Building Design That Tells a Story

The University of Nebraska integrates stories of its students, faculty, and donors throughout its newly opened Hawks Hall.
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An installation of iPads introduces faculty to visitors at the University of Nebraska’s Hawks Hall.


WHEN ADMINISTRATORS at the College of Business at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln imagined how they wanted people to experience the school’s new 240,000-square-foot Howard L. Hawks Hall, they knew they wanted the building to tell the school’s story—quite literally. Displays throughout the main thoroughfares of the building, opened last fall, feature photos and information about the school’s students, faculty, and donors.

For instance, one large display features six iPads, each installed in front of a photo panel featuring a faculty member. Users can scroll through information on each iPad to learn more about that faculty member’s story, including a short biography and links to publications. The system also accommodates video.

“The Faculty Stories display was intended to highlight research and credentials to raise up the value of faculty in a powerful way,” says Davy Fisher, design principal at Advent, the Tennessee-based firm that designed the facility. Fisher emphasizes that the firm took into account the need for ongoing content curation in the space—the school can easily swap out photo panels with new photos and manage and update the iPad stories through Advent’s content management system.

The storytelling strategy extends to the school’s students and sponsors. Several displays honor student accomplishments, such as those of student athletes. More than 100 displays recognize donors—some are sized to reflect the amount of the donation, while others include details to match the donor’s personality.

In addition, the school asked several donors to select quotes that had inspired their lives and careers. These quotes are now on display in classrooms, which “allowed donors to participate in the program at a deeper level,” says Fisher.

All displays reflect the school’s theme, “Start Something.” Throughout the building, text accompanying photo panels encourages the community to “Start Competing” (in the case of student athletes), “Start Serving,” or “Start Connecting.” These slogans are meant to encourage students to develop their own stories, says Fisher, whether it’s the story of starting a business, working for a Fortune 500 company, launching a trend, or serving the community.

Start Something 350

Start Competing 350

Start Connecting

The new building displays photos depicting members of the UNL
community under the “Start Something,” “Start Competing,” and Start Connecting” themes.


In 2015, before beginning the design process, Advent and school administrators spoke to stakeholders on the elements they wanted to see integrated into the new facility. The storytelling strategy was chosen due to feedback from donors and the school community.

Read more about how UNL’s College of Business gathered input on its new design.  More photos of Hawks Hall’s interior spaces can be viewed on Advent’s project page.