Architects: Hopkins Architects with Hanbury Evans Wright Vlattas + Company
Location: Houston, Texas, USA
Client: Rice University
Structural Engineer: Haynes Whaley Associates
Civil Engineer: Walter P. Moore
Landscape Architect: THE OFFICE OF JAMES BURNETT
Project Year: 2009
Photographs: Robert Benson Photography
Two new residential colleges are helping Rice University grow strategically while sustaining its signature campus culture. The project was designed in the collegiate quadrangle tradition. Shaded arcades carefully weave the spaces with existing tree-lined walks, providing an integral order to the original campus plan by [Ralph Adams] Cram, Foodhue & Ferguson. The project includes seven buildings, including two Masters’ Houses, creating a careful composition and hierarchy of buildings and spaces.
Residential accommodation for 650 students is provided on upper floors, which are highly modular while offering different bedroom types. The top floor also accommodates a large shaded outdoor terrace with green plantings. Façades are brick, reflecting campus character. Mortar with high lime content allows the bricks to span each façade without being broken by expansion joints; their 8-inch depth ensures the walls support themselves.
A desire for innovation, sustainability and durability drove design of unique, i-Pod- sleek prefabricated bathroom pods for the student residences. The pods use an outer cladding and a cast Glass Reinforced Plastic (GRP) 6’ x 8’ interior with all white walls, ceiling, wall-hung plumbing fixtures and light fixtures. The self-finished inner shell is assembled and the fixtures installed in a controlled factory setting before transport to the destination site. On site, pods are slotted into place, and plumbing and electrical connections are completed.
The pods provide an unparalleled level of finish and durability. They reduce waste and energy consumption. They offer a more flexible, modern and spatially generous facility for student residents, and additional privacy, as baths are shared by only two students. The 260 pods introduced in this project made Rice a leader in the use of prefabrication in campus facilities.
Each quad is completed by a “commons” or dining space,” the communal heart of the colleges. Built as independent volumes with their own shape and character, each makes a bold formal statement, with visible timber structures holding the roof in place in an elegant and slender manner. McMurtry Commons has a circular plan and a central roof lantern. Duncan Commons has a rectangular plan, with tree-shaped structural columns and interesting light patterns created by the up-light fixtures.
Both commons are supported by solid Douglas fir columns with steel-bolted connections, while wood “flitched” perimeter columns support the façades at every bay. The roof’s wood beams are veneered to express the roof structure. Douglas fir veneer infill panels are slotted in for acoustic absorption and recessed lights are configured in a controlled layout.
All internal wood is Douglas fir, and all external wood is solid cypress, including the colleges’ first-floor siding and internal corner louvers. The project’s many sustainable features, earned United States Green Building’s Council LEED Gold ratings for both colleges, exceeding Rice’s mandate that all new buildings achieve a minimum of LEED Silver.