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Friday, December 01, 2023 — Houston, TX

The Thresher tours the new O’Connor building


Cali Liu / Thresher

The O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science, pictured from the engineering quad, was officially inaugurated in a Sept. 14 ribbon cutting ceremony.

By Prayag Gordy     9/19/23 11:05pm

The O’Connor Building for Engineering and Science was officially inaugurated in a Sept. 14 ribbon cutting ceremony. 

Named for Ralph O’Connor, a late Rice trustee and philanthropist, the building has an indoor and outdoor event space on the fifth floor with a panoramic view of downtown Houston, Rice campus and the medical center. Inside, light passes through a cascading series of cutouts in the main part of the building, illuminating conference rooms, meeting spaces and kitchenettes. There are two classrooms on the ground floor, both with a capacity of 108 students. The basement includes additional study spaces, along with showers.

Sustainability was a design priority, according to Susann Glenn, the communications director for finance and administration. The showers in the basement encourage staff to bike to work, and natural light is abundant.

“This building is built to the LEED certifications,” Glenn said. More than a dozen of Rice’s buildings meet the silver or gold standards in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

The O’Connor building is Rice’s largest investment in research since the BioScience Research Collaborative opened in 2009, Provost Amy Dittmar said at the ribbon cutting ceremony. The O’Connor building was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the same architecture firm that led the BRC project.

The new Advanced Materials Institute will live in the building, along with the departments of electrical and computer engineering, materials science and nanoengineering, chemical and biomolecular engineering and chemistry, according to Brad Thacker, the building’s operations director. Other focus areas for the building’s approximately 50 labs include the Quantum Initiative, urban research and the Carbon Hub.

“This remarkable facility realizes our unified vision of the engineering quad and sets the highest bar for innovation and collaboration,” President Reggie DesRoches said.

Labs are still moving into the 250,000 square foot building, Thacker said, and construction is expected to continue through at least 2025. Rice has not yet filled all the spaces — the brand-new labs will appeal to prospective faculty, according to Thacker.

The estimated total cost of the O’Connor building is $190 million, Angie Chen, the project manager, told the Houston Chronicle.

In his memorial plaque in the main hall of the building, O’Connor is quoted advocating for donating wealth. His estate left a university-record $57 million gift toward the building, part of the $85 million O’Connor donated to Rice.

“It’s important to give because we’re all in the same boat together,” O’Connor’s plaque reads. “What are you going to do with [wealth] if you don’t give it away? Sit on it? It’s not going to hatch.”

Watch a video of the Thresher’s tour on Instagram @ricethresher.

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