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Digital Tools Help Maintain Library's Swift Pace

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North Carolina State University's high-tech library project, intended to transform collaborative learning, is itself educating its builders on the positive power that information technology has on design and construction. The team creating the $95.2-million NCSU James B. Hunt Jr. Library project in Raleigh met challenges inside and out—from difficulties with the customized curtain wall to a mechanical system rarely used in the Southeast.

Photo courtesy Skanska USA Building
The library was designed in a modern style, reflecting its high-tech interiors, as well as the recent development of the school's Centennial Campus.
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Collaboration, coupled with a raft of information technology tools, has enabled the team to guide the project toward a happy ending. The 220,000-sq-ft, four-story library is on target for both schedule and budget, and set for a grand opening in January. And that is despite the bankruptcy earlier this year of Trainor Glass—the curtain wall contractor responsible for the building's signature and nonregular element—and the need to correct a metal deck deflection problem.

The Hunt library is more like a house of technology than a house of books. With the library's nearly 2 million volumes stowed away in the basement—where a volume can be delivered to a reader in minutes via an automated book-delivery system—more than 100 group study rooms take the place of shelves. Massive video walls, collectively made up of hundreds of 1-ft-sq cubes, abound throughout. Digital connection points are ubiquitous. Plugging in, not browsing, will be the norm.

In the Beginning

In September 2008, the university hired the New York office of architect Snøhetta, along with Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee of Raleigh as executive architect, to design the library for its still-evolving Centennial Campus. But the high-tech concept dates back to 1987. During an interview for her current position as NCSU's director of libraries, Susan Nutter—then overseeing the engineering library at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology—shared the idea of building a signature "intellectual nexus" as a symbolic center of the then-fledgling campus.

"Susan Nutter is really responsible for making this library what it is," says Nic Rader, Snøhetta's project architect.

He adds that to make sure the high-tech features would fly with students, Nutter first test drove them by building sample versions in the current library.

There was no test drive for the library's heating and cooling system, which has radiant panels and chilled beams, both located in the building's ceiling. The choice—made to meet strict state standards for energy efficiency—was an unusual one for the Southeast because of the region's humidity.

"The humidity is a big concern," says Will Senner, assistant project manager in the Raleigh office of Skanska USA Building, the construction manager. With the wrong conditions, he adds, "those chilled beams can start to sweat, which can be a huge problem."

As a result, electronic monitors will constantly sample the library's air, paying close attention to the dew point. Specialty contractor John J. Kirlin installed the unusual system without incident, Senner says.

Curtain Wall Challenge

To achieve Snøhetta's exterior design concept—which aims to create a sense of movement—each of the roughly 800 curtain wall units varies by size, shape, position and color. As a result, the mullions that support the curtain wall units do not line up horizontally, as is typical. Instead, they deviate slightly from one section of the wall to another.

"We had to work with the architect to find an ideal place to have a continuous horizontal to make the gutter system work," says Mo Arani, president of DEC, the Richardson, Texas-based curtain wall detailer.

The solution was to use a two-story-high gutter system, Arani says. "It was heavier and harder to handle, but it was the only way to make it work."

The size of the curtain wall pieces varies significantly, too, with an average width of 5 ft and heights ranging between 14 and 40 ft.

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