Brockman Hall for Physics gathers together a faculty of experimental and computational physicists once working in five separate buildings at Rice University. The campus was planned in 1910 by Cram, Goodhue, and Ferguson, and features stately, principally opaque buildings. The architects were challenged to reveal the spirit of innovation in research and education by creating a transformative building, rendered both physically and metaphorically transparent, that would unify disparate 'cultures' within a single open and collaborative setting. The building was created to balance the functions of a tightly controlled environment for experiments, and a comfortable place for researchers to work in offices and classrooms.
Through a precise aggregation of programming, a learning environment was created in which innovation is spurred through both incidental collaboration and structured research programs. The building is split into two parallel bars connected by glass-enclosed bridges. One of the bars is elevated to preserve a significant portion of the existing Quad, and a series of gathering spaces beneath it extends the building program outdoors. A passageway between the bars admits daylight and naturally ventilates the public areas under the elevated bar, providing a cool, shaded place to gather. The office, classroom, and administrative spaces receive daylight and views, while the laboratories have the ideal conditions for experiments, the most sensitive of which are located below grade.
The building is tuned to significantly reduce energy demand and moderate the negative effects of Houston's climate. It is orientated to minimise solar radiation and a series of eight nuanced facades were developed using variable density terracotta baguettes, vertical shading elements, insulated glazing, and carefully sized windows, moderating solar gain to the degree required for each elevation. In both interior space and external expression, Brockman Hall internalises the material palette of Rice, extending the legacy of its existing architecture and translating historic themes into contemporary detailing, providing Rice University with a carefully refined 21st century expression of architecture and pedagogy.