Fondren Library, Part II: The Back

I mentioned yesterday that I think the original design of Fondren was ok—not stellar, but ok. I’m certainly not any kind of expert on architecture but I have looked at this campus long and hard for a very long time, thinking about why things are the way they are and whether they work. One of the reasons I’m at least a modest fan of the original building is that its back end, which one might charitably call “stumpy,” seems to have actually worked fairly well.

It was excruciating trying to find pictures of it—there are hundreds that show the front, beginning with groundbreaking and continuing up until this morning, but there are only a couple of the back. Here’s one—a construction image from 1948:

While I’m in complete agreement that the massing was a mistake (and a bad one), I think that the presence of so many large windows mitigates it somewhat. (And it is miles better than what was to come.) Also, note the construction shed at the far left. Just to it’s right you can see the opening for what would be a double door, which was eliminated in the 1969 addition. For another look the best I could find was this aerial shot from 1952. You have to zoom in to get a close look:

You can clearly see the door here and you can also, I think, get a sense of how it’s presence meant that there was some life on that side of the library. That door provided a connection to the RMC and allowed people to park back there. (In certain moods I’m prepared to argue that the addition of a back door in Fondren a few years ago has been the single most important physical change on campus since I’ve been here.)

Those big windows across the back also made the interior very pleasant. Here are a couple of pictures of the Science Reading Room, which was located along the back side on the first floor:

This looks much more like the bright and cheerful front of the library than the dark cavern that the back would come to resemble after the addition. Tomorrow I’ll start talking about the changes that began when Rayzor Hall was built.

Bonus: It’s been a bit damp recently. Alert reader Marty Merritt sends this dispatch from the swamp.

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16 Responses to Fondren Library, Part II: The Back

  1. Leoguy says:

    I agree with you that the “back” door to Fondren was an important step in the campus design. (Who knew?) Of course, demolishing the library and building a new one would have been even better!

  2. Mike Ross says:

    For those of us who haven’t been on campus in years (or haven’t been observant regarding Fondren), could you post a photo of what it looks like today, cum all those horrid additions?

  3. When I looked at the back of Fondren, it always looked like it was ready to be extended straight back. Just plug in more Fondren Legos.

    Inside Fondren is more interesting than outside, like the cork floors. And I respect efficient shelving, though we tie those across the top in California so they don’t all fall down in earthquakes. Is that cool wooden screen still there on the second floor beside the stairs?

  4. As I recall, in the original plans, Fondren was to be a domed building. I seem to remember seeing a drawing of it somewhere.

    I don’t know if it is still there, but I loved the globe on on the second floor. It would be even more outdated now than in 1979, but I loved looking at Europe and Africa. Such changes. Whoever came up with the glove with magnetic countries to stick on and update was a genius.

  5. Mark Boone says:

    Melissa –
    Sara Lowman was an integral part of our project team for the Fondren renovation completed in ’06 and would probably have some interesting insight into some of the aspects of the project.
    One important facet of the design was to rearrange the building core on the ground floor to allow the visual connection from the east entrance to the new entrance on the west side, in recognition of and respect for the primary axis of the campus master plan.

  6. James says:

    I love Rice University and think it has one of the most beautiful campus’ in America. Do you know where I could get a copy of the aerial photo in your article today? I’d love to have one

  7. Phil Kortum says:

    Melissa, what’s the tall windowless tower where Duncan is now? Its a rather odd building that I haven’t seen before. Apologies if you’ve addressed this before!

  8. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

    Re. the “swamp picture”.
    Do NOT allow Sandy Havens to perform “Midsummer … ” in that Fairy Circle.
    I guess that magic date has passed anyway — at least for this year.

  9. I noticed two more Fairy Circles today, one in front of Alice Pratt Brown Hall and one really well defined one near the soccer fields.

  10. Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

    Wow, I never knew there had ever been parking behind Fondren. In my day (1976-82) the area behind Fondren’s faceless behind was just a big grassy lawn.

    Speaking of wet summers, will you be doing a feature on the flood of 1975 any time soon? I matriculated in the fall of 1976 when it was still very recent history. I’m sure Walter and Grungy have some great flood stories to share.

  11. Kay Flowers says:

    Looking at the picture, I think the double door was the loading dock at that time. It was moved to the south end of the new addition.

  12. Max Eberts says:

    Fondren is still the ugliest of Rice’s main buildings, and the interior layout has always been a disaster. No one can ever think for a second to rate Rice among the top ten universities as long as it has such an inferior library. And No matter what the board of governors and the building committee at Rice do to the building, short of tearing it down and starting over, it will amount to nothing more than lipstick to a pig. They should of course tear it down a build a version of the Doheny Memorial Library on the USC campus, which was designed by Ralph Adam Cram, the beloved architect of our beautiful Lovett Hall and other early buildings, not to mention the university’s initial master plan.

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