The Art of Science

Pop up lab

Inspired by Walt Disney, the NC State College of Sciences takes a novel approach to revitalizing the campus

Science crossroads atrium
Science crossroads atrium

NC State’s College of Sciences Dean William Ditto has a vision for the school, one that infuses technology with creativity and connects what’s happening inside classrooms with the greater city. He calls it the Imagination Corridor.

“Not everyone feels like an innovator but everyone has an imagination,” he says. “Public universities are in a state of transition, they’ve gotten away from their core missions. Let’s break down the silos. Let’s talk about how people interact.”

The vision focuses on developing a corridor across the various College of Sciences buildings that brings science to the forefront and engages students and the community. Pop-up labs, augmented reality and interactive installations are among the possibilities. The recent demolition of Harrelson Hall offers an opportunity to build a replacement from the ground up and redefine the university experience into a more immersive one that is inviting and inspiring.

Rather than starting with blueprints and budgets, Ditto suggested taking a cue from Walt Disney and beginning with storyboards, allowing the imagination to roam free and envision a vibrant future for the campus and surrounding neighborhood.

“Nobody knew what Disney was talking about in the 50s, totally crazy. Nobody’s going to fund [Disneyland], nobody’s going to come. We all know how that turned out,” he says.

They enlisted the help of architecture firm Perkins + Will to envision the exciting possibilities and create images without developing a formal design. “It’s an exercise in what is possible,” says Architect Kenneth Luker of Perkins + Will. “It goes beyond the brick wall and opens up science to all students.

The team imagined a central space called the Crossroads building that features a variety of program elements: an Imaginarium that showcases creativity, a Community Commons that weaves together the school and the community, Citizen Science verandas, a Curiosity Bar staffed with professors, students, volunteers and more.

“This building is key. It pulls the pieces together not just for NC State but for the entire community,” says Ditto.

The College is also partnering with Shaw University and the Museum of Natural Sciences to help them design pop-up labs that offer a dynamic window into projects. In fact, the team hopes to have a working design for them as early as the beginning of next year. However, whether enough funding can be raised to implement the entire vision still remains to be seen. But it’s not discouraging Ditto.

“If we’re going to fail, we’re going to fail at something big,” he says.

The College of Sciences invites the public to take a virtual tour of the Imagination Corridor. Visit sciences.ncsu.edu/news/campus-like-nowhere-else/.

Alexandra Drosu
Alexandra Drosu

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