Students, Instructors, and Alumni Collaborate to Revitalize McNeal Hall Atrium

July 7, 2022

In the spring of 2018 Teaching Specialist Bill Moran (Graphic Design) asked his students to design fabric wraps for the concrete pillars lining the basement of McNeal Hall. The project was a success, and it prompted Moran to ask himself, “Why not try this in the McNeal Hall Atrium?” The idea stuck with him and finally came to fruition in June 2022 when Moran solicited help from alumni, students, staff of the Goldstein Museum of Design, and received funding from the college’s Kusske Design Initiative to make his idea a reality.

From his previous experiences, Moran knew that painting the pillars would be too complicated, with few opportunities to edit the final images. In comparison, fabric wraps had a built-in flame retardant and the team working on the images was able to render the flat designs onto a cylindrical form to prototype how they’d look on screen before committing to printing them. When it came to what sort of images to put on the wraps, Moran had help from students Patrick Schultz (Graphic Design) and Isabelle Atkinson (Apparel Design) as well as Goldstein Museum of Design Associate Curator Jean McElvain and Registrar and Exhibitions Coordinator Eunice Haugen.

“[The Goldstein has] an absolute treasure trove of textiles, and we tried to gather textiles with shared warm or cool color schemes and patterns that were both busy and quiet to give each pillar the most interesting pattern,” explained Moran. Once the textiles were selected, Moran, Schultz, and Atkinson used inkjet printers in the McNeal Hall Printing Studios to print on the fabric before sewing the first few prototypes. “We tried using stretch fabric around the zippers but it was too much of a hassle so we just worked to make them as snug as possible,” said Moran. “We also learned the hard way that the zipper has to start on top of the pillar!” The final installation used a simple pipe clamp to affix the wraps to the top of the pillar without drilling into the structure.

Three pillars wrapped in different fabric murals.
Three of the concrete pillars in the McNeal Hall Atrium, each wrapped in a different fabric mural.

“The sleeves presented a really fun challenge and I jumped at the chance to leave a mark on my academic home base, McNeal Hall,” said Graphic Design Student Patrick Schultz. “It’s always a bit tricky to work at a really large scale, you don’t truly know what the sleeves will look like in the space until they’ve been installed. That was a pretty exciting part of the process though, seeing the giant photoshop files I’ve been working on finally at the size they deserve. The most interesting part of the process was staring at all those high-res textile images. So much life and artistry went into each one and it was really fun to get more acquainted with the museum collection.”

Moran and his team also relied on the expertise of alumna Mary Deeg (BS ‘86, Interior Design) who helped them consider the original intent of McNeal Hall’s architect and how to advance that intent with the addition of the new fabric wraps. “McNeal Hall’s interior is a place to inspire design students each day to reach higher with their education, encourage and stimulate creative learning, and push beyond comfort zones,” said Deeg. “When I was a student I always thought that the lobby space felt cold with hard surfaces, yet the daylight provided lovely bright light. I agreed with Bill’s idea to wrap the round interior concrete columns with warmth of color, visual graphic interest, and tactile stimulation that encourages curiosity, creativity, and provides a feeling of warmth.”

With the new wraps now up in McNeal Hall’s Atrium, Moran is already looking ahead to his next project, “I’m happy to report that the Magrath Library has tapped us to do a similar project in their atrium using images of rare books from their collection. It’s exciting to see this project taken up in other shared spaces on campus!”