The View Through Herman Brown Hall

Herman Brown Hall for Mathematical Sciences was built in 1968 with funding from the Brown foundation and the NSF as part of what was called the “Systems Grant.” (This grant–and its failure to be renewed–was hugely important in the history of the university. I’ll say more about it sometime.) It’s kind of a big square building, intended to provide a lot of office space and a few classrooms. In the intervening years there have been a lot of different departments (and pieces of departments) in there, everything from music to education–so many that I don’t have any confidence that I can accurately list them.

It’s not an especially attractive building and it sits a bit uncomfortably on its site. I believe it was built during a period when the original campus plan had been essentially abandoned and nothing new had yet taken its place. One of the interesting things about it is the covered open-air walkway on its west side. I don’t know why this is there–maybe a nod to the cloisters of Rice’s older buildings. In any event, my attention was really grabbed by this picture that shows the view through this walkway. Zoom in and have a look.

I was so taken that I immediately got up from my desk in the Woodson and set out to have a look at the same spot. At first glance, the view is totally different. That’s the Mudd Building, home of IT, you see through there now:

But if you walk over to the other side of the Mudd Building for a quick peek, there’s the same house, seemingly unchanged except for the vegetation. Surprise!

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5 Responses to The View Through Herman Brown Hall

  1. Deborah says:

    I spent many a late night in Herman Brown as an EE undergraduate taking my computer science classes. Later on, I worked at ICSA one summer. At the time, the main computer was an IBM 370 mainframe, housed in one large end of the basement. Typically for a mainframe, it sat in a room over a raised floor under which was an air-conditioning plenum. Sometime after I graduated, ICSA moved to the Mudd building and part of the music school moved into the basement of Herman Brown. I absolutely loved the way they transformed the big mainframe computer room with its area below floor level into an orchestra rehearsal room. I hope you can find some pictures.

    • matt noall says:

      I also spent a lot of time there when the 370 “ruled.” Herman Brown was actually an interesting place, but probably not in the way the architect truly intended. At least at that time, the building was inaccessible (the ramps were added around 1078 or so, I think), but the light switches in the classrooms were at wheelchair height. There were also no accessibhle toilets. Sigh

      But, less known was the graffitti in the men’s room on the ground floor. While the men’s restroom in the basement was pretty well known for the truly inspired and geeky OS/370 and JCL oriented scratchings, the ground floor had an entire set of tiny graffitti in the grout around medium sized wall tiles that was also interesting.

  2. Melissa Kean says:

    I’m pretty sure there are pictures of the IBM 370, but I’m not sure about the rehearsal room. I’ll keep my eyes open.

  3. Richard Miller (Hanszen '75 & '76) says:

    When it was there it was an interesting time since it was a batch system and everyone had to use punched card decks to submit and then wait for the job to run and pick up the printout. Initially you had to submit your deck to the operators but in 74/75 (I think) we got a card reader in the card punch room so users could run their decks through themselves. (Sometime after that the room eventually got its own printer so students could dispatch themselves and not have to wait for the operators)

    We also started working with TSO (time sharing option) along with the ability to ‘read’ decks from files in TSO so we could bypass the lines for the card reader. This was important to those of us in ELEC 421 (compiler construction) since our card decks were 2-3 boxes in length. We could read them once and then edit the file online without having to reread the entire deck. End of the semester in Herman Brown basement was a zoo. You had students sprawled in all of the carrels, along the halls and into the terminal room as turnaround time increased. Those of us who worked for ICSA had a office so we simply camped there for the week (along with our lab partners)

    The whole history of the 370/155 was interesting. Rice originally had a Burroughs 5500 as the primary student computer and was going to replace it with an IBM 7090 and Decsystem10 but
    we got a ‘great’ deal on the 370/155 so we got it instead. The rumour was we got such a good deal because IBM was just about to release the 370/158 (had a ‘new’ feature called virtual memory) and wanted to move the 155s out. Rice eventually upgraded the 155 to the 158.

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