Houston, Texas

You can almost hear the “Pomp and Circumstance March” as you stroll Rice University’s bucolic, 285-acre campus nestled in the heart of Houston, shielded from the hubbub of the city’s six-lane freeways and endless strip development. With its tangles of live oaks shading quads formed primarily by neo-Byzantine academic buildings of rose-colored brick, with clay-tile roofs and ample arcades, the university campus, designed over the past century, with an original plan by Boston architects Cram, Goodhue and Ferguson, exudes “collegiate life.”

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Since his appointment in 2004, President David Leebron has continued the university’s longstanding commitment to architectural patronage through commissions with world-renowned architects, including New York–based Thomas Phifer and Partners, who last spring completed the Raymond and Susan Brochstein Pavilion, a 6,000-square-foot glass box, crowned by a broad white trellis, housing a café and lounge.

In initial meetings with Thomas Phifer, AIA, Leebron expressed his desire to create an informal space for undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and visitors to meet and share ideas—a center for the campus whose vitality was challenged in part by the school’s nine residential colleges, which hug its physical perimeter, segregating and pushing activity to the university’s edges. In choosing the location for the project, there was another problem that Leebron hoped to solve. Staub and Rather’s brick, streamlined Renaissance-style Fondren Library, built in the late 1940s, sits smack in the middle of the main quadrangle, creating a front-yard/backyard tension, and had rendered the eastern Central Quad a dead, underused space. “It was a sidewalk and a couple cow paths,” says Barbara White Bryson, Rice’s associate vice president for facilities, engineering, and planning. Originally envisioned as a café addition to the library, Leebron hoped the project would breathe life into the neglected quad and also bridge the academic and social realms (goals, says Bryson, of Michael Graves’s 2005 50-year master plan). Phifer says that after studying Cram and Goodhue’s original plan (which never envisioned a building where the library was constructed) and making a diagram of how the students moved through campus, he decided to pull the café out as a freestanding structure with gardens that would function as connectors to the library’s new west entrance.

“Once you move into the middle of the campus, the obligation becomes for a much lighter, more transparent building,” says Phifer. “It becomes a garden pavilion at that point—the trees and landscape are just as much a part of the architecture as the buildings.” The pavilion exhibits extraordinary restraint, treading lightly, indeed almost floating amid the robust masonry edifices while at the same time it acknowledges the traditional architectural
environment in its symmetry, overhangs, and porticoes. “I’m from the south, so I call them porches,” says Phifer. “I always think of the southern porch as a welcoming gesture, a gesture of generosity that helps you become a part of something.” The building’s four, column-punctuated sides are almost identical, but all interact with the site in unique ways. The pavilion follows a Classical model without resorting to historicist pastiche. It is a temple, albeit one that evokes a Texan, or southern, vernacular—a similar spirit is captured by Renzo Piano’s nearby Menil Collection Museum building, another airy, low-slung volume with light-filtering canopies shading deep verandas.

A square in plan, the pavilion is supported by a steel frame around its perimeter, which holds floor-to-ceiling panes of high-performance glass. The column-free interior is interrupted only by a core that houses restrooms, storage, and the mechanical room a level below, and divides the space into a café area dominated by a white circular coffee bar on the north side and a lounge with TVs to the south. Daylight filters through sunshade diffusers marching across the pavilion’s flat roof and is further deflected by a perforated-metal ceiling system that integrates fluorescent lighting and sprinklers. The facades and the 26-foot-wide plaza surrounding the building are shaded by a canopy of steel beams and round aluminum rods supported by slender steel columns. Hanging over the footpaths, the trellis renders the porches active participants in the campus circulation. Taking cues from Cram and Goodhue’s neo-Byzantine buildings, with their natural ventilation, thermal mass, and covered arcades, Phifer took a sustainable approach to addressing the hot and humid climate. His hope was that, for much of the school year, the 12 sets of doors would be thrown open, limiting the need for air-conditioning as well as artificial lighting and connecting the interior to James Burnett’s surrounding landscape of reflecting pools, live oaks, allée elms, and horsetail reeds. Sadly, on a recent sunny, 75-degree day—as students stopped in for their caffeine fix and professors conversed—all doors were closed with the air blasting, and lights were fully illuminated.

As the new campus crossroads, the Brochstein Pavilion, with a deft immaterialism, bridges the physical and metaphoric outside and inside, encouraging movement through and around the library and connecting the new residential colleges rising on the south with the science facilities emerging to the north. Though a diminutive building that serves nothing more than coffee and snacks, the pavilion has become emblematic of Rice University’s mission. “It is at the very core of what we are about,” Leebron told the press at the pavilion’s dedication. “It is a place to exchange ideas and be inspired by your surroundings.”



Thomas Phifer, Thomas Phifer and Partners


Ed Durham


Walter P Moore(civil)
Mac Ruffeno

Ulrich Engineers, Inc (geotechnical)
Ed Ulrich

The Office of James Burnett (landscape)
Andrew Albers

Altieri Sebor Wieber, LLC (MEPF)
Vladimir Goldin

Haynes Whaley Associates, Inc (Structural)
Wally Ford

Construction Specifications (Specifications)
Stephen Pine

Fisher Marantz Stone (Lighting)
Margo Wiltshire

Rolf Jensen and Associates (Fire Protection)
Ed Millington


Scott Frances

Design Team:

Thomas Phifer and Partners
Thomas Phifer, AIA
Don Cox, AIA, Managing Partner
Eric Richey, Project Architect
Ryan Indovina, Project Designer


Structural Engineer:
Haynes Whaley Associates, Inc
Larry Whaley
Wally B. Ford

MEPF Engineer:
Altieri Sebor Wieber, LLC
Andrew J. Sebor
Vladimir Goldin
Joe Renzulli
Ed Klesh
David Lussier
Bernhard Grapski
Joseph Pappolla

Civil Engineer:
Walter P. Moore
Charles Penland
Mac Ruffeno

Geotechnical Engineer:
Ulrich Engineers, Inc
Ed Ulrich


Lighting Consultant:
Fisher Marantz Stone
Paul Marantz
Margo Wiltshire

Rolf Jensen and Associates
Ed Millington

The Office of James Burnett
James Burnett
Chip Tragesar
Andrew Albers

Construction Specifications
Aaron Pine
Stephen Pine

Design Software:




Structural System

SIPs (roof): Foard Panel, Inc.

Heavy Timber Frame: Ponders Hollow

Exterior Cladding

Thermally Modified Maple Siding: Ponders Hollow


Metal Standing Seam Roof: Firestone


Wood frame:  Bildau and Bussmann


Wood Frame Entrances: Bildau and Bussmann

Metal doors: De La Fontaine

Wood doors: VT Industries


Locksets: Schlage

Closers: LCN

Exit devices: Yale

Pulls: Ives

Security devices:  DMP

Interior Finishes

Acoustical ceilings: Armstrong

Cabinetwork and custom woodwork: Michael Humphries Woodworking

Paints and stains: PPG

Red Oak Interior Wall Siding: Ponders Hollow

Solid surfacing: Caesarstone

Floor and wall tile: Crossville

Resilient flooring: Forbo

Red Oak Flooring: Ponders Hollow


Exterior Chairs and Interior Wood Benches: Michael Humphries Woodworking


Track Lighting: Tech Lighting

Ceiling Fans: Haiku

Downlights: Beta Calco Inc., LaMar Lighting, Juno Lighting

Recessed Downlights: Nora Lighting

Exterior: Bega

Dimming system or other lighting controls: Encelium


Water Closets: Sloan

Urinals: Sloan

Flushometers: Sloan

Lavatories: Sloan

Faucets: Symmons, Chicago Faucets

Water Fountain: Elkay


Building Management System: Tridium

Photovoltaic panels: Upsolar

Solar Hot Water System: HTP