Baytown native reveals architectural plans for Rice University’s new Sarofim Hall

Architect Charles Renfro drew on his years as a student at Rice University to imagine a new artistic building for students.

Rice’s construction boom continues with plans for the new Susan and Fayez Sarofim Hall, which will replace the small industrial buildings that were built decades ago as temporary spaces for art classes.

Renfro, a Baytown native who went to Rice as a music student but ended up studying art and architecture – class of 1989 – was waiting for the right project in his alma mater. When the call for proposals for a student art building went out, Renfro was sure it was the right one for it.

“What we hope to do is provide an anchor for art programs. Art Street is a shared space that will run through the middle of the building and be both inside and out, ”Renfro said of a wide open walkway in the building’s initial concept drawings. “It doesn’t belong to any particular department or teacher, but is shared by everyone, casually and more formally. This will become a psychic heart for the program and will also become a testing ground for their work.

Artist’s impression of the new Moody Center for the Arts at Rice University.

Courtesy of Rice University

This is the latest in an ongoing construction program that has seen the Sid Richardson College Residential Tower and Maxfield Hall open this year, as well as the Kraft Hall for Social Sciences and Brockman Hall for Opera in 2020 Other buildings completed in recent years affect other parts of the school and its program: the Moody Center for the Arts in 2017 and the Anderson-Clarke Center for Continue Studies in 2014. In total, Rice spent $ 1 , $ 5 billion for new buildings since 2004.

“Having witnessed Houston for decades, I am delighted that there is a change in the construction of the city, places for people as opposed to places for workers,” Renfro said, citing the Museum of Fine Arts. -arts, the expansion of Houston and the recent opening of Post Houston advertising. and dining room. “The skyline has been the symbol of Houston because there have been no other ways to represent it. Now there are other things that are iconic, like parks, and I’m happy to be a part of them.

During his years at Rice, Renfro spent most of his waking hours in the architectural building, but he also took art classes in various buildings. Although much of the Rice campus is traditional classical architecture, the artistic buildings were simple and industrial, their bohemian nature celebrated by art students walking at their own pace.

“Because they are on the outskirts of campus, they have been allowed to be different from the buildings on the central campus. They didn’t need to have bricks or limestone or Venetian Mediterranean details, ”said Renfro, partner of New York-based architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro. “The liberating quality of being on the outskirts of campus allowed them to flourish and fit into Rice’s psyche. He was the funny uncle who lived on the outskirts of town and did strange things. You liked him to be in your family, even though you didn’t visit him very often.

An artist's rendering of the outdoor film screening on the West Porch in what will be the Susan and Fayez Sarofim Hall at Rice University.  Rice alum Charles Renfro leads the team of architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro who designed the building.

An artist’s rendering of the outdoor film screening on the West Porch in what will be the Susan and Fayez Sarofim Hall at Rice University. Rice alum Charles Renfro leads the team of architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro who designed the building.

Courtesy of Diller Scofidio + Renfro

Renfro’s first step in designing the Student Arts Hall is to pay homage to these industrial buildings, the Art Barn and Media Center using a contemporary version of the “Butler Building” – a term used to describe the World War prefabricated and mass produced. Metal structures of era II. They will start construction in 2022 and expect to complete construction in 2024, with Sarofim money backing the plans.

A first look at renderings by design artists from Renfro shows a steel frame structure with an open lobby with diagonal skylights, bringing in natural light and creating the feeling of being both inside and out. outside.

Sarofim Hall will be located near the public parking lot at entrance 8 of Stockton Street, so visitors can easily spot the building and can walk through it to get to where they’re going.

“Since art is so much about looking and thinking about the world around us, it’s a great meeting point between the public and the Rice community,” said Renfro. “A lot of people will see Rice for the first time around here.”

University president David Leebron, who announced this year he will step down as president in June 2022, said he wanted Sarofim Hall to make a statement on Rice’s dedication to an art program solid.

“Nothing is ever complete in a university, but in some ways this building complements the vision for an arts corridor on campus and makes a clear statement about the arts to Rice. We have a world famous music school, but we also have exceptional art and art history programs. … Our new opera building is fantastic and we have opened the Moody Center of the Arts, ”said Leebron. “Some things go back to our foundation: the university’s seal says ‘letters, sciences and arts’, that’s Rice’s founding vision. “

The Brochstein Pavilion was built in 2008.

The Brochstein Pavilion was built in 2008.

Courtesy of Rice University

While the new Brockman Hall for Opera is classic and traditional in style and located near buildings of similar design, Renfro’s vision for a new arts building is based on the type of architecture he learned as than student: modern.

It won’t be the only one, famed architect Sir David Adjaye d’Adjaye Associates, whose firm has offices in Ghana, London and New York, has created a modern design for the Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity, which will be next to Sarofim Hall. – opening scheduled for 2023. Its design is more modern but respectful of its classic environment. (Americans may be more familiar with Adjaye’s design for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.)

“I couldn’t wait for Charles to build a building on campus. We had an open competition for architecture, and I am delighted with this result. He’s a proud graduate of Rice, and it’s important to me and the university to have him on campus, ”said Leebron. “What he did brilliantly was create a structure that is reminiscent of buildings that were temporary. Some 50 to 60 years later, we are building a permanent structure that resonates with those original buildings and accomplishes today’s goals in a world where education has changed dramatically.

Sarofim Hall is designed as a venue for art classes, with creative spaces that can be in an enclosed space or move around the main hall so that everyone can see the creative process in action, which Renfro says. is important for today’s students. Other open spaces – for example, the building’s “front porch” – are meant to encourage gatherings and potentially be a magnet to people across campus, Renfro said.

The upstairs art studios will resemble lofts, with large windows that connect students and faculty to the outside world – rooms open enough that they can change over time. A cinema in the building will seat up to 250 people, contributing to the cinema community here.

“In discussions with the professors, we are in the honeymoon phase, but we are quite confident that this will be a great new space and a model for a paradigm shift in the way art is taught,” said said Renfro.

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