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Austin Hall’s Abacus: Numbers in time

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January 21, 2015

One of the first aspects of Austin Hall, the new home of the OSU College of Business, that visitors can’t help but notice is the artistic array of stainless steel spheres suspended by cables above the building’s central staircase.

To the science oriented, the display might seem molecular in nature, but it’s really mathematical. The artwork by Ray King is called Abacus, named after the ancient tool for counting and calculating.

King lives in Philadelphia and his philosophy is to create “dynamic sculptures that interact with the sun by reflecting light into shadow and refracting light into colors.” He’s exhibited his work internationally since 1976 and has done site-specific artwork throughout the U.S.

King’s Austin Hall creation is actually 24 abaci, each representing an important year in College of Business history — ranging from the 1858 creation of Corvallis Academy, to which Oregon State traces its history, to the 2014 opening of Austin Hall.

A plaque (shown below) on the east-facing wall near the northeast corner of Abacus explains why each date significant and also provides instruction on how to read an abacus. Basically, the columns of spheres stand for thousands, hundreds, tens and ones, with spheres below the abacus’ horizontal rod assigned a value of one each, and spheres above the rod having a value of 10 each.

It’s pretty easy once you get the hang of it — though if it takes you a few minutes to do that, don’t feel alone.

For more on Abacus, see

abacus plaque
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