Downtown to Centennial Campus

What are libraries for? How can a university mean more to its community? How are greenways most intelligible?


Named for a dogged advocate for the indigent insane, Dorthea Dix Psychiatric Hospital moved its last patients to newer, more advanced facilities in August of 2012, but the carving up of its massive grounds began long before that. In 1984, then-Governor James Hunt (more on him in a minute) allocated 385 acres from the Dix property to North Carolina State University. That land which form the foundation of Centennial Campus, a massive undertaking that seeks to bridge university research and professional applications in fields ranging from environmental management to textile science. At full build out, the now-1334 acre campus is anticipated to offer 9 million sq. ft. of constructed space, most of which will be occupied by corporate, governmental, and not-for-profit organizations that collaborate with faculty, temporarily employ students, or provide permanent work in high-tech innovation industries like health tech, clean tech, and other types of software development. Nearly a third of Centennial Campus’s partners are in their start-up phase, and most of these occupy its bustling incubator space.

Perhaps the most fitting embodiment of the Centennial Campus’s mission (and almost definitely its biggest attraction) is the Snohetta-designed James Hunt Library, named after the governor who not only helped provide the land that the building sits on, but also whose prescient vision helped inspire the design of a world-class building to give a competitive advantage to the students and workers of North Carolina. Echoing the learning and working environments and relationships elsewhere on Centennial Campus, the library is designed so that its spaces facilitate collaborative use of cutting-edge technology to solve problems in creative, innovative ways. Most notably, it maximizes the space available for this kind of study by essentially doing away with stacks. Want a book? Go ahead and ask the BookBot—literally a robot that curates the 1.5 million book library—to fetch that for you. Meanwhile, feel free to use the audio production rooms, Makerspace with 3D printing, laser cutting, and CNC routing, or 3D Visualization lab with full stereoscopic sound.

So, Centennial Campus and Hunt Library are pretty sweet. The only issue—you have to be an orienteer, a daredevil, and preferably also a Jedi (better safe than sorry) to get there by bike from downtown Raleigh. Given that nearly 45,000 new residents—many of them employed in the kind of innovation-driven industries that Centennial Campus courts—are expected to move to the central business district in the next decade, the lack of connectivity between these two community hubs is both ironic and extremely unsettling.

Traveling northeast, the Rocky Branch Trail takes cyclists from Boylan Heights, the historic neighborhood on the eastern edge of downtown up to Pullen Park along the northern side of Western Blvd., a buzzing four-lane thoroughfare that shuffles cars downtown from the I-440 Beltline. After about .5 miles of this, things start to get REAL rough.

According to this sign, bikes are supposed to cross Western Blvd. right here, and reconnect with Rocky Branch Trail on the south side of Western Blvd. That’s not really possible though…

If you’ve mastered Frogger and you make it across Western, your adventure is still just beginning. Should you continue on what appears to be the Rocky Branch Trail, you’ll find yourself climbing what appears at first to be a steep hill, but soon reveals itself as a potential set for The Walking Dead.

From here, you can make it to Centennial Campus by carrying your bike through the woods and darting across four lanes of Centennial Parkway, but you must be totally silent. Remember—the zombies are attracted to sound.

If you’d rather not press your luck on a high-stakes crossing of Western Blvd., there is some support for that decision. Though the official map advises you to make the aforementioned cross, according to a few inscrutable roadway signs, you can keep riding on the sidewalk to the off-ramp at Pullen Avenue, where you can cross Western Blvd. from above, or get hit by this car.

After a steady climb, you cruise through a small residential area, where grisly memorials like the white bike in the video below remind you to pay attention when crossing Centennial Parkway.

Once you get past the Parkway, you’re on Centennial Campus, and its a quick downhill coast to the library…and safety.


Dorthea Dix Campus Redevelopment

All Things Hunt Library

Neighboring Boylan Heights Neighborhood

More Info and Pictures from the Rocky Branch Greenway

Masterplan for Centennial Campus