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New “Sarofim Hall” VADA building to be constructed

Rendering courtesy Diller Scofido

By Megan Xiao     11/30/21 11:14pm

Rice University will construct a new building for visual and dramatic arts students and faculty, named Susan and Fayez Sarofim Hall. The building will be situated adjacent to the Moody Center for the Arts. 

The $25 million building will be a 50,000-square-foot facility, joining the Shepherd School of Music’s Alice Pratt Brown Hall and the Brockman Hall for Opera as part of a Rice arts district. The district aims to serve as a resource for Rice students and faculty and the Houston community, according to the Rice News article.

The building will be designed by the Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s design team, led by Rice alumnus Charles Renfro. The team was chosen through a national competition. According to the Rice News article, Sarofim Hall’s architecture will take an inventive approach on the former Rice Media Center and Art Barn. Some features it hopes to incorporate are exhibition areas, labs, studios, shops, faculty officers and other facilities that serve as collaboration points for artists across mediums.

Renfro graduated from Rice in 1989 and received his Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University in 1994 before becoming a partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro in 2004. Other designs by Diller Scofidio + Renfro include New York City’s High Line, the Shed, an expansion to the Museum of Modern Art and the renovation of Lincoln Center featuring an expansion of the Juilliard School.

“Cross-disciplinary discourse is a hallmark of the arts in the 21st century, but it has been difficult at Rice since its facilities are scattered all over campus,” Renfro said in a Rice press release. “Sarofim Hall will not only bring these programs together for the first time, but also facilitate experimentation and collaboration between disciplines through the use of open, transparent, indoor/outdoor and public-facing space.”

According to President David Leebron, the VADA major is another reason for the construction of the building.

“I am excited to see Charles Renfro’s extraordinary artistic vision and unique understanding of our campus culture and history shape the design of this important new facility,” Leebron said in the press release. “The building anchors one of our key departments, VADA, and completes for now the arts district of our campus that we envisioned. It is designed with the potential for additional expansion as we seek to grow the department’s achievements and recognition under its new chair, Bruce Hainley.”

VADA is one of Rice’s most popular departments, serving 900 students a year, roughly a quarter of the school’s undergraduate population.

Demand for more classes through VADA continues to grow in a variety of majors as well, including engineering, computer science and architecture. 

Duncan College senior Nini Nguyen said she thinks it is nice that Rice will be constructing a new building for VADA, since Rice is very STEM heavy.

“I know some artists at Rice that feel unsupported given that there are little to no resources on campus where students can reach out for guidance, [such as] applying for an [Master of Fine Arts], or building a portfolio for UX design,” Nguyen said. “From what I’ve noticed, most students who end up pursuing an arts-related field usually have to do their own research to find resources and opportunities outside what Rice provides, which is a stressful experience.”

According to the history of VADA at Rice, VADA has also grown considerably since the late 1960s, when Houston arts icons Dominique and John de Menil made an extraordinary gift to bring a team of art historians, an art library, a photography and film program and a host of technical staff to Rice University to form the department.

Nguyen said she hopes that this new building will increase growth in both the VADA department and support for artists on campus and for more students to view a career in the arts as a viable option.

The building will be built with a combination of university funds and philanthropic donations, including the lead gift from Sarofim, according to the news article.

Kathleen Canning, the dean of the School of Humanities, said in a previous press release that the school is deeply grateful to Sarofim for this gift.

“This new student and faculty arts building will house a vibrant and growing arena of arts teaching and learning at Rice and will foster innovations and collaborations that draw students from all schools at Rice, most notably engineering, architecture and the humanities,” Canning wrote. “This historic gift will elevate the place of the student creative arts in a Rice liberal arts education.”

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