In advance of Talley Student Center renovations at NC State, a plan is underway to move the Bookstore to the ground level of Harrelson Hall. It is expected that by the middle part of this year, the current Bookstore (above) will be torn down.
If demolished, it will be one of the most significant architectural losses the city of Raleigh has experienced in many years.
Representing the Roots of Modernism at NC State
Designed by architect G. Milton Small, Jr. and built in 1960, it was originally known as the Student Service Center and is one of the most recognizable buildings on campus. It features distinctive folded plane canopies on both sides, although part of one of the canopies was removed in a 1971 expansion.
The Bookstore was built during a time of dramatic change for North Carolina State University, most especially for the School of Design. The first Dean of the new school, Henry Kamphoefner, quickly turned the School from that of obscurity to that of national prominence.
He did this by recruiting some of the best young architects in practice to teach architecture at NC State. By reaching out to the star pupils of modern architecture masters, he was able to find some of the best talent in the United States.
A few examples of this include George Matsumoto (student of Saarinen), Eduardo Catalano (student of Breuer and Gropius) as well as Milton Small (student of Kamphoefner and Mies van der Rohe). These NC State professors became masters themselves, designing some of the most recognizable and important structures in the south.
The Small Era
After brief stint teaching at the School of Design and working for William Deitrick, Milton Small started his own firm. He went on to design numerous notable houses, commercial structures, churches, as well as educational facilities at Duke, UNC, and NC State.
Noteworthy projects in Raleigh include:
- WRAL Studios
- Northwestern Insurance Building
- Raleigh Municipal Building (also facing demolition)
- The Carolina Country Club (demolished)
- Burlington Nuclear Laboratories Building
His own office building near the corner of Hillsborough Street and Brooks Avenue (above) is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was home to his firm for 34 years (later under G. Milton Small III and Kerry Kane). Small Kane Webster Conley PA is now located at 3105 Glenwood Avenue, a building they designed in 1980.
At the Heart of Raleigh’s ‘Modern Corridor’
No other place in Raleigh has a higher concentration of modernist buildings as the ‘Modern Corridor’. Clustered around the area where NC State expanded in the 1950s and 1960s, it includes all building types: residential, commercial, ecclesiastical, and educational. The Bookstore is in the heart of this corridor.
The ‘Rally 4 Talley’
A little over a year ago, a campaign was launched to renovate and expand the Talley Student Center. Citing the inadequacy of the current building and growing student population, many pleaded for students to approve the measure.
The initiative appeared to fail after students rejected the plan:
Almost 19 percent of the student population cast ballots on Oct. 5, and while 56.6 percent of the students agreed there was a need to improve the Talley Student Center and the Atrium, only 38.4 percent of the students agreed with the proposed student fee increases to pay for the project.
Despite this vote, the NC State Student Senate passed a resolution to approve the fee and move forward with renovations anyway.
Condemned to Destruction
Well over a year ago a Goodnight Raleigh reader gave a prediction about the bookstore:
You all might be surprised to know that some people at NCSU have no appreciation for Milton Small or his architecture. There has been some discussion about tearing down the NCSU Student Center [...] The NCSU bookstore (which is beside the Horace Farlowe fountain) another Milton Small building is slated to be demolished.
This was recently confirmed on the Talley Project web site. According to it, the Bookstore will be a part of the newly expanded student center and a “green space” will be where the Bookstore currently is:
The current bookstore will be demolished, providing an enlarged green space for student recreation and relaxation. A new, expanded bookstore will be incorporated into the new construction of the student center.
It’s not Greener than Preservation
The same page also illustrates how the new building will be “sustainable”:
The Talley Student Center will be a model of environmental, social and economic sustainability. The project will actively advance the University’s commitment to state and national sustainability leadership in promoting and practicing the following principles throughout the life of the building and site [...]
LEED certification doesn’t mean much when you’ve used thousands of kilowatt hours of energy to destroy a building and then send tons of debris to a landfill.
The greenest building is the one already built.
Not Yet Officially Historic
In 2005, while conducting an architectural survey for the City of Raleigh, historian and archivist Ruth Little placed this building on the Study List for the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, since it does not yet have official historic status, it remains unprotected and vulnerable to being destroyed.
Fitting in with the Master Plan
The NC State Bookstore beautifully fits within the ideas outlined in 2006 Master Plan, A Campus of Neighborhoods and Paths. There are three guiding principles within the 130-page document:
- Shared open space
- Character places
- Hub of interaction
Shared open space – The building is at the base of both campus tunnels, features a green area with fountains to the east, and picnic tables and a common area to the west.
Character places – I’d make the argument that the bookstore is one of the buildings on campus with the most character. The zigzag canopies represent the era of Googie-style roadside architecture. These architectural traits were often employed by business owners to get the attention of passersby and draw business. The strategy works here too – it’s one of the few retail buildings on campus.
Hub of interaction – This building incorporates pedestrian consideration around the entire perimeter, providing access to multiple parts of campus across two stories. Very few other buildings on campus have such considerations incorporated in to the design.
Demolition Would be a Step Backward
One of the driving principles of all future NC State development is to create an urban feel to campus. This is to make best use of available land as well as provide an interesting pedestrian landscape for students.
What makes an environment have an ‘urban’ feel is a series of new and old buildings, representing different eras of campus history. If we demolished all buildings once they reached the 50 year age mark (making them “outdated”, according to some) what would campus look like?
‘Architected’ and not ‘Engineered’
So many buildings at NC State are chunky brick boxes with undersized windows and no otherwise interesting features. It comes as no surprise that it made the Princeton Review list as #10 Least Beautiful Campus. The Bookstore stands out as an exception to this with well proportioned features, floor-to-ceiling glass in some areas, and a low and unimposing profile.
Modernism as an architectural style is rapidly making a comeback. This is the type of structure that illustrates the role of the School of Design in shaping modern design throughout the southeastern United States.
How to Help Save the Bookstore
To be sure, it’s late in the game and the wheels are already in motion to move forward with demolition. However, it isn’t necessary to destroy the Bookstore in order to improve the Talley Student Center.
We should let NCSU officials know how important this building is to making campus unique and interesting. If you’d like to get involved, here a few ways in which you can reach out:
- Contact university officials with the Talley Renovation Project via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- You can join the Save the NC State Bookstore campaign on Facebook to get updated information on efforts to save the building
- You can also help by commenting on this article with memories, opinions on the building, or your thoughts of the looming destruction
One of the first things I remember about NC State was walking out of the Free Expression Tunnel to see a building with an interesting brick pattern and atomic-age retro shelters. There are only a few interesting structures on such a large campus, and this is one of them.
This building has character, it has purpose, it is historic, and it is worth saving. An opportunity was squandered when Eduardo Catalano offered a generous gift of building a hyperbolic paraboloid pavilion on campus. Let’s not make another mistake with regard to honoring the legacy of the School of Design.
All images labeled as “copyright NCSU Special Collections” are protected by copyright and are not to be distributed or reproduced without permission from the Special Collections Research Center. I kindly ask you respect this and not distribute copyrighted material.
All other images were taken by me (John Morris) and are not under similar copyright restrictions. I encourage you to distribute, reproduce, or otherwise share those images.
- A Reflection on the loss of Modernist Architecture in Raleigh, NC
- G. Milton Small – My Favorite Architect
- Let’s Not Repeat Mistakes: Don’t Destroy the Municipal Building
- Milton Small bio at Triangle Modernist Houses
- Guide to the G. Milton Small Papers, NCSU Special Collections
- Letter to the editor from Preservation NC in defense of Small’s Municipal Building, N&O
I’d like to give a big thank you to the NCSU Special Collections Research Center for being so helpful in locating the historic multimedia items used in this article.