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Brockman Hall for Physics at Rice University, Houston, Texas by The Office of James Burnett
June 12th, 2012 by Sanjay Gangal
Article source: OJB
The Brockman Hall for Physics is a 111,000 SF facility housing classrooms, laboratory space, lecture halls and administrative offices for the Physics Department as well as physicists from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Rice University in Houston, Texas. Driven by Rice University’s belief that some of the most important moments on campus are moments of informal discussion and debate outside of the classroom, the design of the building and landscape seeks to provide a multitude of spaces for lively and inspiring conversation.
Sheltered from the sun by the building overhead, a ground-floor courtyard features a reflecting pool, raised ipe terrace and enhanced plaza with movable furniture. As the design developed, the Office of James Burnett was also asked to redesign the “Courtyard of Science”, an interstitial space between the wings of Brown Hall to the south. A grove of Honey Mesquites organizes the space and intimate decomposed granite courtyards with movable furniture create a number of social spaces.
The Brockman Hall for Physics is a new academic building on the campus of Rice University. Housing laboratories, classrooms, and offices, the 110,000 square foot building provides a home for experimental physics faculty and students that were formerly scattered across campus. This new facility is situated in the heart of what the historic 1910 General Plan by Ralph Adams Cram termed the Courtyard of Science. Sheltered from the sun by the building overhead, a ground-floor courtyard features a reflecting pool, raised wood terrace and comfortable decomposed granite court. As the design developed, the landscape architect was also commissioned to redesign the “Courtyard of Science”, an interstitial space between the wings of Brown Hall to the south. A grove of Cedar Elms simply organizes the space and creates a shady courtyard between the two important quads at Rice.
The tight site for the new building was one of the key challenges for the design of the landscape. The building is located in area bounded on all sides by existing buildings. The building was divided into two long rectangular bar forms by program. The south bar comes to the ground and helps define a courtyard space at the George R Brown Building. The north bar is raised up on piloti to allow the surrounding landscape to flow continuously underneath. The cross campus pedestrian walks move through the building in a seamless fashion preserving the existing fabric of the campus. A sallyport through the south bar creates a connection to the George R Brown Courtyard, framed by groves of cedar elm trees under-planted with a camouflage-patterned planting of low evergreen groundcover. A walk to the east and west aligns with the bridges at Brockman Hall and links to courtyards at adjacent buildings. A decomposed granite terrace is created under the north bar, linking the building to raised porch of Hamman Hall.
The building and landscape were designed to create opportunities for faculty and students to have informal meetings and discussions. In addition to the decomposed granite terrace, a raised deck was created that integrates with a long fountain. The fountain is raised up to “hand height” for those pedestrians walking along the east west path. The slightly raised wood terrace provides a unique vantage point for those sitting and watching the constant flow of people walking along the east west walk. In addition to providing a relaxing sound effect, the moving water cools and refreshes those who engage with it. The vertical and texture change provides separation without creating a visual barrier. The landscape in this area is above basement laboratories, and therefore is essentially a roof garden. The planting had to contend with limited sunlight, so dwarf mondo grass was selected as the tightly spaced and very tailored groundcover for this area. The soil was lightweight engineered soil. Additionally, the university noted that the lab equipment underneath this area was deemed more valuable than the building itself. So the fountain and deck are designed to be removable; an interchangeable “kit of parts”. Therefore the fountain was designed as a prefabricated series of GFRC concrete components that can be disassembled in short order by the physical plant team at Rice.
The small garden court at Brockman has made a big impact in the first year and the client group has stated that the space has exceeded expectations as the space has become the Heart of the Campus for the sciences at Rice.
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