Harrelson Hall: Reclaimed

Harrelson Hall, opened in 1962, will be deconstructed over the next year, with 90 percent of nonhazardous waste being recycled.

After more than a half century of standing as a round peg in the square hole of NC State’s University Plaza, Harrelson Hall is finally being sent to the circular file.

Over the coming year much of the building will be rolled up, recycled and reused before the final skeleton is ultimately removed next summer.

Harrelson's inner hallways.
Harrelson’s inner hallways.

“We’re aiming for 90 percent diversion of nonhazardous materials through recycling and reuse efforts,” says Steve Bostian, a project manager for NC State’s Capital Project Management.

Deconstruction (not demolition) already has begun at the first round classroom building ever tried on a college campus. Much of the reusable materials—desks, chalkboards, whiteboards, doors, security cameras and some electric metering and fire protection equipment—has been removed and will be used elsewhere on campus or donated to Habitat for Humanity.

All other nonhazardous building material will be taken to a facility that specializes in construction and demolition waste, where it will be crushed or otherwise turned into reusable materials.

“[They] are sorted and sent to various markets for reuse and recycling,” says Liz Bowen, a university program coordinator specializing in sustainable buildings. “For example, the concrete blocks making up Harrelson’s structure can be crushed and reused as roadbed.”

That would be perfect for a traffic circle.

Construction of Harrelson's inner core. Photo by Ralph Mills.
Construction of Harrelson’s inner core. Photo by Ralph Mills.

For some, it may be a sad farewell to the building named after Col. John Harrelson, NC State’s fifth executive officer, first chancellor and first alumnus to lead the school.

The visually appealing building, designed by lead architect Ralph Reeves, opened in November 1961 with 109,000 square feet of classroom space. At the time, it was hailed as being both “strikingly attractive” and “extremely functional.”

It didn’t take long, however, before the building became roundly criticized.

By 1972, the history department’s annual report described Harrelson as “one of the most unsatisfactory academic buildings imaginable.” Low-hanging ceilings, pie-shaped classrooms, confusing corridors and an interior ramp that tractor-beamed skateboarders and grocery-cart racers eventually made it one of the least-loved buildings on campus.

One of Harrelson's pie-shaped classrooms.
One of Harrelson’s pie-shaped classrooms.

In 1983, the interior doors and outdoor benches were little more than kindling for four consecutive weeks of bonfires in celebration of the men’s basketball team’s march to the ACC and NCAA championships, events from which the Brickyard and Harrelson never fully recovered.

By the 1990s, the building that opened with such great fanfare was facing an uphill struggle to be accepted around campus. After two feasibility reports concluded the building could not be successfully renovated and updated, the NC State Board of Trustees decided in 2003 that the building would eventually be removed.

After years of use primarily for classes, Harrelson became the temporary home for the university bookstore and student activities offices during the renovation of the Talley Student Union. Those organizations relocated back in Talley in June, kicking off the deconstruction of Harrelson.

After deconstruction the footprint of the building will be landscaped into green space and footpaths, which will improve stormwater management in the area. The signature Science Commons classroom building is on the university’s list of potential capital projects. It will be located on the southern edge of the Brickyard and serve as a space for interdisciplinary collaboration.

Current plans are for a rectangular building.

59 responses on “Harrelson Hall: Reclaimed

  1. Flo (Ripley) Purdy says:

    Ah, fond memories of Harrelson, despite all its quirks. Had many a class in there back in the day. I was also a student employee of the Public Safety department in 1983 – helped write many a damage report for the Brickyard/Harrelson.

  2. Ellen Anne Yanik says:

    I will be sad to see Harrelson go. I met my husband in math classes in Harrelson and in that same Harrelson math classroom he proposed. 🙂

  3. Ted Simons says:

    Replacing Harrelson with another BOX may spoil the assymetry of the Brickyard. For all its quirkyness, Harrelson holds fond memories for me and created a focal point….not to mention a shady space on hot Raleigh days. The building should be replaced with a structure that can also stand as a campus landmark.

  4. Wendy Anderson says:

    I was a History major so I spent a lot of time in this building. My sense of direction went out the window (and stayed there) for a majority of my years at State. Strangely, I liked this building. I liked that the classrooms were small. You could really get to know your classmates and have fun. It is sad to see it go. Anyone that’s been in that building will never forget it.

  5. john snakenburg says:

    Fair warning ! The ground under the brickyard and under Harrelson is probably still very radio-active from the materials used in the gardens that were there back in the 40s and 50s. We had to remove 12 feet deep of contaminated soil next to the “Mines” building right behind Harrelson when I worked there in the 80s. I personally knew 4 people who died because of exposure to that radioactivity during the “Atomic Peanut” project.

  6. James Polk says:

    Good riddance! This building should’ve been removed long ago. Hard to believe I paid good money to learn in that dungeon.

  7. Equinox Bandingo says:

    All of the buildings, courtyards and classrooms at State don’t have to be laid out on a rectangular grid, be of rectangular shape with rectangular classrooms and made of red, rectangular brick. This change seems like a luxury in a time of such diminishing funding and rising costs – not to mention the intangible value of holding on to some things that give the campus a little diversity and character which it needs.

    1. Chris J says:

      Actually the school’s architectural plan states only a few different materials may be used, and one of those is red brick.. sorry!

  8. Steve Washburn says:

    Hopefully, another way can soon be found to honor Col. John Harrelson, NC State’s fifth executive officer, first chancellor and first alumnus (singular form of alumni) to lead the school.

  9. Bill Robinson says:

    I navigated the passages (and the minute elevator) in a mobility scooter back in 2001 and 2002. It was without a doubt the most miserable building to try and get around in anywhere on campus. Usually an accessible ramp must pass the “bowling ball test”; the entire core of the building did not. The roof appeared to be specifically designed to form an elevated lake and tempt the leak gods. This was a poor location for wetlands, however much we need them. Kudos to NCSU for getting rid of it at last.

  10. Jo Scheid says:

    Sad to see this iconic building go. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in it, so I’m sure it was in need of renovation and updates (as ALL the campus buildings would be by now), but it was a unique part of our campus.

  11. Rhonda Sherman says:

    I’m very pleased that NC State will be deconstructing Harrelson Hall and reusing or recycling 90 percent of the materials. NC State supported deconstruction in the 1990’s by helping me to create the video “Old Buildings Don’t Have to Go to Waste” (1996) and publishing my extension fact sheet “Deconstruction: Giving Old Buildings New Lives” (1998). ” NC State is “walking its talk”!

  12. Brad Allison says:

    I loved this building. It was so weird and wonderful at the same time. There was always a sense of confusion going into and coming out of this building.

    I took all my math classes in this building in the early 90’s.

    Very sad to read this. So many good and strange memories of this building.

  13. Peggy Batten says:

    Reclaimed should mean that the mathematics department is moving back in to Harrelson!

  14. m. james says:

    Reminds me of the Guggenheim museum building in NYC.

    Apple has their spaceship campus and many other buildings over the world are also circular.

    The building also looks like a huge hard disk drive out of an IBM mainframe or even an alternate BORG spaceship out of Startrek TNG.

  15. James Calvin Robinson says:

    I really hate to see it go. I do seem to remember the building more than any other. I worked in the math department as a student employee for several years as an undergrad.

  16. Ed Julian says:

    Everyone to their own taste or style, but never found anything confusing about the layout of the building. Classrooms seem to have been well designed. It was a great landmark, in my time on those hallowed grounds.

    Ed Julian, BS 70, MS 72.

    1. Deborah Butler says:

      I don’t think our HGTV Flip or Flop team could even take this on as a renovation — “Let’s knock out a few walls and create an open concept. . . ”

      I didn’t like it when I was attending NCSU (Class of 1982) and I think there can be a better use for the prime real estate it occupies.

      Good decision!

  17. Scott Mooneyham says:

    Walking up the spiral was one way to wake up before a 7:50.

  18. Angel says:

    I’m a little confused. You can build the much promoted Hunt Library and Talley Center but can’t make use out of an existing round building? I can’t imagine why it would cost more to re-design what’s already there (not feasible) than it would to tear it down piece by piece, haul it off, take care of the radioactive ground it’s built on and then build a whole new structure. But then, I’ve never understood why so many things that are perfectly fine at NCSU get replaced or unnecessarily re-decorated at substantial costs while the cost of tuition continues to rise.

    1. Emily Baker says:

      You have some excellent points! I always hated how much construction occurred on and around campus, but how much of it was necessary? With all of the knowledge that NC State possesses, why can’t something else be done?

    2. David Henderson, BS in CSC, '97 says:

      One reason the decision was made to take down Harrelson Hall was because the cost involved with making the building wheelchair and handicapped accessible would be prohibitive. The central corkscrew ramp was great for skateboards and roller blades (guilty), but it does nothing for traffic and navigability. When I was there in the 90’s very few people even bothered with the ramp. And the staircases with their wedge shape are too steep along their central edge– they don’t even pas code.

      Tear down. Campus will be better off without it.

  19. Kate Sweeney says:

    Sad to see it go. Good memories there.

  20. Mark Hunt says:

    Had many classes there over the years since 1991. The walk from Burlighton to the Atrium won’t be the same. Sad to see it go.

  21. Russ Ayscue says:

    Sad to see it go. As a Math major (BS ’84), I had many classes in this building. Never had a problem with the building and enjoyed it’s unique architecture. Although, come to think of it, I still have nightmares of being a student with a class in the building and never being able to find the classroom before the semester ends..

  22. Yang Beasley says:

    My first math class was in Harrelson August 1974 and my last was there in May of 1983. I hope demolishing the building doesn’t hurt our chances of winning another NCAA basketball championship!

    1. Phillip Cooper says:

      My first class was August 1972… I really hate to see Harrelson go.

  23. Roger Cantrell says:

    I love that building. It’s so iconic. Hate to see it go.

  24. Bill Bizzell says:

    T.A. Loving must have some sad memories. I worked for TALCO when construction was underway. Several of the outside columns were laid out incorrectly causing the very large concrete footings to be removed and replaced.

  25. Tomp Litchfield says:

    Harrelson Hall is a landmark on campus (only surpassed by the Bell Tower), one of a kind. I had no problems walking the halls, nor did I find anything confusing with the building. I realize change is looking into the future, but personally, I will miss the opportunity of showing the first round classroom building to my grandchildren.

  26. Chad says:

    Math. Foreign Language. And of course as a History major I spent a ton of time in this building. The stairs were steep and the ramp was crowded. I never found the fastest way around the place. So I can’t say I will miss it. That being said I had my department graduation ceremony right outside and spent many an hour gathered with groups of friends in the shade. So I guess I will hold on to those memories of this quirky building.

  27. Leroy Wilkins says:

    Wow, I remember going into this building back in the early 80’s and always wanted to roller skate down the inner ramp I am glad to know that the parts will be reused for other buildings.

  28. SHelsley says:

    I remember going to Harrelson as a child when the building was first built! My dad was an applied mathematics major in the early ’60s. He was a student when the building opened and he had a lot of classes there. I remember very clearly a science/math expo at Harrelson that featured a talking robot, which was very advanced at the time.

  29. Chip Davis says:

    My office and lab on the fifth floor of Cox looked out on Harrelson Hall back in ’69. (As did that of an assistant professor by the name of Jim Goodnight, who was writing a suite of statistical routines in PL/I.) I remember it as a visual lily floating in a pond of red brick industrial buildings. Very few buildings on campus in those days could be distinguished from those of a factory or penitentiary. Perhaps that wasn’t an accident, form following function. I will take a screen-shot of Google Earth, and I will miss it.

  30. Dan Henley '73 says:

    In 1969, when State unexpectedly beat South Carolina for the ACC Championship the entire campus spontaneously emptied into the Brickyard and then onto Hillsborough Street. We then paraded all the way to downtown Raleigh. The discussion on the way back to campus among the Engineering students was how to tip Harrelson on its side, and then roll it down Hillsborough Street into the State Capital Building,

  31. John Doster says:

    You could never find a corner in that building!!!

    The building was from the golden age of what we can build. But not very functional

  32. Marie Hicks says:

    Harrelson was where I taught my first class, adjuncting at State in 2005 while doing my PhD at Duke. I remember my surprise when I showed up to teach on the first day. I loved the experience of teaching at State and have fond memories of that weird, round building. It always reminded me of the New England Aquarium that I loved while growing up in Boston. Both were slightly fishy: overly optimistic vestiges of how past generations envisioned the future. There was something both beautiful and sad about them and the impossible dreams they tried to make real. I’m bummed to see such a unique building get consigned to the dustbin of history. But I’m glad I had the chance to walk its strange, sloping, circular halls while it stood. The only thing I regret is that I never did get the chance to come back with my rollerblades on…

  33. Chris Myers says:

    (BSEE ’94) Sad to see this building go. It had character in a campus of sharp corners…..and a brickyard……Had all my math classes here. I think I had a history class here as well.

  34. Jim Stephenson says:

    Harrelson Hall was like that quirky uncle that can be found in almost every family – a little weird but, over time, it grew on you and you accepted it. With all its flaws, it served its purpose and now must bow to progress.

  35. Janet Brewer Smith '91 says:

    I really loved Harrelson Hall! As a History major, I spent a tremendous amount of time in that building. I loved that this building was different from all of the rest. It will be hard to see it go.

  36. Halbert Carmichael says:

    Having taught classes, taken classes, and given tests in Harrelson, I can attest to the confusion. I did learn eventually that the yellow staircase led up to the origin of the room numbers.

  37. Thomas B. West says:

    Sometime early in my studies from the fall of 1959 to graduation in June of 1963, I sat in a class room witnessing the layout of the column footings from the elaborate surveying techniques to placement of the bolts in the concrete. Impressive…. But after a pause of an undetermined time,
    In my memory now, a small team arrived obviously to check the positions of the bolts relative to the center of the building. Out came the string/steel wire being stretched from the center to the footing in question. I knew then, convincingly, that I had chosen the right discipline.
    Tom West BSME Class ’63

  38. John R. Williams says:

    Whenever I think of NC State, Harrelson Hall comes to mind. An odd structure for sure, but an icon too, reminding me that the school also taught architecture. I’m sad to see it go. I had several classes there during its first years of existence (EE 1961-65). Hope its replacement will be as inspiring.

  39. Dale Joyner says:

    Wow – I learned most of the math that I know in that building! I’m now a math instructor myself, and I have fond memories of Harrelson! Even though it was a weird building with funny-shaped rooms and no interior windows, it was unique! I had classes there from 1983 – 87 when they still had chalkboards, and no computers in the classrooms! Seems like a different world, now. I hate to see it go, but understand that it would have been a difficult building to renovate. I remember that there was a lounge or study area at the very top of the ramp, and it was like being in a big theater when you sat up there! Good times!

  40. Schteveo says:

    Ohman, no more skateboard rides in Harrelson!

    Bummer for all the Freshman!!

  41. Frank Womble says:

    Visited the campus today and was quite pleased to note that deconstruction of this abysmally impractical building has begun. I spent many uncomfortable hours crammed into its tiny classrooms between 1973 and 1977. I still think fondly of my undergraduate years at NCSU, but none of those memories include Harrelson Hall. It won’t be missed.

  42. Lasitter says:

    I had a number of classes there from 1976-1979, and I can’t imagine NCSU without the signature world’s first “merry-go-’round classroom building”.

  43. kelly flanagan says:

    As a freshman in 1991 I learned a trick from an upper classman. ‘Learn how to get to Harrelson, then you can figure out where all your classes are from there.’ Worked flawlessly. **sigh** I’ll miss that quirky 60’s sci-fi building.

  44. Jeff Cox says:

    I was there in the early 90’s and learned to love that building. Sure it was quirky, but also unique and full of character. I had math, history, econ, and even several ChemE classes there. As much as I hate to see it go I understand the need. My career so far has been in capital projects and you cannot have progress without change. I’m sure the new grounds will be great and the next generation will have their own memories there.

  45. Emily Baker says:

    I began NC State in 2009 and obtained 2 degrees while I was there, the second I finished this month. Harrelson and I had a love-hate ralationship. I had to keep mental note of what door I entered, what door I had to find to leave, and which floor to enter off the staircase. The elevator was never on my radar so I never knew it didn’t work. I climbed the stairs and trekked the spiral walk. This building added interest and made us think outside of the box. It could be made into something extraordinary and accomodating to everyone.

    This is OUR STATE, and OUR round building. Farewell Harrelson Hall, I’m proud to say I knew you.

  46. frank milkowski says:

    I work next to her for 26 yrs going to miss her.

  47. Cally says:

    Where can we find the items being sold? Any specific stores?

  48. L.H. says:

    You can tell from the number of comments this was a very polarizing figure on the NCSU campus. I knew it was going to be torn down, but hoped to get back there before it happened.. I never comment on these forums and honestly I am feeling a little more than ridiculous saying this, especially about an old building, but I must admit: this makes me kinda sad. As a naive and shy 17 year old freshman, away from home and with no friends, I felt so out of place when I first got to State in ’03, but Harrelson was weird and different like me, and it definitely grew on me. It provided the intimate classes that were not overwhelming in size, not to mention the best shade when taking a quick break walking from East campus, and for some reason, I felt a sense of ease and encouragement once I saw it in the distance while walking to class or work, as if it was a solemn marker or milestone, as if to say “you are almost there”.. “there” being a biology class, “there” being the stacks at d.h. hill, “there” being a better future… For 4 years it was a source of stability when I got back on campus after being back home for the weekend and having realized that everything and everyone was changing, including myself. So, even though I know progress demanded it, I for one am sad to hear about Harrelson and will miss the sensation of glorious, dizzy, confused ascencion and deja vu it offered so freely.

  49. Troy Raines says:

    Very sad. Supports a continued right brain leadership deficiency at NC State. This move doesn’t help alumni support and removes one of the few interesting structures from campus. State has an architectural school but you would never know it by this move.

  50. Gail Hoyle says:

    I had all my math classes in Harrellson. Spent many hours there learning and praying over exams. Walked many inclines and stayed in shape. I will miss it dearly. ❤️❤️❤️

  51. Margarete Hermanson says:

    From 1976 to 1980 I took several classes in Harrelson Hall at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. I started majoring in Mathematics, but switched to Design and Architecture. I was at the Brickyard in 1983. I worked for Ralph Reeves in the 1980’s.

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