Barkow Leibinger combines timber, brick, plaster, and glazed tile for Hanszen Hall at Rice University

“Staggered Geometry”

Barkow Leibinger combines timber, brick, plaster, and glazed tile for Hanszen Hall at Rice University

Hanszen Hall is the first mass timber building on the Rice University campus. (Richard Barnes)
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Architect: Barkow Leibinger
Location: Houston
Completion Date: 2022

Berlin-based firm Barkow Leibinger has designed a new residential hall for Hanszen College, one of Rice University’s four original residential colleges. Supported by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the dormitory’s structure was constructed from mass timber, the first instance of mass timber construction on the Rice campus. The exterior cladding of the building is composed of brick, plaster, and glazed tile, conforming to the university’s historic mediterranean revival style.

Hanszen Hall mixes tile, brick, and plaster
The new building replaces an out-of-date residential wing. (Richard Barnes)

Barkow Leibinger was awarded the design of the new residence while simultaneously working on the Sid Richardson Residential College, which is sited nearby. Originally intending to use mass timber for this earlier project, Barkow Leibinger was unable to implement the material given Houston’s building code, which at the time did not permit the use of mass timber on high-rise construction.

The firm was given a second opportunity to use the material with Hanszen Hall, which joins two existing buildings that bracket the residential college’s quad space. The first is a historic structure built in 1916 and the second, the Wiess/Hanszen Commons, was designed by Machado/Silvetti and completed in 2002.

site plan
Site Plan (Courtesy Barkow Leibinger)

The new building replaces an out-of-date midcentury wing. In plan, it consists of two offset volumes running parallel to each other. These two abutting volumes differ in height: the side facing the quad reaches only four stories, while the opposing volume rises five.

“Its a split and extended volume, which is basically conceived around the idea of a double loaded corridor. The idea was to lower the building on the quiet side and have a higher backside,” said Frank Barkow, founding partner of Barkow Leibinger.

Mirroring the adjacent Machado/Silvetti building, the architects implemented a pitched standing seam metal roof above Hanszen Hall. The offset height of the two volumes allowed for the inclusion of clerestory windows on the fifth floor of the residence.

model of the building
The split-level structure allowed for the inclusion of a clerestory on the fifth floor. (Courtesy Barkow Leibinger)

The facade of the building was composed from alternating segments of St. Joes Brick—a Louisiana brick historically used on the campus—and plaster. Depth was added to the elevations through the design of a “comb structure,” wherein vertical pilasters of brick and plaster protrude slightly from each floor like shingles. The plaster segments were vertically raked—a detail Barkow Leibinger has previously used for its European projects.

close-up view of the facade detailing
The buildings plaster was vertically-raked to add dimension to the material. (Richard Barnes)

These materials, brick, plaster, and glazed tile, form a thin veneer on top of a stud wall. Martina Bauer, principal at Barkow Leibinger, shared that the stud walls were prefabricated to ensure precise measurement of the frame’s “staggered geometry.”

Vertically laid glazed brick decorates the area beneath window stills, referencing the building’s demolished predecessor which featured glazed tile. Some of these tiles were salvaged from the demolition and reused in the soffit above the building’s entrance.

brick entryway in to Hanszen Hall
Salvaged tile decorates the entrance to Hanszen Hall. (Richard Barnes)

Hanzsen Hall’s dorm rooms dramatically improve student quality of life and features exposed timber columns, beams, and ceilings. The units are floored with glazed concrete.

“We exposed as much of the timber as we could in the inner corridors, lobbies and the dorm rooms themselves. The structural logic [of the interior] has a very different legibility and experience, I suppose, than the cladding of the exterior, which is really more about the campus,” added Barkow.

timber elements in the interiors
The residences feature exposed timber ceilings, columns, and beams. (Richard Barnes)

Barkow Leibinger collaborated with the Houston office of Kirksey Architecture as the project’s local architect. Kirksey has prior experience in the implementation of mass timber in Texas, through their completion of the Anderson-Ball Classroom Building at San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas. The firm also served as architect of record for the Sid Richardson Residential College.

In this role, Kirksey oversaw the implementation of Barkow Leibinger’s design. Darrell Whatley, vice president at Kirksey Architecture, emphasized that the use of a mass timber structure dramatically sped up construction.

We were usually done installing a day’s worth of [expected] work by mid-day. There’s not a lot of cutting. You’re just simply putting the pieces together,” he said.

Barkow Leibinger’s Hanszen Hall demonstrates that mass timber construction can be achieved in a university setting while adhering to the campus’s stylistic traditions. This model—a timber frame concealed by an exterior veneer—also allows for expedited construction time through prefabrication.


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