,” he says. “As with any renovation project, unexpected issues arose during construction that had to be addressed. Danelle Gambrell did an excellent job managing these issues within the project’s set schedule and budget.”

image of Patrick Deaton, Associate Director for Learning Spaces and Capital Management (in red hard hat), chatting with renovation team members during a walk-through of the construction spaces
Patrick Deaton, Associate Director for Learning Spaces and Capital Management (in red hard hat), chats with renovation team members during a walk-through of the construction spaces.

Her deft management aside, Gambrell also admires the project’s tight teamwork—particularly between the designers and the contractors. “This is Holder’s first project on the NC State campus, and they have done an exemplary job with such a challenging project,” she says. “Renovating an existing building comes with a lot of surprises behind walls and inside slabs, and they stepped up to the plate to handle all of them. And LAS has done a great job at turning NC State’s vision for the library into reality with their design.”

A triumph of design and management

“The Hill Library has its own personality,” Deaton says. “Parts of it are mid-century modern, other parts are more traditional, and—probably because it has been expanded and renovated so many times—it can feel slightly quirky. We didn’t want to lose that, because we think our students appreciate having a variety of spaces.”

To Yates’s mind, the light-filled stairs unify all those quirks beautifully. “The new connecting stair is one of the main design features of this project, and it is located across the seam between the 1970s building and the 1990s addition,” she says. “We needed to develop a design that would conceal the structural challenges and provide a consistent, stunning visual appearance that ties the whole project together.”

Since construction began literally hours after the spring 2019 semester ended in order to complete as much of the disruptive work during the summer as possible, Holder started at a sprint—and then everything changed in March 2020. No one could have anticipated the interruption of a global pandemic. However, the Holder team gathered with Deaton and Gambrell to make adjustments on the fly, and the well-coordinated project hardly missed a beat.

“When the pandemic began to disrupt campus operations in mid-March, I think many people assumed that the construction project would slow down or stop completely,” Deaton says. “Thanks to the team at Holder Construction, the project stayed on schedule with only minimal delivery delays of some construction materials.”

Image of the new entry to the west wing of the library.
The new entry to the west wing of the library provides beautiful and convenient access to library visitors. Tzu Chen Photography ©

Pride in a job done well

Asked what he is most proud of about Holder’s role in the Hill renovation, Moran says it’s that the project was completed on time despite the pandemic and critical changes to its scope and design. But then again, it’s hard for him not to talk about the stairs. Symbolic of both the openness and access that libraries provide, and the successful collaboration of campus and private partners, the new stairwell leaves a lasting impression on everyone.

“Physically speaking, I am most proud of the monumental staircase with its complicated scope of steel, glass, terrazzo, fire shutters, lighting, a curtain wall system, and HVAC,” Moran says. “It was very complicated, and the end result turned out beautifully.”

“I am an NC State alumnus (Construction Engineering & Management, ‘09) and therefore am very familiar with the Hill Library from my time as a student spending many days and nights there studying,” Gambrell says. “Seeing Hill transition from what it was to now include the grand staircase, open atrium, additional studying spaces, and new learning and collaborative spaces, along with the new location for the undergraduate tutorial center, is incredible. I am excited for the future students who will use this new space.”

Johnson echoes this pride in making the Hill Library even more of a community space: “The project has always been about much more than the construction of a physical space, and I believe it will continue to find and refine itself well after opening day, once the students bring it to life.”