Visual Arts

10 Decades at Architecture Center Houston Gives Visual History of Rice School of Architecture

Rice University and its School of Architecture will be celebrating 100 years of academic excellence in October. To get the party started early, Architecture Center Houston is hosting 10 Decades, a visual history of Rice University and Rice's School of Architecture.

10 Decades is more history fair than art exhibit, with 10 bound books (they look like informational pamphlets) set up on a white table in the middle of the center. The beginning year of each decade is designated on the left of each "book" in black numbers, starting with 1912, the year Rice School of Architecture was founded under the leadership of William Ward Watkins. (Watkins' official title was Instructor in Architecture.) Pictures in each book vary from pale pink and mauve to intense royal blue, depending on the importance of that decade's event. As the books continue down one half of the table and around to the other half, each dean's coming and going is highlighted, ending with current dean Sarah M. Whiting, who was appointed in 2011.

Unlike traditional art exhibits, where posted signs sternly warn "Do Not Touch the Painting," guests are actually invited to leaf through the pages of the books. It's a surprise touching is allowed, since there is some rich history embedded in those pages -- not only Rice School of Architecture's, but that of the architecture world-at-large as well. In thematic relevance to the inclusion of local, national and international architecture with Rice School of Architecture's endeavors, there are seven explanatory boards behind the table; to the left are displays unique to Rice School of Architecture's history -- People, Operation, Extra-curricular, Engagement -- titled for the different aspects of the school they explain, while the three boards on the right -- Architecture, Institution, Communication -- give retrospectives of architecture throughout the city of Houston and beyond.

Exhibit designer Dawn Finley, a professional architect and associate professor at Rice School of Architecture who researched and curated 10 Decades with help from Rice architecture students Peter Muessig, Erin Ruhl, Stacie Escario and Mary Beth Woiccak, did this on purpose.

Instead of "reflecting internally," as Finley put it, the exhibit, which places events like the school's first Archi-Arts Ball alongside the historic first trans-Atlantic two-way conversation between Bell Laboratories and the British Post Office, was "an opportunity to possibly reach a broader audience."

Additionally, Rice's Centennial "coincides with the 40th anniversary of Rice Design Alliance," an organization of Houston architects and architecture enthusiasts. Rice Design Alliance, or RDA, was created by the school of architecture's first official dean, David Crane, in 1972. It was Linda L. Sylan, the current executive director of RDA, who worked with Dean Whiting to create a historic exhibit in time for Rice's Centennial. Whiting approached Finley, and the rest is, as evidenced on the crisp white table at ArCH, 100-year history.

10 Decades is on view until November 2 at Architecture Center Houston, 315 Capitol, Suite 120.

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Altamese Osborne
Contact: Altamese Osborne