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The facts, figures and fables behind NC State’s favorite gathering place
Before there was brick, there was grass. But more often, there was mud. As North Campus developed in the postwar building boom of the 1950s and early 1960s, NC State’s growing student body would bypass the asphalt and gray-sand pathways. They wore a crisscrossing series of “cow paths”—per Technician
—into the land around the Erdahl-Cloyd Student Union and the newly built Harrelson Hall.
Landscape architect Richard C. Bell ‘50 wanted to do something about the unsightly area. Retained in 1965 to design landscaping for 10 buildings, he approached Chancellor John C. Caldwell with a different idea: use the money instead to build a central plaza that would be both a gathering space for students and a way to tie together the assortment of new and planned buildings.
As a College of Design student, Bell had worked as a delineator and draftsman in the campus’ engineering department, which predated the university architect’s office. It was there that he became interested in the long-range planning of university campuses. He was chosen, as an alumnus, to update the master plan for North Campus and to design a series of smaller landscaping projects around its buildings. The state legislature had earmarked $160,000 for the projects. “I went to Caldwell and said, ‘This is a total waste of money. If we do anything, we need to put our money into a major project,’” Bell says.
Caldwell was soon convinced, as was Carroll Mann, then director of facilities planning. “We needed a plan that would effectively . . . unify the campus and permeate it with a university atmosphere,” Mann told Technician after the project got the official go-ahead in 1965. “Landscape architecture is the only way this can be done.”
It was the first state-funded landscape project of this scale.
But not everyone was thrilled when the University Plaza—unofficially, the Brickyard—was finished in 1969. “There is no particular point to the brick covering, other than being better than dirt,” declared a Technician editorial. Still, others were impressed. “Even from a relatively low altitude, such as Harrelson’s third floor, the red and white pattern is a classic in sweeping symmetry,” wrote Russell C. King ‘72, ‘90 DED in a letter to the editor.
Another defender remarked in Technician that the “ol” desert is becoming a true symbol of State.”
Some 40 years later, we have to agree.
By any other name
For years, anyone looking for the Brickyard on a campus map would search in vain. Its official name is University Plaza, though it has been known as the Brickyard since construction began in 1967. While the official name is still on the books, recent campus maps have made a concession to the plaza’s informal moniker, which now appears in parentheses.
“Ever since the shift of campus activities in the early ‘60s to the catacombs of the roundhouse and the busy hubbub of the union, people have been screaming about the muddy paths around Harrelson and the bleakness of the quadrangle. Technician editors, student leaders, design students, even secretaries in open-toed sandals have begged, pleaded, and demanded the building of sidewalks in place of the donut’s rickety wooden thresholds and gooey, gray pathways.” —Technician, May 13, 1966
Test your Brickyard knowledge [answers provided below.]
1. Fact or Fiction? An anonymous donor gave NC State the bricks for the
2. Fact or fiction?
To save money, NC State used its own workers to build the Brickyard.
3. Brick Count
: How many bricks does the Brickyard hold?
In 1968, according to a study by an NC State student, people made 18,830 trips through the Brickyard between 7:30 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. on a typical Monday, Wednesday or Friday—an average of 1.6 trips per student enrolled. If today’s students made the same average number of trips, there would be 47,332 daily trips through the Brickyard. Individual undergraduates would pass through the yard no fewer than 1,024 times during their four years of classes.
“Looking from the second floor windows of the union toward Harrelson [at night], the view is unreal. It looks like something out of a James Bond thriller or a movie about an American airbase complete with floodlights and machine guns maybe. But in the day it changes. People take to lying on the grass or sitting on the benches or eating. . . . all in all, it’s not much but it’s ours.” —Technician, May 13, 1968
4. Fact or fiction? The NCS logo
wasn’t part of the original brickyard plans.
“When I wanted a particularly fine professor for one of my departments, I would take him to the second floor of Harrelson Hall and show him the view of the brickyard. If there was a fine, misty rain [giving the bricks a reflective sheen], I was sure I had him.” —Richard C. Bell ‘50 recounting a 1975 comment by Chancellor John T. Caldwell, who described his practice of recruiting faculty with dinner and a walk around campus.
5. Brickyard Collectibles
: How many bricks from the Brickyard do NC State students take home each year as souvenirs?
For most alumni, the Brickyard has always been a unique symbol of NC State’s campus. Some 138,914 students have earned degrees at NC State since construction began in 1967. That’s 81 percent of all graduates since the university opened in 1889.
“If the number of demonstrations and protests are any judge of a university, State is coming into its own.” —Technician, April 24, 1968
6. Fact or fiction?
A nuclear reactor is under the Brickyard.
Fact or fiction?
The green panthers, a group of design students,
planted trees in the Brickyard in 1970.
8. Holding a crowd
: How many people can the Brickyard hold?
“There are three notable structures on this otherwise drab campus—the Bell Tower, Harrelson Hall and the mall. A visitor is not likely to remember any other feature, with the possible exception of the notorious railroad tracks.” —Technician, 1968
“It was amazing to see such a sea of humanity. There was this big bonfire in the middle. . . . but having been an alumnus and all that, it’s the place I always think about when NC State comes to mind.” —Harry M. Nicholos ‘81, recalling the 1983 NCAA basketball championship celebrations, quoted in Technician, Oct. 10, 1989
• 2.5 cubic yards: The amount of garbage collected from Brickyard trash cans and swept up by the facilities department each day.
• 40 cubic yards: The amount of leaves and debris swept up from the Brickyard each week during leaf-removal season (November to January).
• $150,000: The estimated annual cost of Brickyard maintenance. It takes an extra $50,000, on average, for cleanup after special events.
9. Which European plaza or square was the inspiration for
a. Plaza Real, Barcelona, Spain
b. Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy
c. Trafalgar Square, London, England
d. Place de la Concorde, Paris, France
10. How big is the brickyard (not including the walkways that
feed into it)?
a. 45,240 square feet
b. 56,230 square feet
c . 62,780 square feet
d. 77,780 square feet
11. Which of the following was part of the Brickyard’s original
design but was never built?
a. A center stage for performing arts
b. A long arbor
c. A fountain
d. All of the above
1. FICTION. The bricks were donated but not secretly. The N.C. Bricklayers’
Association provided them. The original design by landscape architect
Richard C. Bell ‘50 called for the Brickyard to be built with Belgian
block, a hand-cut, granite cobblestone. But that was too expensive. He
altered the plans and solicited donations from the brick industry.
2. FACT. The state legislature earmarked $160,000 in 1963 for landscaping
at NC State. The scope of the project shifted from landscaping 10
buildings to constructing the University Plaza, and work was slated to
start in 1965. But when bids came in, the funds were frustratingly
insufficient, even with the donated bricks. To cut costs, the university
had three of its physical plant workers lay the brick in the spring of
1967. It was to take no more than eight months to complete, but the job
soon fell behind schedule. The plaza was dedicated in 1968 and completed
3. About 226,200, according to NC
State’s facilities department. It’s even more if you include the brick
walkways that feed into the plaza.
4. FACT. But the NCS logo made its first appearance on the Brickyard before
construction was completed in 1969. Students rearranged some of the
bricks into the first pattern in the middle of the night in April 1967.
The physical plant (now the facilities department) installed a more
professional-looking version of the logo that May, but the university
removed the letters that summer. It didn’t take long for students to put
it back.“It was rumored that some 26 students replaced the monogram
Wednesday night,” read a photo caption in the Sept. 22, 1967, edition of
. “We heard that,
under cover of darkness, the fugitives completed the project in
approximately 19 minutes.”
The university eventually bowed to the
inevitable and let the design stay. However, the logo was removed again
during D.H. Hill Library’s expansion in the 1980s. “It appeared as a
kind of spontaneous gesture of pride in the university,” university
architect Edwin F. “Abie” Harris ‘57 explained to Technician at the
time. “And we expect it to spontaneously reappear.” It soon did.
5. Between 100 and 200, says B. Gregory Kopsch, grounds manager for
facilities operations: “Some graduates feel a need to take a piece of
the university home with them as a reminder.” Red bricks are probably
the most popular, he says.
6. FICTION. The university’s nuclear reactor-a tiny one used for research
in the nuclear engineering program-is above ground in Burlington Labs,
far from the Brickyard. However, the accessibility of the utility
tunnels that do run beneath the Brickyard played an important role in
the final design. Bell’s original plans called for the white brick to be
laid in a seemingly random, nonrepeating pattern. McCree Smith,
director of the physical plant, complained that it would make it
difficult to remove and replace the bricks should they need to work on
the myriad underground utilities. Bell substituted the regular, zigzag
pattern of white bricks.
7. FACT. Some of Bell’s plans for beautifying the area with trees and a
sculpture garden were abandoned when funds fell short. A group of
landscape design students, led by Don D’Ambrosi ‘72, launched a campaign
in the spring of 1970 to raise $5,000 to buy and plant seven large
trees on the Brickyard. Calling themselves the “Green Panthers,” they
silk-screened their “Buy a Share of the Shade” message on thousands of
buttons donated by Avis and sold them to students. Campus organizations
donated to the cause, and nurseryman Gordon Butler ‘57 gave seven trees –
three willow oaks, two scarlet oaks and two red maples. Davie Tree Co.
in Raleigh moved the trees, all 30-plus feet tall, and planted them
where they remain today.
8. “As many as will fit,” cracks B. Gregory Kopsch, grounds manager of
facilities operations. While official capacity is estimated at about
15,000, it’s possible more have squeezed into the space during special
occasions such as the celebration after the men’s basketball team won
the 1983 national championship.
9. Answer: b.
Richard C. Bell ‘50 saw the Piazza San Marco in the
early 1950s. He thought it was the “perfect public space,” designed in
harmony with surrounding buildings. He wanted to achieve compatibility
between the plaza and the buildings.
10. Answer: a.
The brickyard is 45,240 square feet or 1.04 acres. It was
larger until the mid-1980s, when some of the bricks were removed to make
room for an addition to D.H. Hill library. The library expansion
project meant that the class of 1989 graduated without ever experiencing
the Brickyard in all its glory.
11. Answer: c.
Bell’s design called for a water feature with
fountains, which wasn’t built due to budget constraints. Later, while
Bell was a teacher-in-residence at the American Academy in Rome in 1975,
he collaborated with a fellow instructor to design a fountain. “I never
could sell it,” he says. “I still think it would be magnificent there.
It sits here in my drawer.”