I’ve been hearing rumors recently that our brutal heat wave might break soon. It’s been miserable. But as bad as it’s been, it could have been worse. Imagine what it was like here before air conditioning! I’ve been thinking about this most of the summer, after something unexpected showed up in my campus mailbox. Erik Knezevich, one of our great project managers in FE&P, ran across this and had the good judgement to send it to me:
One of the things I love best about my job is the mysterious nature of what survives and what perishes. Somehow–I’m certain with no planning at all–a single copy of a 1955 report on options for air conditioning the campus rested safely in some file cabinet or desk drawer, only to rise to someone’s notice during an office relocation in 2011. It feels nearly mystical to me. I’m left with no alternative but to pay close attention when it falls into my hands.
And the effort, of course, is worthwhile. There are several interesting things about this study, but for now I’ll just stick to the basics. It was undertaken by Herbert Allen, who was then chairman of the Rice Board’s Building and Grounds committee, with help from an advisory group. At the time, very little of the campus was air conditioned, and that mostly with window units. The report suggested several alternatives and the most aggressive one–the construction of a new central heating and air conditioning plant–was approved by the board in July, 1955. The new science buildings were about to be built and they decided to begin there. Next would come the new girl’s dormitory and the four dining halls. This began what would be a long, slow process — I’m not sure when the men’s dorms finally got AC, but I’ll bet it was significantly later.
It seems that most of the heavy lifting in this study was done by a member of the advisory group, a Rice alum named Israel A. Naman, a mechanical engineer from the class of 1938. A little investigation reveals that he was an amazing guy, both a wonderful man and something of an air conditioning genius, a member of the College of Fellows of the American Society of Heating, refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the designer of the air conditioning system for the Astrodome. He was awarded the Rice Outstanding Engineering Alumnus award in 1987, so his picture is up on the wall in Duncan.
Bonus fact: I posted this from an airplane. In the sky!