I had reason today to look at some of the images from the 1949 construction of Wiess Hall, “old Wiess” as I’ve always known it. It was called “North Hall” while it was being designed, in accordance with the tradition of giving the dorms directional names, but then renamed in honor of Rice trustee Harry C. Wiess after his death. (I’ll have more about him tomorrow when I talk about the dedication ceremony.)
Newspaper articles about the new dorm all stressed that it was designed to fit in with the campus’s Mediterranean architecture but to my admittedly untrained eyes it looks more like a total rejection of the ideas that had motivated the earlier buildings. It looks to me, honestly, like a motel.
The other thing that the newspapers talk about is the bulding’s air flow—open corridors, access to balconies and cross ventilation for almost all the rooms. Again, while I appreciate how important air flow was in pre-airconditioned Houston, this sounds like trouble, especially the balconies. In any event, the construction pictures are deeply interesting. They show a part of campus that had been infrequently photographed and they can be a little disorienting. Many of them were taken on oddly overcast days so they are even more striking and well worth zooming in on.
Update: One of my more alert readers saw last Friday’s Folly and knew exactly what was going on. Here‘s the Rice News story from 2004, with one of the most charming headlines I’ve ever encountered in that publication: “Bizarre Attractive Force Found in Mayonnaise.” Tell me about it.