NCSU bookstore building likely to fall

NCSU building likely to fall

Staff WriterFebruary 13, 2011 

— The building on N.C. State University's campus most likely to evoke doo-wop harmonies, hot rods and drive-ins is months away from demolition - unless a long-shot preservation effort by a local blog succeeds.

University officials plan in June to tear down the 50-year-old student book store, with its distinctive wavy "folded-plane" walkway canopies, to make way for a major expansion of the Talley Student Center.

The blog Goodnight Raleigh!, which covers local architecture, history and art, has started a campaign to persuade the university to save the building.

Its modernist charms are subtle for some, including many current students. But blogger John Morris said several of its design elements - notably the canopies, floor-to-ceiling glass in some areas and its unusual brickwork - are unique on campus.

Also, it's an important connection to a landmark period in the history of the NCSU College of Design. The architect, Milton Small, was highly regarded for his modernist designs, and was part of a talented group of professors who lifted the college to national prominence.

"It's an interesting building on a campus full of mostly uninteresting buildings," said Morris, 30, a software engineer who has lived in Raleigh for seven years. "It has unique features, and it's one of the few buildings on campus that represent that era of architecture."

Small's office building, not far away on the corner of Hillsborough Street and Brooks Avenue, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Talley Student Center was built in 1972, when the university had just 14,000 students, compared with more than 34,000 now. Many say it was too small from the beginning.

The university plans to spend $120 million to give it a major makeover and expand it by two-thirds, to 283,000 square feet, and to restore its status as a crucial centerpiece for the campus.

Green space and a small part of the addition will be built where the bookstore stands now, along with an underground loading dock, said Lisa Johnson, the university architect.

Morris said he's not trying to stop the expansion of the student center, or to keep the university from moving the bookstore operations to a more suitable facility.

The building, though, could be saved and used for something else, such as studio space. Worst case, he said, the student center expansion could be modified to let one of the two canopies remain as part of the planned green space.

Johnson said university officials explored the idea of saving part of the concrete canopy, but it's not in a good location and would be hard to move.

NCSU alumni have posted comments on Goodnight Raleigh! supporting the effort to save the building. Students of the iPad-text message-Facebook era, though, don't seem particularly concerned with the plan.

"I don't have a problem with tearing it down," said Brett Anderson, a junior from Wilmington, stopping under the distinctive canopy. "Whatever would be more efficient."

Durham freshman Nia Darby, 19, was of like mind:

"If they think it will help make the [student center] better, I don't have an issue with that," Darby said. "I'm all for State improving and renovating things."

Is the bookstore too attractive to be demolished?

Darby wrinkled her nose.

"Uh, no."

The College of Design dean, Marvin Malecha, said that there's no question the bookstore has some architectural value.

Not enough, though, to outweigh the importance of expanding the woefully undersize student center or the fact that the building has outlived its suitability for a bookstore.

"I've never seen the bookstore as an iconic structure that absolutely should be saved," Malecha said. "It certainly represents an architectural period in which the school was important, and it was a statement when it was built. But if it had been a really iconic structure, I'd have weighed in."

He said he might have been more skeptical if the university hadn't chosen a great architect for the Talley project, Turan Duda, who himself is a product of the design school.

"Time goes by, and when it does, some things come and some things go," Malecha said.

Morris' fight to save the bookstore is about a month old, and he's starting to fear it will fail. It doesn't seem to be generating the kind of outcry it would take to save the bookstore.

All might not be lost, though. Johnson, the university architect, said she and Morris have scheduled a meeting and that they'll brainstorm some ideas about how to remember the bookstore and Milton Small. or 919-829-4526

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