Wall of Discovery


LA Ink

Practice Area


University of Minnesota


Project Vision

For a major university, the most valuable currency is not its sports teams, but its scholars and their accomplishments. The University of Minnesota recognizes that, and celebrates its most renowned faculty and students with a new installation that allows viewers a window into their brilliant minds.

Meant to be multi-dimensional and absorbed over many viewings, the Wall of Discovery is a 253-ft.-long illuminated “blackboard” along Scholars Walk on the university’s Minneapolis campus. The wall tells the scholars’ stories through a series of their personal notes, sketches, diagrams, and drawings on the blackboard surface under edgelit, etched-glass panels.

Viewers can see, among many other entries, Dr. Robert Good’s notes for an article on the first successful bone transplant, James Ryan’s patent drawings of the airplane flight recorder, Dr. Catherine Verfaille’s notes on stem cell research, and even Bob Dylan’s lyrics to “Temporary Like Achilles.”

LA ink was responsible for the project’s extensive research, design, and project management, and worked with a list of more than 200 scholarly achievements. Document acquisition and coordination of permissions from scholars and their heirs was a major undertaking. More than half of the documents came from outside the university.

LA ink designed the “blackboard” with graphics electrostatically imaged using Scotchprint materials and printers, then adhered to high-strength aluminum sheet stock to eliminate deflection. Over the blackboard graphics, edge-lit glass panels feature abstract images etched and carved onto the back side, away from dirt and vandals.

While the blackboard has a semi-matte finish, the glass panels were intentionally kept reflective, allowing viewers to notice their own images superimposed on the wall. That touch was intended to stimulate personal contemplation and perhaps inspire viewers to someday add their own “writing on the wall.”

Project Details
This is just the kind of work that we aspire to in so many of our architectural pieces; here you can see just why it's so rare. It's a great example of how a simple, strong idea requires hours of research, diligence in acquisition of material, and expertise in execution. But then when you can take something as personal as thought and create civic interaction, that's success!
Juror 1
This exemplary project is both provocative at an intellectual level and beautiful in a purely aesthetic presentation. Its other admirable quality is that it invites passersby to discover something new at every visit. It is compelling in its concept to bring the sketchbooks of scholars to life on a 'blackboard' surface, then highlight questions on an illuminated glass panel.
Juror 2
There does not appear to be a graphic ownership in the composition. It looks as though the words and ideas flow freely across the length of the wall. This supports the idea of how brilliance and ingenuity come to life-from pen to paper.
Juror 3
Design Team

Drew Sternal (principal in charge), Joseph D. Olson

Design Firm

LA Ink

Project Area

253 ft. long


Nordquist Sign Company (primary fabricator), Miratec Systems (3M “blackboard” film imaging), Glass Art Design (glass carving and etching)