Despite being centrally located in Houston, Rice University falls along a major bird migration route, making it one of the most biodiverse universities in the country, with one of the biggest bird species lists of any campus in North America. The Harris Gully Natural Area is a restored watershed within the Rice campus that includes several microhabitats for the migrating birds, including prairies, open woodland, and dense shrubland. The Mass Timber Pavilion, an observation deck immersed within the landscape, represents a small step toward the long-term management of this ecosystem.
The pavilion itself is an abstract object, conceived and sited in the picturesque tradition. Like the ruin of a small temple, it invites and accommodates nature around it. In its simplicity, indeterminacy, and openness, it insinuates the lightness of touch that should guide the stewardship of Harris Gully in the future.
Made of CLT sourced from southern yellow pine, the pavilion is a carbon-negative structure and an essay on the possibilities of this sustainable construction technology. A didactic design, the building showcases the CLT panels in their purest form, like a giant piece of furniture that conveys the logic of its assembly. The immediate way in which the material is presented underlines its structural versatility, featuring CLT serving as roof, pillar, and capital.
The project was designed in Rice associate professor Jesús Vassallo’s wood seminar by a team including graduate students Pouya Khadem and Lene Sollie in collaboration with structural engineer Tracy Truc Huynh. Under Vassallo’s supervision, the students developed the construction documents and took the project from conceptual design all the way through permitting. Funding for the project was obtained through a federal grant from the U.S. Forest Service, with additional funds provided by generous gifts to the School of Natural Sciences and the Rice Arboretum Committee.
Jesús Vassallo is a Spanish architect and a writer and professor at Rice University.
Pouya Khadem is a recent graduate of the MArch program at Rice Architecture and currently works at SCHAUM/SHIEH in Houston.
Lene Sollie is a recent graduate of the MArch program at Rice Architecture and currently works at Dark Arkitekter in Oslo.
Tracy Truc Huynh is a structural engineer with degrees from Rice and Princeton and currently works as an expert in decarbonization of the built environment at RMI.