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Rice students design new Menil addition


Rice Building Workshop, an architecture class, was chosen by the Menil Collection to build a cafe near the museum to serve both visitors and the surrounding neighborhood. The cafe, which will be in the backyard of the Menil Bookstore, was inspired by the style of taco trucks. Students built a site model that is a representation of what the cafe will look like (above).

By Hallie Jordan     9/22/11 7:00pm

The Menil Collection — a world class museum located five minutes from campus — has offered Rice University architecture students an opportunity to go beyond just being students, with a commissioned piece to build a cafe.

The original campus plans for the Menil included a cafe. However, the museum has thus far not had one. After seeing the ZeRow house students built two years ago in the architecture class called Rice Building Workshop, Museum Director Josef Helfenstein decided he wanted Rice students for the project.

The cafe will be located across the street from the Menil in the backyard of its bookstore.

"Everybody has always wanted a gathering place there. They needed something like Brochstein," Rice Building Workshop architecutre professor Danny Samuels said. "The people who visit need a place to walk to."

The design of the cafe, which includes a light, airy seating area and then an enclosed kitchen "core" area, is based off of the concept of taco trucks, Rice building Workshop student Sara Hieb said.

"We wanted it to be able to serve food and have the potential to function on its own," Hieb said.

Designing the cafe based off of taco trucks was inspired by the number that visit the Menil Campus, Hieb said. The kitchen area of the cafe will have a service window that can open up and sell food while the main cafe is closed. There is also an option for outdoor seating on a deck.

Since it is next door to the Aurora Picture Show, which often shows movies at night, the cafe will have a wall that could be used as a screen for projections at night.

Aside from being taco-truck inspired, the class wanted it to fit into the neighborhood surroundings.

"It's a small site and a small cafe. It has elements that are related to the museum, but it is still comparable to the neighborhood bungalows in size and gray and white colors," Rice Building Workshop student Matthew Ganster said.

Hopefully the cafe will also fill a gap in the neighborhood for a place to get a quick bite to eat, Rice Building Workshop professor Nonya Grenaider said.

"We want it to be a hinge between the neighborhood and the Menil," she said.

Design for this project began last semester and is now being finalized by a new class with a different set of students. The current class is working out the details for construction, including collaborating with engineers, meeting with the city and making sure the building meets all codes and standards, Ganster said. Construction will begin in January.

The class was started in 1996 and has focused on designing cheap housing that is self-contained and can be built off-site in the past, Samuels said.

Because the designs the class makes are actually constructed it gives students a chance to see what actually working in the architecture field is like, Samuels said.

"It's a chance for collaborative work that is very unique," he said. "They get to work with engineers, and it's a chance to experience the sort of collaborative work you do as an architect."

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