Monday, March 09, 2009
Brochstein Pavilion in Houston, Texas by Thomas Phifer & Partners
Photographs are by Scott Frances.
Thomas Phifer & Partners is the recipient of two of the five 2009 AIA New York Architecture Honor Awards, one for the Millbrook House in upstate New York and one for the Susan and Raymond Brochstein Pavilion at Rice University. The latter has received other awards since opening last Spring, and it's no surprise to see why: A simple building for a simple program is elevated by a finely detailed, generous trellis with lively skylights punctuating the enclosed space. It is a 21st-century glass box, one that doesn't ignore considerations of climate and place.
The most striking aspect of the design is its contrast with its Central Quad context, both the natural and human-made. Rice's bountiful trees mark a significant contrast with the white steel and glass of the Pavilion, as does the brick of the surrounding buildings, particularly the ever-present Memorial Chapel's campanile. But the steel trellis -- supposedly cutting down the sunlight by 70% -- can be seen as an artificial canopy, an extension of the existing and new trees' natural canopy. And the decision to eschew brick can be seen as favoring (filtered) light and transparency over a more dark and sealed-off solution.
One point the architects make about the site is the Pavilion's location "at an important intersection of ... pathways ... [encouraging] interaction without interrupting pedestrian movement through campus." This led to a building detached from its closest neighbor, the Fondren Library; a new grove of trees planted between old and new creates an intimate outdoor gathering space. One notes that the paths actually run under the edge of the trellis, a precise alignment that extends the reach of the small building and draws people inside.
The 6,000-sf Pavilion's interior functions are simple: coffeehouse, café and meeting place with bathrooms. Of course the outdoor seating under the trellis extends this area by more than 10,000 sf. The university built the Pavilion for undergraduate students living far from campus and for visitors coming to campus for an event. The space gives these people a place to sit, socialize and enjoy the campus between classes or after events. The naturally ventilated and daylit space is a simple frame for these activities, one that improves upon the Quad's location by giving people "a central place to meet and greet."