Story Pitch: Rice U. architecture students designing, building home for Houston nonprofit

By Newsroom America Feeds at 18 Dec 2017

SUMMARY: Rice architecture students are building the +House around a utility core that maximizes efficiency by combining the bathroom, kitchen and electrical, heating and air conditioning systems in a single central unit.

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Core values inform Rice's +House Rice architecture students designing, building home for Third Ward nonprofit

HOUSTON – (Dec. 18, 2017) – Four Rice University architecture students showed up at a construction site in Houston's historic Third Ward (,_Houston) early and ready to work Dec. 8. But first they had to clear the decks after a rare snowfall. ( It was already an unusual day in the city, but it was a big one for Rice Architecture ( students building a small two-bedroom home for Agape Development ( . The nonprofit program will use it to house counselors in an initiative that supports at-risk youth. A few hours later, the building's "core" was delivered and put into place.

The +House project in the backyard of an Agape home on Conley Street is the next iteration in the core concept being developed by Rice Construct ( , the new name for the 21-year-old operation known until recently as Rice Building Workshop.

The core, a 3,000-pound box built on campus at Ryon Lab last summer, contains the bathroom, kitchen and electrical, heating and air conditioning systems in a single unit meant to slide into the building, simplifying construction and saving on-site costs. Once the core is in place, all the municipal utilities hook up at a central location.

A previous iteration of the core, the Modpod ( , was inserted into a renovated home for Project Row Houses ( in 2012, but the 350-square-foot +House is the first core building that students have designed and built from scratch. After more than a year of planning and core construction, they have been building on-site since returning to school this fall.

"We've done about 10 Saturdays of construction with people who are not very experienced at it," said Danny Samuels, co-director of Rice Construct and a co-founder of Rice Building Workshop. "But it's been going pretty quickly. I'm very proud of these students, because they're self-starters."

On core day, after sweeping away the snow, graduate students Rose Wilkowski and Julie Klosterman, fifth-year student Shiori Sageshima and visiting student Leyla Hepsaydir spent a chilly morning closing in walls and pausing for the occasional Instagram photo ( while they awaited the core's delivery from a storage facility across town.

Once it arrived, and after a short time strategizing, the Rice staff and students winched and pushed it from the truck into position on the deck, after which they replaced the fourth wall's frame and went back to work on the roof. They expected to have the building weatherproofed before Rice's holiday break and will continue construction in January.

Samuels said the team, which includes graduate students Kejia Lu and Haotian Ma, undergraduate John Rudd and fifth-year student Jiaxing Yan, hopes to complete the two-year project in the summer. At that time, two mentors now housed in the street-side building will move in, making room in the main house for more clients.

Hepsaydir, at Rice on a yearlong fellowship after earning her architecture degree at Cambridge University, welcomed the chance to get hands-on experience. "In Cambridge, we never had any physical design-and-build, so this is a great opportunity to get my hands dirty," she said. "And the fact that we have a real client makes it rewarding."

Roque Sanchez, manager of buildings and projects for Rice's George R. Brown School of Engineering ( and a volunteer on the project, appreciated the opportunity to teach engineering principles to architecture students. "This is a real interesting cross-disciplinary project in getting architects to think about engineering from the get-go in designing buildings and to explore advanced building systems," he said.

"On most residential construction, the framing and carpentry go very quickly, but the plumbing and the electrical work take the longest and have the most expensive tradespeople," Sanchez said. "It's sort of backwards when you think about it. You wouldn't go to the middle of a field or a driveway and build a car from scratch, but we do that with houses."

Samuels said the project aligns with a current conversation ( about urban density. "This is a national question," he said. "Some cities encourage increasing density by building backyard houses. Some discourage it. Houston's relatively neutral; they allow it but they don't really encourage it.

"So we've been looking at projects like this as a means of increasing urban density without changing the fabric of a neighborhood," he said.


This news release can be found online at

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Video produced by Brandon Martin/Rice University

Related materials:

Rice Construct:

Rice Architecture:

Rice Construct on Instagram:

Images for download:


Roque Sanchez puts some muscle into the core unit by pushing into the frame of +House, a Rice Construct project in Houston's Third Ward. (Credit: Rice University)


Rice University staff and students push the fourth wall of +House into place after inserting the core, which contains the bathroom, kitchen, heating and air conditioning and utility hookups. (Credit: Rice University)

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Rice Architecture staff and students push and pull their core unit into position at the +House in Houston's Third Ward. (Credit: Brandon Martin/Rice University)


Rice Architecture students were greeted with a snow-covered frame in Houston's Third Ward Dec. 8. The students are building +House, a two-bedroom home for Agape Development that features a core unit combining its bathroom, kitchen, heating, air conditioning and utility hookups. (Credit: Rice University)

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,879 undergraduates and 2,861 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice is ranked No. 1 for quality of life and for lots of race/class interaction and No. 2 for happiest students by the Princeton Review. Rice is also rated as a best value among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go to

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