Rice to break ground on new performing arts hall

December 19, 2016
Arias coming from the opera program at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music are about to be raised a few decibels.

The school announced Monday that it will break ground in September on a new music, theater and opera building designed by Allan Greenberg Architect LLC. that will be connected by a plaza to the school's existing Alice Pratt Brown Hall.

The combined facility, to be called the Rice University Music and Performing Arts Center, will further energize the west end of the campus, where the new Moody Center for the Arts is nearly completed, to create "a real hub of arts activity," Shepherd School dean Robert Yekovich said.

But while the Moody Center's architecture is avant-garde -- with bricks that are, gasp, more of a hard-rock looking slate color! -- the opera building will fit squarely into Rice's classical architecture tradition, melding seamlessly with Brown Hall.

Greenberg, whose firm is based in New York and Alexandria, Va., also designed Rice's quietly elegant Humanities Building.

Renderings of the exterior and grand foyer suggest a modern take on old Verona.

"The opera house is a visual overture to prepare the audience to enter into the magical world conjured by the music, the story and the theatrical setting of the opera," Greenberg said. "It facilitates a journey into the mind of the composer, in which the human voice gives breath to a living fantasy."

The 84,000-square foot facility will house a three-tiered, 600-seat, European-style opera theater with an orchestra pit for 70 musicians.

Yekovich said while the school's growing opera program will benefit greatly from the theater as well as new rehearsal and practice space, the facility will be used by the entire university -- including the school's orchestral and chamber music programs, the theater department and events featuring high-profile speakers.

Greenberg is collaborating with a top-notch team of specialists.

Joshua Dachs of New York's Fisher Dachs Associates -- known for its work on Radio City Music Hall, new opera houses in Toronto and St. Petersburg and Houston's Hobby Center for the Performing Arts -- is designing the theater.

The Chicago-based firm Threshold Acoustics -- which has worked at London's Royal Festival Hall, Maryland's Music Center at Strathmore, and Philadelphia's Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts -- will create the state-of-the-art "pin-drop" acoustic experience.

A funding initiative for the project is in its final push, but university officials are confident enough to project a July 2020 opening. Yekovich said the school has raised $90 million of the projected $100 million-plus cost, which includes road re-working and the plaza. The lead donors who acquired the naming rights to the new space have asked to remain anonymous for the time being.

Yekovich said the school considers itself "very fortunate" to be located in a place where the arts "are so warmly embraced and generously supported."

Rice president David Leebron said the center represents the university's "continuing aspirations" for the ongoing success of the Shepherd School and will take it to an entirely new level as an arts and event venue not just for the university, but for Houston.

By Molly Glentzer
Photo by Allan Greenberg Architect LLC