The Anderson-Clarke Center for Continuing Studies serves as the connecting bridge between the constituents of Rice University and the Houston community. With the addition of this building, Rice University has been able to serve the community at large by housing continuing education courses for part-time students such as foreigners seeking to learn English or senior citizens wanting to learn new skills or find intellectual stimulation. The Anderson-Clarke Center also provides space for lectures, conferences, social gatherings, faculty and administrative offices, and storage.
In American culture, many people consider colleges and universities to be elitist “ivory towers” where academics go about their intellectual pursuits, are concerned only with their careers, their students, or their institution, and are generally out of touch with the daily lives of the “rest of us.”
From the perspective of the Dean of Rice University’s Continuing Studies program, such perceptions needed to be changed. How could the university become a friendlier and more inviting place, where anyone might feel welcome and have enriching experiences?
The answer, of course, was to offer programs designed to serve the needs of the community and house them in an attractive, dynamic building that also functions as the main entryway to the campus.
When Overland Partners was brought in to fulfill this vision, they saw this as an opportunity to create an open door to Rice. At the same time, their biggest challenge was to ensure that the design of a new contemporary structure would integrate well with the existing historical buildings on campus, maintaining the “Rice identity” in accordance with the university’s master plan.
While adhering to the general shape and proportions of the campus’s older buildings, the Anderson-Clarke Center breaks with tradition by using large windows that open directly on to the outdoors, so that visitors approaching the building can peer inside to see the busy university life, while those inside can look out. According to Principal in Charge Rick Archer, “This large indoor space connects Rice to the city of Houston, while allowing Rice to showcase who they are.”
To create an inviting atmosphere, Overland Partners incorporated sustainable landscape and site-specific contemporary art into the overall design. Although the master plan had called for the building to front the street, the architects proposed a more scenic route, which was to move the building back from the street and create a lush green space in front of it. The entire building, thus, can be viewed from the distance, and approaching it is like strolling through a park.
Further enhancements were contributed by contemporary artists Joseph Havel and Stephen Dean. Havel designed a series of bronze spheres that are scattered across the lawn as if they might roll about, lending a tone of playfulness and wonder. Pile animated the interior entrance and stairwell with a glass ladder, housed in a pop-up window, that reflects light over these areas in constantly changing colors. Today the Anderson-Clarke Center is the busiest building on the Rice campus, serving as a dynamic nexus for the activities of students and nonstudents alike.