Burlington Nuclear Lab Area, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC
Burlington Nuclear Lab Area, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC



United States

Burlington Nuclear Lab Area

This landscape, at North Carolina State University, was completed in 1972 and wraps around three sides of the Burlington Nuclear Lab, designed by architect George Milton in 1953. The lab housed the first nuclear research reactor designed, built, and operated by an academic institution in the United States. With planning underway for a new reactor and a major addition to the existing building, the university hired  landscape architect Geoffrey McLean to improve the area. He designed a sculptural landscape that drew on Modernist ideas while foreshadowing later Postmodern motifs with whimsically elevated everyday objects. The landscape’s paving, planters, steps and sculptures are made of the red brick found throughout much of the university’s campus. McLean used brick to construct an angular sculptural landscape for sitting and gathering, embellished with  planters that play with perspective, zig-zagging and tilting in and out to create ziggurats and inverted ziggurats. Utilitarian elements like manhole covers and grates are accentuated, rather than hidden, by multifunctional sculptures of brick that take the shape of abstracted human forms. One that resembles an anthropomorphic chimney appears to walk over a grate and is the focus of a seating area with floating wood benches. Another sculptural composition (removed in 2022) incorporated a water meter, while also providing an asymmetrical point of focus for one of the site’s main paths. Diagonal parking is artfully integrated on the sides of the building in a way that highlights its zigzags. Initially, McLean had hoped to pedestrianize the adjacent side streets. Ultimately, he created small protected spaces  for pedestrians to be removed from the street and the parked cars. The landscape is a regionally significant example of a wider multifunctional sculpture and sculptural landscape movement.

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