A new social science building will be constructed next to Tudor Fieldhouse in what was Recreation Field 6, and Dean of the School of Social Sciences Antonio Merlo said he hopes construction will break ground by the end of this summer.
Although Merlo could not confirm the construction period yet, he said an official announcement of the project will likely come from the university at the end of this academic year.
“Other schools have a building they call home, but the School of Social Sciences doesn’t,” Merlo said. “Building a new home for the School of Social Sciences has been an absolute priority since I took over as dean [in 2016].”
Merlo said the majority of project funding comes from donations by alumni and friends of the university.
Merlo said Rogers Partners Architects+Urban Designers, which is lead by a Rice alumnus from the School of Architecture, has been assigned to direct the project. However, the architectural style and design are still under discussion.
“The idea is to simultaneously bring in the elements of the architecture at Rice, while understanding that we are not building a 1940 building, we are looking into the next chapter,” he said.
When Facilities Engineering and Planning relocated Field 6 from the east side of Tudor Fieldhouse to the north side of campus to accommodate a new utilities tunnel that would service the Moody Center for the Arts and the planned opera house, Merlo said the former Field 6 location became the optimal place for the new building.
Political science professor Leslie Schwindt-Bayer said she believes the new building will bring the different social science departments together.
“[This] could allow for more collaboration across units and provide more of a sense of unity among social science students,” Schwindt-Bayer said.
However, Schwindt-Bayer said that the building’s distance from the academic quad is a disadvantage to the goal of physically unifying the community.
Merlo said the new building, Jones Graduate School of Business and the Baker Institute for Public Policy would create a new policy corridor.
“Now, these three buildings would essentially create practice, policy, research all related to this policy vision,” Merlo said. “We are talking about expanding the Rice University campus. I think the vision is also to have a second quad that develops toward the [Bioscience Research Collaborative]. The idea is to build toward the BRC as the future evolution of the Rice campus.”
The general layout for the ground floor will draw from core values of the School of Social Sciences by stimulating openness and social interactions, according to Merlo. While the upper floors will contain offices, the ground floor will consist entirely of shared spaces, with plans for undergraduate and graduate student lounges, classrooms and an auditorium/multi-purpose room, according to Merlo.
The building will also house an array of institutes and labs, such as the Kinder Institute for Urban Research and the Houston Education Research Consortium, as well as the dean’s office and the two biggest social science departments at Rice, economics and sociology, Merlo said.
“Giving social sciences a new home will make everyone better off,” economics professor Vivian Ho said. “The Baker Institute has been growing, and it’s been difficult to find space for new personnel. The new classrooms are sorely needed. It makes me sad seeing my students, many of them six-foot-plus athletes, squeeze themselves into rickety wooden desks for lectures.”
“We don’t want to start overcommitting resources from the university,” Merlo said. “We want to use these as opportunities to getting alumni involved.”
Merlo said that having a physical presence to call home is important for the School of Social Sciences to keep moving forward.
“I think it is good to have a quality space that is in line with the quality of our ambition and expectations,” Merlo said.
This article was edited to remove the information that the building will be named after Robert Klein, as stated in a 2012 Rice News article. According to Merlo that information is no longer accurate. [1 p.m. Mar. 21]