Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Llp

The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science

The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk

The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill

STRUCTURAL ENGINEER
IMEG Corp.

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE
OJB Landscape Architecture

SUSTAINABILITY CONSULTANT
SOM

ACOUSTICS
Salter

MEP ENGINEER
Wylie

VERTICAL TRANSPORTATION
Edgett Williams Consulting Group

LOCAL ARCHITECT, PROGRAMMER, LABORATORY PLANNER
Scientia Architects

LAB CONSULTANT
Jacobs Engineering Group, Inc.

COMMISSIONING AGENT
AEI

CIVIL ENGINEER
Walter P. Moore

WAYFINDING
Ulrich Diederich Design

FIRE PROTECTION
Wylie

LIGHTING DESIGN
Loisos + Ubbelohde

AV/ACOUSTICS/SECURITY CONSULTANT
Stanton Engineering Group, LLC

GEOTECHNICAL
Ulrich Engineers, Inc.

MAIN CONTRACTOR
Anslow Bryant Construction LTD

PHOTOGRAPHS
Dave Burk, Lucas Blair Simpson

AREA
251400 ft²

YEAR
2023

LOCATION
Houston, United States

CATEGORY
University

The newest and largest research facility in Rice University’s historic core campus — the Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science is now open.

The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk
The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk

The 250,000-square-foot O’Connor Building provides students and researchers with technology-rich facilities that align with the University’s goal to stay at the forefront of scientific discovery and to recruit the country’s best scientific and engineering minds.

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Texas, Rice is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report and the O’Connor Building will only elevate this standing.

The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk
The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk

An epicenter for interdisciplinary collaboration, the new high-performance facility includes state-of-the-art laboratories, classrooms, offices, a cafe, as well as many interactive gathering spaces. A multi-purpose event space with an outdoor terrace sits at the top level with views of the campus and the Houston skyline.

The design activates the adjacent Engineering Quad and extends the vitality of the campus into the building, where a five-story central atrium creates a hub of activity, connecting to seminar rooms, break areas, and informal gathering spaces.

The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk
The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk

A transparent glass facade at the atrium’s ground level showcases this activity to the campus at large. At the building’s main entrance, a cantilevered sculptural stair is framed by brick walls and a fritted glass wall.

The O’Connor Building was designed by SOM with a deliberate focus on fostering collaboration in four key research areas: advanced materials, quantum science and computing, urban research and innovation, and the energy transition.

The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk
The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk

To promote this interaction, the stair tower and the central hub connect a series of stepped double-height collaboration areas on different levels.

Intimate conference rooms and break areas with warm, natural materials provide further opportunities for informal learning and connection.

The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk
The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk

Circulation through and around the building is encouraged, reinforcing the campus’s well-established pedestrian arcade network.

A robust art program incorporates new works from world-recognized artists and the iconic bas-relief sculpture Energy by sculptor William McVey that was preserved from the original Abercrombie Engineering building.

The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk
The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Lucas Blair Simpson

Maintaining the identifiable aesthetics of the historic campus, the facade of the O’Connor Building features a composition of brick and punched windows articulated by a series of angled brick pilasters and fins.

The covered arcade along the western edge is shaded by a delicate brick and stone veil that modulates sunlight for thermal and visual comfort.

The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Lucas Blair Simpson
The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk

The arcade veil is composed of alternating bands of brick and cast-stone modules, spaced apart with rotated bricks in between, allowing light to filter between the gaps.

A commitment to sustainability and reducing the building's carbon footprint was achieved through both passive and active design strategies, including maximizing daylight, strategic placement of angled pilasters and vertical fins, and the use of skylights to soften the strong Texas sun.

Thanks to these passive design strategies and an energy-efficient HVAC and lighting system, the laboratories use 50 percent less energy than a comparable research space.

The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk
The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk


The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk
The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk
The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk
The Ralph S. O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science
© Dave Burk

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Llp
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Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Llp
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