On the walls facing the elevators on the first floor of the Watt Family Innovation Center is wallpaper that features line after line of binary code. Zeroes and ones in patterns, computer code turned into art. That image is in many ways an allegory for the Watt Center. If you translate the binary code on the wallpaper, you’ll be able to read the will of Thomas Green Clemson. That very complex design of zeroes and ones, the symbol of modern computing, when translated, is the essence of Clemson University.
When the architects and designers translated Clemson’s will into binary code, they took something essentially Clemson and turned it on its head. They translated the wishes of a 19th century man who wanted to educate young men in the science of agriculture into a digital language read by computers.
In a similar way, the Watt Center takes the traditional academic building that respects the boundaries of disciplines and majors and colleges, and turns it on its head. This is a building whose walls can move and whose rooms can be reconfigured in a matter of hours. The floors handle airflow, signal cables and power. Video walls that support 3-D imaging let students and faculty mirror multiple laptop screens for group viewing and discussion. A huge media grid on the front of the building is the largest of its kind in this country (24 x 209 ft.). Walls and windows serve as giant “whiteboards” to be written upon. A “makerspace” allows students to produce 3-D prototypes.
There’s collaboration in every nook and cranny of this building, and the energy is palpable.
Charles Watt ’59, whose family’s generosity made this building possible, has a vision for this building, and it is to instill the characteristic of a “maker” into every student who studies within it. His experience in industry, government and education has convinced him that multidisciplinary education is the key to preparing students for the marketplace. Not only do they need depth of knowledge in a particular field, but to compete in today’s global economy, they need to combine that with a breadth of understanding, entrepreneurial outlook, communication skills, critical thinking and the ability to work effectively as a member of a diverse team.
The Watt Center really is a giant laboratory experiment in how to help students develop those skills for taking products from brainstorm to reality. Industry partners who understand the possibilities and the prospects for effectively educating tomorrow’s workforce have signed on, not only to provide state-of-the-art lighting, furniture, electronics and more, but to participate with faculty and students in research and development.