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Innovation Insights: People-centered infrastructure

A panel of entrepreneurs from around the US were assembled and asked about what mattered most to them and their business in the context of the city governance and infrastructure.  The answers surprised the participants – what they cared most about was livability.  They wanted a city to be a place that they wanted to live in and that would attract high-talent workers across many industries.

The idea of livability and attractiveness surfaced in many other discussions.  Taken alone, it seems obvious, however taken in the context of what is the most important service of a city – creating a livable and attractive space was counter to the traditional notion of a city providing electricity, water, sewer, police, etc. The core of the discussion might be summarizes as: people-centered infrastructure design.

An exemplar of such design was mentioned by several participants: The Hunt Library on Centennial Campus of North Carolina State University.  What was most surprising, is that the exemplar was not from Boston or the cities where any of the participants lived, demonstrating a national attractiveness for this library.

The Hunt Library was completed in 2013 and received rave national reviews from top news outlets, such as Time and the Wall Street Journal and has received dozens of architectural awards, including the Stanford Prize for Innovation in Research Libraries[1].  The reason? It goes against everything we have thought a library was.  Entering on the main floor, one is awed by a 4-story open atrium that continues for the entire length of the building, surrounded by floor to ceiling windows. The area is composed of comfortable seating  that would be the envy of any coffee house and a small technology showcase where students can check out non-traditional items, such as HD cameras, ipads, latpops, audio recorders and more. Fifty percent of the 4 story library is open and created for the use and enjoyment of students. It is a magnet for students and faculty due to its beauty, comfort and proximity to technology and resources.  The other fifty percent, which represent the floors adjacent to the 4-story atrium, are not full of books – but rather room after room of meeting space, computers and multimedia rooms.  Technology access includes multiple professional recording studios, a full green-screen video production room and likely the most used – a Game Lab that features a 20 foot screen for students to play and create video games.  The Hunt library combines the draw of beauty and comfort with technology that most students and faculty would never have access to. It is truly a magnet for people and epitomizes the idea of people-centered design.

If you are wondering where are the books?  They are in the basement – where a multi-story robot handles all of the shelving and check out.  Just click on your book online and in 5 min the robot has brought it to the circulation desk.