Fondren Library, Part IV: Just Awful

I hadn’t thought much recently about the 1969 addition to Fondren until I came upon a photograph this afternoon while traveling home. As I’m sure you recall, this large addition to the west end of the library was part of Rice’s ambitious effort during the 1960s  to become a nationally important university. It was certainly true that to succeed in that enterprise we would need a substantially larger library than the one we built in 1948, which was probably too small the day it was finished.  Here’s what the addition was originally supposed to look like–not stunning, but ok:

Fondren extension rendering

However, somewhere it was decided that the sunlight through all those western windows would be bad for the books and so although the basic design would remain the same, the windows had to go. This is what we got:

Fondren grad wing back

Ugly? Indeed. It’s brutal. But to really understand how bad this was you need to get back from it a little bit. Here’s the picture I found today, a 1969 aerial that let’s us see how the addition worked in the context of the rest of the campus:

Aerial 1969

It became simply a barrier, like a dam across the center of the campus, leaving the space directly behind Fondren a kind of isolated cul-de-sac. This is why I would argue that the most important physical change to the campus in the twenty years I’ve been here is the addition of a back door to the library. The ensuing addition of the Brochstein Pavilion and the careful attention to the landscaping of the area have been transformative–in a good way this time.


Extra Bonus:DSC_0095


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20 Responses to Fondren Library, Part IV: Just Awful

  1. Wow, look at the columned west entry to the RMC and the old Hanszen commons!

  2. Pat Campbell says:

    The pictures remind me of why we referred to the addition as “Festung Fondren”. And you are right, there are many wonders in the photograph.

  3. Andy Arenson says:

    I agree that opening up the back of Fondren was a very positive step that helped integrate the campus in a very good way.

    That being said, there was something poetically desolate about the back of Fondren before it was opened up. There was no reason to go there and it thus held a small, strange mystery — a forgotten corner. Further, the way it divided the campus made the campus feel larger, in a way — things could not be reached as easily — one had to go around — and that partial isolation allowed the field bounded my Fondren, Rayzor, and the RMC to have a kind of autonomy (a separation from both the academic parts of campus and the residential parts of campus), if you will, that is now gone.

    Don’t get me wrong, the campus is clearly better now, but nooks and crannies and forgotten, overlooked spaces have their own sorts of charms. Or perhaps I just reminisce for the familiar.

  4. effegee says:

    Were it not for tropical storm Allison in 2001, we wouldn’t have this old Fondren to kick around.

  5. There was some rhyme or saying that included “and Fondren will always be ugly.”
    Honestly, the version with the windows is pretty ugly, tool. It makes Abercrombie (of that era) look good. It might make the back of Abercrombie look good.

  6. Leoguy says:

    The original design for the Library addition HAD an entrance on the west side. It can be seen in the first rendering you published. This design also had lower, one-story wings at the corners. Stepping down the addition like this would have helped to reduce the “blocky” scale of the building. I’d be interested to know more about the revisions to this design that resulted in the awful building that was actually constructed.
    I was at Rice from 1970 to 1974 and recall having some architecture class meetings on the grounds on the west side of the Library. As noted earlier in the comments, this side of the Library, and the University for that matter, was isolated and rather quiet.
    The construction of the Brochstein Pavilion and the west Library door was an important step in opening up this side of the campus. Thank you for this post.
    PS I really appreciate the 1969 aerial view of the “back” of the campus. That’s what it looked like when I was a student.

  7. Kathy says:

    Wow! I knew that my memories of the campus contained so much more empty space than I see there now (I was there 1967-71). But that 1969 photo looks practically desolate!

  8. Grungy says:

    Ah, the campus of my youth (or actually a class before)…
    G-lot, H-lot, Wiess lot, The MOB’s practice field (with tower), the pit where the greased pole once stood, the huge lawn in front of Hamman.
    That The Bozobus is not parked by the wall in the Campus Store loading dock means that it must have been IN USE!

    • Grungy says:

      Hanszen Commons I, the place that The MOB used to stand to play to the football team in the showers/locker room on Wednesdays (just before dinner), a very stumpy downtown, and a fair amount of surface flooding on the roofs and in parking lots.

    • Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

      Also no Sewall hall on the quad.
      When was the western addition added to the RMC? When I was an undergrad (76-82), those western spaces were the Campus Store on one side, and Sammy’s on the other.

  9. New Brutalism actually is a real architectural style thing. Think Houston Post building at 59/610 or Alley Theatre.

    • WR'80 says:

      Maybe, but the Houston Post building and the Alley always had a certain stylistic element to them that (IMO) is still fresh and distinctive, giving each a unique character.

      “New Brutalism” may not have appealed to everyone, but that is quite different from the virtually universal feeling that Fondren Library was just plain ugly.

      Maybe Fondren had he unfortunate luck to be placed directly opposite of Lovett Hall in Rice’s glorious quad. If Fondren had been a building downtown, next to the federal courthouse building on Rusk, it may not have suffered quite such an ignominious fate.

      I remembered thinking upon the very first time seeing Fondren during Orientation Week – “Who put THAT there??” And that was AFTER the arcade had built in front to kind of hide the ugliness.

      (Note to future rich alumni benefactors: Make sure you get final sign-off on the design of the building your mega-million donation goes to build and which will forever be linked to your name.)

  10. Sam says:

    I came across an original drawing of what the library should have looked like, I imagine in the pre-planning phases? I can’t upload it here but it looks like a mosque, true to the Byzantian inspiration of Rice (people confusingly call Rice Spanish or Italian, but it is Byzantine Revival with Collegiate Gothic.) Correct me if I’m wrong, but Rice was supposed to get what is now USC’s Doheny Library. It looks like Lovett Hall and was designed by Ralph Adams Cram, Rice’s architect.

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