Rice University Ralph S. O’Connor Engineering and Science Building

  • Client Rice University
  • Expertise Higher Education, Science
  • Region North America
  • Location Houston, Texas, United States

An epicenter for interdisciplinary collaboration, the new Engineering and Science building at Rice University complements the historic campus architecture while introducing flexible spaces for research and innovation.

Project Facts
  • Status Construction Complete
  • Completion Year 2023
  • Design Finish Year 2021
  • Size Site Area: 88,308 Number of Stories: 5 Building Gross Area: 250,000 square feet
  • Awards Array
  • Sustainability Certifications LEED BD+C NC (New Construction) Silver, BD+C, Silver
  • Collaborators
    Scientia Architects IMEG Walter P. Moore Wylie Engineering OJB Anslow Bryant Construction
Project Facts
  • Status Construction Complete
  • Completion Year 2023
  • Design Finish Year 2021
  • Size Site Area: 88,308 Number of Stories: 5 Building Gross Area: 250,000 square feet
  • Awards Array
  • Sustainability Certifications LEED BD+C NC (New Construction) Silver, BD+C, Silver
  • Collaborators
    Scientia Architects IMEG Walter P. Moore Wylie Engineering OJB Anslow Bryant Construction

History meets high-performance

At 250,000 square feet, the new Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science is the largest research facility in Rice University’s historic core campus. Located on the site of the former Abercrombie Engineering Lab, the O’Connor Building provides users with technology-rich facilities that embody the University’s goal to stay at the forefront of scientific discovery and to recruit the country’s best scientific and engineering minds. The new high-performance facility includes state-of-the-art laboratories, classrooms, offices, a cafe, and interactive gathering spaces throughout. A flexible, multi-purpose event space with an outdoor terrace sits at the top level with views of the campus and the Houston skyline.

Rice University O'Connor Building
Dave Burk © SOM

At the building’s main entrance, a cantilevered sculptural stair is framed by a pair of brick walls and shaded glass wall facing the Engineering Quad. This stair tower establishes a readily identifiable campus landmark while complementing the adjacent tower at Maxfield Hall. A portico at ground level extends and connects to the existing network of covered pedestrian arcades.

Dave Burk © SOM

A program for collaboration

To extend the campus into the building, a five-story central atrium creates a hub of activity, where seminar rooms, break areas, and informal gathering spaces are grouped together. A transparent glass facade at the atrium’s ground level showcases this activity to the campus at large. The design team developed a building program that fosters collaboration in four research areas: advanced materials, quantum science and computing, urban research and innovation, and the energy transition.

Dave Burk © SOM

To promote interaction across all floors, the stair tower and the central hub connect a series of stepped double-height collaboration areas. Intimate conference rooms and break areas with warm materials providing ample opportunities for informal learning and connection. Circulation through and around the building is encouraged, reinforcing the campus’s well established pedestrian arcade network. Connections are made from the historic arcade’s north side to the colleges and from the Engineering Quad to the undergraduate residences on the east. A robust art program incorporates new works from world-recognized artists and the iconic bas-relief sculpture Energy by sculptor William McVey, that was preserved from the original Abercrombie Engineering building.

Facade artistry

The facade of the new building harmonizes with the materials and aesthetics of the historic campus architecture, which is characterized by a Mediterranean Revival style with light brick facades, archways, and decorative columns. Complementing the rhythm and texture of the surrounding historic buildings, the facade of the O’Connor Building features a composition of brick and punched windows articulated by a series of angled brick pilasters and fins. The covered arcade along the western edge of the building is shaded by a delicate brick and stone screen that modulates sunlight for thermal and visual comfort. The arcade veil is composed of alternating bands of brick and cast-stone modules, spaced apart with rotated bricks in between, allowing light to filter between the gaps.

Rice University O'Connor Building
Dave Burk © SOM
Rice University O'Connor Building
Dave Burk © SOM

A design working with its environment

Passive and active design strategies reduce the building’s carbon footprint and promote a healthy environment. The design reduces energy demand by maximizing daylight while limiting solar heat gain through a solar-responsive enclosure. The building is composed of a series of angled pilasters and vertical brick fins that strategically allow an appropriate amount of daylight to enter the perimeter offices and penetrate further into the lab fronts. In addition, a series of skylights above the arcade redirects and softens the strong Texas sun. Thanks to these passive design strategies and an energy efficient HVAC and lighting system, the laboratories use less than 50 percent energy than a comparable research space.

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