ARO unveils design for Rice University’s Jones School of Business expansion


Today, business students at Rice University adjourn in McNair Hall, a building completed in 2002 by Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA). Soon, students will attend class in a new building by Architecture Research Office (ARO). The forthcoming structure will be built atop an existing below-grade parking garage adjacent to RAMSA’s design and across the way from a Skyspace by James Turrell, completed in 2013.

In Houston this week, renderings were unveiled of the project and shovels broke ground on the future 112,000-square-foot building that will host the Jones School of Business. Kirksey, a Houston firm, is the architect of record.

The future building will be sited close to a Skyspace by James Turrell. (Courtesy ARO)

The groundbreaking follows other major projects underway at Rice, including two new residential colleges by Henning Larsen, and an arts building by Diller Scofidio + Renfro slated for completion next year.

“With the opportunity to design this new building on Rice’s historic—and exceptionally beautiful—campus comes an enormous responsibility,” said Stephen Cassell, ARO’s principal-in-charge on the project. “Our task is to deliver an integrated and contextual yet forward-looking structure that embodies Rice Business’s focus on the future as it continues to grow.”

Overall, the new building by ARO seeks to complement RAMSA’s McNair Hall with its materiality: The architects opted to use serrated brick on the exterior with brick in bond and herringbone patterns, as well as glazed red brick in some areas. This is meant to deflect afternoon sunlight and passively cool the interiors in lieu of the overwhelming Texas sun.

The building will help form a new academic complex that redefines the campus’s western quad and the edge of its central axis, the architects shared. The building under construction in Houston lines the south and west sides of McNair Hall. It creates a dramatic, three-story convening space adjacent to the current facades.

serrated brick facade
The exterior features a serrated brick facade. (Courtesy ARO)

One of the project’s main parameters designers had to navigate was the site’s proximity to James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany Skyspace. In order to maintain sight lines of Turrell’s art, the massing by ARO is stepped back; and its angled facade is meant to mitigate interior lighting so visitors can also observe the Turrell piece at night uninhibited by artificial lighting from inside the building. Additionally, large windows and a second-floor event space afford great views of the art piece.

exterior brick detail
Exterior brick detail (Courtesy ARO)

The design by ARO is informed by the business school’s ethos. At Rice, faculty members emphasize experiential, team-based learning that instills in students an entrepreneurial mindset. The new building is designed accordingly.

Inside the ARO–designed structure will be two 120-seat classrooms and two 65-person classrooms in proximity to breakout rooms for team-based learning. There will also be two hybrid technology classrooms and office space for PhD students. Classrooms and gathering areas for undergraduate departments are placed on the building’s west end, and faculty and administrative spaces are sited on the third floor’s eastern portion. Sprinkled throughout the forthcoming facility will be spaces for informal meetings, conversations, classes and social interactions; all of this is meant to provide a 21st-century learning milieu.

interior view showing staircase
A sculptural stair will guide visitors to the second floor. (Courtesy ARO)

ARO’s design will enclose Woodson Courtyard with a glass facade and skylit coffered roof. This will transform the active courtyard into an atrium and landing space, ARO said, that can be entered by one of the two new main entrances. In the future, this atrium will host formal events and casual meet ups. There, a sculptural steel staircase will lead visitors to the second floor where a 180-person event space will be located. Adjacent to Woodson Courtyard will be new dining facilities as well.

interior courtyard
An interior courtyard will become an extension of the outdoors. (Courtesy ARO)
interior walkway
Contemporary elements blend with historic components in an interior walkway. (Courtesy ARO)

ARO is collaborating with Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects (NBW) to transform the campus’s traditional west quad into an active campus green. The design team is also working on the campus extension for Rothko Chapel in Houston.

event space for Rice University’s Jones School of Business expansion
An event space will be located on the second floor. (Courtesy ARO)

“We are energized by the momentum of our innovative new programs, the addition of new faculty and students and a fresh outlook on the future,” said Peter Rodriguez, dean of the Jones Graduate School of Business. “Our commitment is to attract more talented and innovative students, faculty and staff to Rice, who will further improve our programs and research capabilities. This wonderful new building is critical to fulfilling that commitment.”

The architects are aiming for LEED Gold Certification when the building is completed in February 2026.





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