Moody Center for the Arts
Challenged to address the needs of Rice University’s students, faculty, and a roster of visiting artists, the Moody Center assumes the dual role of a learning space and an artist incubator.
Af Finn MacLeod
Located in Houston, Texas, Rice University is one of the leading research universities in the United States. Home to distinguished faculty and sited adjacent to the Houston Museum District and Texas Medical Center, the institution is favorably positioned in the city, and in the country, to attract leaders from every discipline to its sprawling urban campus.
Home to a handful of Byzantine-and-Georgian-inspired collegiate buildings, the campus at Rice University is old, impressive, and stoic — seemingly at odds with its progressive agenda. By contrast, the campus also plays host to a robust public art program, with contributions by lauded artists James Turrell, Jaume Plensa, and Mark di Suvero, among others.
Regarded as the best private university in Texas, Rice benefits from a large base of prominent art collectors and foundations, including the Moody Foundation. With the help of a generous $20 million grant from the Moody Foundation and an additional $10 million from donors, Rice has bolstered its art offerings with the addition of the Moody Center for the Arts, an airy new 50.000-square-foot arts center designed by Michael Maltzan Architects.
Billed as a “transdisciplinary” building, the center, like most new campus buildings in the United States, is soaring, open, and day-lit. What sets it apart from its contemporaries, however, are its uniquely flexible spaces, which allow it to accommodate a broad spectrum of creative programs as they change and adapt to the arts community. In 2017, Rice’s Artist in Residence program hosted world-famous artists Olafur Eliasson and Mona Hatoum.
Eschewing Rice’s classical architectural aesthetic, the two-story building is clad in glass and slate-colored brick, creating the illusion of a monolithic volume hovering above the ground. A lantern-like design, the building is punctuated by a series of conventional and not-so-conventional geometric shapes serving as windows from which passersby can observe activities inside. The most notable element, a rectangular volume, hangs over the entrance, housing a “sunburst” steel support beam made visible by two asymmetrical cutouts intersecting the volume to create a life-sized sundial.
Inside, the building’s spaces vary between new-age, open-concept, flexible breakout spaces and traditionally (glass) enclosed classrooms — this is an academic building, after all. Bright neon furniture and conversational breakout spaces enliven its stark white spaces, while birch hardwood and polished concrete floors provide visual gravity.
Interior spaces are centered on a grand staircase — equal parts circulation and socializing — where occupants can enjoy theatre-like seating for casual gatherings or observing performances in the nearby atrium. The building also houses a 150-seat studio theatre; a gallery for exhibitions and experimental performances; flexible and programmed studios; video production labs; a maker lab with wood, metal, paint, and prototyping capabilities; new media and technology libraries; and private studios artist studios. Multi-media video screens are located throughout the building, creating opportunities for digital artists to showcase their work.
Described by the architects as the embodiment of “openness and possibility,” the building’s diverging spaces seek to catalyze creative expression while serving as a home for its continued refinement. Its blank white walls serve as a canvas (pun intended) for its occupants, and its raw aesthetic embodies the energy the artists in the creative community at Rice.
A veritable architectural Swiss Army Knife, the Moody Center for the Arts effortlessly incorporates bespoke spaces for more than a dozen artistic practices without compromising beauty or functionality. Rarely do all forms of digital, analog, mixed media, dance, and theatre arts come together under one roof, but in the Moody Center, Maltzan has found programmatic harmony, while establishing an open and inviting space for the Houston arts community.
Opened in February of 2017, the Moody Center for the Arts has already begun to host its first classes and visiting artists.