Singing Carolina's Praises, Shouting N.C.U.

Office of University Development, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Prior to the start of a recent capital campaign, and partly to accommodate an expected increase in staffing, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sought to renovate its Development Office. SMMA was hired to provide architectural and interior design services for the four-story, 22,000-square-foot project, which includes provisions for additional development office staff, new systems furniture, upgraded mechanical and electrical equipment, and accessibility upgrades. Our design process is focused on deploying appropriate workplace strategies that integrate opportunities for collaboration, mobility, and flexibility, as the department’s staff grows. The renovation will be completed under the requirements of Senate Bill 668 and the full State Construction Office administrative process.

UNC Chapel Hill has a strong tradition of private giving, beginning with the gift of land that originally established the campus. The Development Office supports the University’s advancement by providing such services as gift processing, donor research, planned giving support, communications, and events.  

At our first meeting, the Vice Chancellor for University Development shared the institution’s aspirations for the space: “Our primary goal is not to squeeze as many people in this building as possible, but rather to create a functional, energetic, and fun atmosphere that promotes collaboration and enhances recruitment.”

SMMA took this quote as inspiration: To create an atmosphere that spoke to collaboration, flexibility, forward-thinking office practices, and technology, we needed to invert their current workplace organization.


We began with the idea of maximizing the amount of natural light entering the building. This creates a brighter, more productive space in which to work. We achieved this by not only reducing the number of walled offices, but by moving them from their current locations, at the perimeter of the building, to the center, thus allowing light to penetrate deeper into the space. Introducing more open, low-profile workstations and locating them near the windows reinforced the strategy of maximizing the natural light on each level, while promoting collaboration and flexibility.


To create an energetic and fun atmosphere, SMMA identified amenity spaces, such as the reception area, café, and conference rooms, as “dynamic spaces,” and decided to treat them uniquely, in terms of their identity. These areas are distinguishable by breaking from the typical grid of the existing building and rotating, to create a new grid system. This makes the spaces easily recognizable from floor to floor, and creates an energetic plan with “pockets” of space that can be used for informal meetings and collaboration.

The final piece of the design puzzle centered on enhancing recruitment. To achieve this, we needed to bring the University’s identity to the forefront. SMMA’s goal was to introduce branding as the thread that weaved throughout the entire building, tying everything together.


We began by considering how the building is viewed by passersby, implementing large graphics in the lobby and reception area that are viewable from the exterior and shine as a beacon at night. We also introduced a “timeline” in the reception area, and provided the University with an opportunity for an interchangeable display—one month could feature quotes, another may show images from campus, and another may have an illustrative history of the Development Office. The finishes chosen throughout the building reflect subtle connections to the University colors and significant University, symbols which reinforce the idea of the uninterrupted branding thread running throughout the building.