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The Hunt Library at night.

James B. Hunt Library at Night. Architect: Snohetta with Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee. Photo: North Carolina State University

Cities as a Lab – Learning in New Ways
By Brooks Rainwater, Director, Public Policy

Cities as a Lab: Designing the Innovation Economy demonstrates how design is helping spur invention in cities across America. By melding innovative design with the increasing power of technology, cities have the ability to adapt, innovate, and pioneer new solutions.

"Innovative cities" are those that are able to reconfigure to tackle new challenges. Design interventions can encourage more active living and healthier behavior, improving the well-being of residents. Utilization of the now ubiquitous mobile data network can allow access to the "secrets" of the city, increasing livability and user-friendliness for residents and visitors alike. Sustainability continues to be a primary focus, with solutions now arising that use technology to minimize wasteful duplication. Ideas and energy are elevated when design is able to integrate urban amenities.

People are learning in new ways and design is serving as the critical factor in this ongoing transformation. Learning environments are radically changing, moving from individually-focused places of contemplation to extroverted spaces that engage people and create opportunities for serendipitous collaboration. The new generation of “digital native” learners expect exploration, interaction, and experimentation rather than the passive learning styles of the past generations, and libraries are leading the way.

These new institutions of learning aren’t your staid stacks of yesteryear; take, for example, North Carolina State University’s James B. Hunt Jr. library. This technology-enabled public space, designed by Snøhetta with Pearce Brinkley Cease + Lee, includes a robotic “bookBot” system that delivers books from basement storage to patrons within minutes. This frees the floors above to house everything from a Visualization Lab with 3D projection screens that create an immersive virtual environment to a video game lab with dedicated workstations for designing new and imaginative games.

The library even includes a Makerspace with 3D printers and scanners, where patrons can fabricate anything from replacement parts to new inventions that may launch the next great company. Additionally, there is more study seating space in this library than all of the existing libraries combined, facilitating dialogue between students, faculty, and researchers.

Check out the new Cities as a Lab website to learn more and share your stories on innovation happening in your city.

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