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Anne and Charles Duncan Hall Dedicated
From: High Endeavor, Volume 2, Issue 1

The Anne and Charles Duncan Computational Engineering Building, dedicated Nov 1, 1996, is a 112,000-square foot interdisciplinary haven designed to foster conversation between faculty of diverse backgrounds.

"The names Anne and Charles Duncan instantly identify this building with the promise of the future that it contains," said E. William Barnett, chair of Rice's Board of Governors, in his opening remarks for the dedication.

The Duncan building is located on Loop Drive across from Lovett Hall.

The dedication ceremonies for the Duncan Building entertained more than 600 guests with food and music based around the four cultures from which architect John Outram drew design inspirations for the building. The south side of Duncan Hall, facing Lovett Hall, represents pre-Columbian America, the north evokes the neoplatonism of the European renaissance, the east resembles India, and the west recalls ancient Greece. The designs are executed in bold patterns and exuberant colors from the floor to the 56-foot-tall ceiling of the main hall.

"That our names have been associated with this building [and] with the pioneering research and the teaching that is certain to occur in this building ... is a tremendous source of pride for Anna and me," Charles Duncan said in acknowledging the building's dedication.

The Duncan building houses the departments of Computer Science, computational and applied mathematics, statistics, and about half of electrical and computer engineering.

"This building is designed to encourage interaction between participants," said Keith Cooper, associate professor of Computer Science, who was the faculty representative to the design committee for the facility.

Combining diverse departments in one building will not necessarily lead to communication between faculty unless they mingle during the day. Outram solved that problem through "designed inconvenience."

The occupant of every office will find at least one necessity farther away than usual, Cooper said. For some, bathrooms may be far down the hall, while for others the copy machine may be at the opposite end of the building.

Although getting that first cup of coffee in the morning may require a jaunt down the hall, a walk up the stairs should be easier than usual.

The floors are about 11 feet apart, said Cooper, who worked closely with the architect during design and construction. That is fewer than most buildings, which typically have floors stacked 15 feet apart. This design is intended to induce people to walk the stairs rather than take the elevator.

In the public areas there are also working spaces with big chairs and computer connections. All these features are designed to encourage casual conversations as the faculty and staff stroll about the building.

During those walks, the faculty can also enjoy Outram's design.

The building is based on classical design motifs and incorporates traditional Rice building characteristics, such as red tile roofs and and red brick walls, Outram said. The structure also features pastel hues of blue, green, and yellow, as well as a palette of soft, vibrant colors.

"In a nutshell, my forms tend to be traditional and [my] materials modern," Outram said. "I call it synthetic masonry. I really don't like using stone. I like stone, and I like wood. But I think it more of a challenge to create a decorative figure of one's own."

Colored concrete is a recurring characteristic of Outram's buildings. Outram invented Blitzcrete, which was described in the London Sunday Times as "crushed brick mixed into concrete, then sliced and smoothed until it resembles diced vegetables in aspic." Doodlecrete, another Outram invention, consists of "richly coloured cylindrical beams with an engraved scroll-pattern picked out in white," described by the Times.

Examples of Blitzcrete and Doodlecrete, and similar forms, are vital to the decorative motifs in the several structures of the Duncan Building.

"I'm a bit of a colored-concrete specialist," Outram said. "I don't copy classical forms; they are rethought."

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