Louis Kahn’s Art Center Proposal, 1970

I’ve written before about the architect Louis Kahn and his visit to Rice in 1967. Recently, though, I came across some slides in O. Jack Mitchell’s papers, which combined with some documents tucked far away in an information file tell another interesting story about Kahn’s relationship with Rice.

In the fall of 1969 members of the Rice Board of Trustees traveled to New York to visit Kahn, expressing their desire to engage him to design an art center for the university. He quickly agreed and by December was busy with a preliminary study of program and project scope. What he came up with was a massive proposal, which he delivered to the Board in July, 1970. Here’s a later drawing that shows the scale of the proposed project. Everything orange was new:

And here are some of the slides, which I especially love because of the way they just photographed the model sitting on the sidewalk. Also, look at all those trees!

Are you surprised that we didn’t build this? I’m sure not. It had been a rough couple of years at Rice, what with the Masterson Crisis, the whole Abbie Hoffman debacle, and the generally frayed governance relationships. It’s also not irrelevant that Norman Hackerman, charged first and foremost with straightening out some real budget problems, arrived just about the time that the board decided to table this ambitious project. I really wish I knew more about this–there had to have been some wildly interesting conversations taking place.

Bonus: I don’t believe I’ve ever seen a hose hooked up to Lovett Hall before.

Except maybe for this?

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10 Responses to Louis Kahn’s Art Center Proposal, 1970

  1. Richard Schafer says:

    Can’t imaging Rice building that much at that time. And, to be honest, I’m kind of glad this didn’t get built; the design doesn’t impress. But I’m curious about the model: why is Anderson missing? For that matter, I’m surprised that Sewall is on the blueprint drawing, but not in the model.

    • Richard Schafer says:

      Ah, I can see the answer to my Sewall question: it’s a 1973 drawing, after Sewall was built. But Anderson was built in 1947, so there’s no reason to omit it from the model.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Sewall wasn’t built yet in 1970. I don’t know why Anderson isn’t there. My main question would be whether there would have been a back door added to the library.

  2. effegee says:

    What is that awful structure that runs along College Way from the west end of (not yet built) Herring Hall to the east end of (not yet built) Humanities? Beside blocking the visual axis from Hamman Hall to (not yet built) Sid Richardson College, it’s just plain ugly.

  3. Keith Cooper says:

    This predates Kahn’s building for the Kimbell Museum. The model doesn’t suggest a similarity, but it would be fun to see the actual drawings.

  4. George Webb says:

    One thing’s for sure; if this plan had been built, people would not be talking about what an eyesore Fondren Library is.

  5. Hanszenite12 says:

    Here’s an article from the “Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians” talking about it in more detail: https://jsah.ucpress.edu/content/69/4/556

    Interestingly, it looks like that one building along College Way was supposed to be a new art and architecture building (could Kahn have been inspired by Yale which housed both schools under one roof and a place where he did both the YUAG and Center for British Art?). The building in the center of the quadrangle was supposed to be a new student center and the one at the opposite end of the quadrangle from Fondren was to be a theater. Today Rice is currently raising funds for a new student center and a new VADA building was just approved – if this had been built, it might have altered the course of things.

  6. grungy1973 says:

    There are two theaters with fly-rails, one large, one small.
    The elevated seating, with open space beneath, on the larger theater is interesting.
    The open ground level design for nearly everything in the model makes me wonder if they really are open, planning for future flooding.
    The boxes in the middle of the quad and the one hanging off the west end of the RMC look like they could be parking garages.
    On the plan view, I’m liking the doubled circular drive between the RMC and Bio, and wondering what the long rectangles with road/sidewalk between might be (where The MOB’s practice field and H Lot used to be).
    There might have been a planned gap for the view to continue, from Hamman to Sid, much as there is now beneath Brockman Hall and between/through George R. Brown Hall.

  7. Leonard Lane says:

    Louis Kahn was one of the most talented architects of the 20th century. If any of it had been built, it would have put Rice on the map, architecturally speaking. On the other hand, he died in 1974. Considering how slowly the design and construction of his buildings progressed, I doubt he would have lived to see the project completed. Regardless, Rice missed an opportunity…

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