First Look: Clark Nexsen Completes Engineering Building at NC State University

Fitts-Woolard Hall on Centennial Campus at NC State University. All photos courtesy Clark Nexsen.

Clark Nexsen has completed Fitts-Woolard Hall on Centennial Campus at NC State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. The $150 million engineering building is the embodiment of Think and Do, the university’s mission statement connecting thought and action. As the architect and engineer, Clark Nexsen partnered with NC State to design the 225,000 square foot facility. The new building is intended to support multidisciplinary instruction and research while fostering collaboration between students, faculty, and individual engineering departments.

“Fitts-Woolard Hall is an engineering hub that provides critical infrastructure for catalyzing new innovations and developing tomorrow’s workforce,” comments NC State chancellor Randy Woodson.

The design emphasizes transparency and “engineering on display.” Extensive use of glass allows daylight to penetrate into the four-story building. Entry lobbies at the south and north ends are connected by light-filled atriums and corridors with views into the engineering labs and open stairs. The transparency into these spaces offers glimpses of cutting-edge research and allows the school to showcase its ongoing work.

A large advanced manufacturing lab is visible from within and outside of Fitts-Woolard Hall.

Engineering on display is evident beyond the educational spaces. Throughout the facility, structural elements and building systems are revealed as an additional instructional tool.

“The concept of engineering on display takes the work being done inside the building and celebrates it by making it visible,” explains Clark Nexsen principal Shann Rushing. “You get a visual connection to the research and instruction happening in the building.”

The south entry is flanked by a structural testing lab, senior student project space, and large-scale driving simulator visible to students and visitors from within and outside the building. Designed for flexibility well into the future, these hands-on, investigative spaces enable civil and structural engineers to test theories, calculations, and materials.

Fitts-Woolard Hall features engineering on display at NC State University.

Cantilevers at the north and south ends of the building are a striking design element used to identify the main entries and highlight prominent lab spaces.

“The steel-plated monumental stairs have an exposed truss design that is structurally expressive,” Rushing comments. “The stairs weave upward alongside a feature wall designed to reflect the diverse engineering studies housed in the building. The form of the stairs also creates a variety of gathering and collaboration spaces.”

The steel-plated monumental stairs in Fitts-Woolard Hall.

An outdoor terrace, interspersed seating, and an open, collaborative space on the second floor known as “the hearth” promote socialization and interaction between students and faculty.

With more than 100 classrooms and state-of-the-art laboratories, Fitts-Woolard Hall consolidates the Department of Civil, Construction, and Environmental Engineering and the Fitts Department of Industrial and System Engineering under one roof. The new engineering building is the final move to unify the school’s College of Engineering on Centennial Campus.

Teaching and research spaces support global high-tech industries including advanced manufacturing, robotics and sensor technology, transportation and logistics, and bioengineering. From a large-scale driving simulator to computational labs for health systems engineering, students have access to spaces where they can apply classroom knowledge and explore the results.

Ranked among the top 25 U.S. engineering programs, NC State is a powerful driver of economic impact in North Carolina and beyond. In the past 10 years, engineering undergraduate enrollment at NC State has grown by 22 percent, and graduate enrollment has more than doubled. Fitts-Woolard Hall provides an innovative facility to help accommodate that growth and further position NC State University as an international leader in engineering education.

Fitts-Woolard Hall is the first public-private partnership by the university to fund the construction of an academic building. Roughly half the cost came from public funds through a 2016 state bond referendum. The remaining half has come from private funds, including a $25 million joint gift from alumni Edward P. Fitts Jr. and Edgar S. Woolard Jr.

Fitts-Woolard Hall to the left of Hunt Library at NC State University.

The new building is positioned to the north of the James B. Hunt Jr. Library, designed by Snøhetta and Clark Nexsen, and completed in 2013. Skanska was the construction manager at risk for both projects.

Due to the pandemic, the NC State Engineering Foundation is delaying in-person events centered around the building grand opening and is planning to host them during the spring 2021 semester.