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The Architecture of The Baker Institute

The Baker Institute for Public Policy is housed within Baker Hall on Rice University’s campus. The building’s architecture and design are influenced by its mission of serving as a meeting place for statesmen, scholars and students, as well as a bridge between the worlds of ideas and action.

Located on the west quadrangle of the Rice campus, James A. Baker III Hall was completed in 1997. It anchors the southeast corner of the quad and bounds the southern edge of Jamail Plaza, which is reminiscent of the one that once graced the front of Lovett Hall.

To the north of Baker Hall, immediately across the plaza, with its dramatic fountain, is the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business, housed in McNair Hall and completed in 2002. Immediately underneath the Jones School is the Central Campus Garage, which provides 487 parking spaces in two underground levels and offers convenient parking to guests and staff members.

Adjoining Baker Hall to the west is Alice Pratt Brown Hall, completed in 1991, which houses the Shepherd School of Music. Standing adjacent to the Shepherd School is the James Turrell Skyspace titled “Twilight Epiphany.” Constructed of grass, concrete, stone and composite steel, the pyramid-like structure space is acoustically equipped for musical performances as well as a laboratory for music school students.

The Exterior

The exterior of Baker Hall, like many other buildings on Rice’s campus, includes Byzantine ornamental elements, including arched windows, door surroundings and columns, such as the one picture above.The exterior of Baker Hall draws its inspiration from the original campus buildings by Cram Goodhue and Ferguson and William Ward Watkin. In particular, buildings like Lovett Hall, Herzstein Hall and Keck Hall utilize classic beaux arts principles of composition and local symmetry. Their design, animated by Byzantine eclectic ornamental elements such as arched windows and door surroundings, stone banding, and modulating scaling devices like columns, piers and recessed panels all played off patterns of brick walks and sloped barrel-tile roofs. The brickwork, laid in Flemish bond with thick bed joints, forms a soft textural tapestry that underlies the quintessential sensibility of Rice and provides a framework for the iconographic elements that are integral to Rice architecture.

In devising the specific iconography for Baker Hall, the architects used quotes and general ideas from the addresses announcing the Baker Institute that had been made by James A. Baker, III, and the institute’s founding director, Edward P. Djerejian. These themes included the institute as a meeting place for statesmen, scholars and students, and as a bridge between the world of ideas and the world of action.

Around the building are lamps with inset coins that feature Rice’s mascot — an owl. These owls are sculpted to show the eyes of important figures in the institute’s history: James A. Baker, III, Edward P. Djerejian, Malcolm Gillis, Richard Stoll and Robert M. Stein.

At the north face — the building’s main entry — the architects took the theme of bridging the world of ideas and the world of action and used it to organize the iconography of both the entry and the building as a whole. The center doors represent this bridge-building clearly, with campus life in the middle (student capitols), the world of action (diplomacy capitols) to the east, and the world of ideas (scholarship capitols) to the west. Mosaic quotation panels above each door are developed with related themes. The four ceramic della robbia represent the communities the institute serves: Rice, Texas, the nation and the world.

At the south face, the symbolism is extended. The west entry door represents “action” and the east door “thought,” with illustrative mosaic quotations above each. The three second-floor double windows each have a glazed tile with bird representations — the peacock for renewal, the chaparral for the future and the ibis for wisdom. On the east and west elevations the double and triple window motifs incorporate glazed tiles depicting events and activities of the institute.

Traditional fables conveying wisdom and truth are illustrated. At the side doors, Rice and Texas themes similar to those of the chemistry building are employed.

At the southeast corner of Baker Hall is a section of the Berlin Wall, an installation that was made possible by Browning-Ferris Industries and Dr. Mary McIntire. Directly west of the monument is the Virginia Graeme Baker Memorial Garden, planted in honor of Mr. Baker’s late granddaughter. At the northeast corner of the building sits the Stone and Holt Weeks Memorial Bench, given by the Stone and Holt Weeks Foundation.

The Interior

Baker Hall’s central commons, named after institute benefactor William J. Doré, is used for informal gatherings or formal events that are important to the mission of the Baker Institute.Housing the Baker Institute and the Department of Economics, Baker Hall was conceived as a square structure with clerestory-lit central commons that serves as a focus for its community of scholars, fellows and students.

The square plan with a central room allows for an efficient enclosure of space and heightens the objective-like character of the building, an important aspect in establishing its role as the gateway for the west quad. The configuration extends the tradition of older Rice buildings’ roots in Byzantine and eastern Mediterranean styles. Likewise, the internal finishes and character are based on utilizing simple materials like wood, stone, plaster, tile and concrete detailed in a modest manner with concentrated areas of high finish. The use of ornamental marble mosaic floor panels in stained concrete fields and dark wood trim recalls the highly detailed lobbies of Lovett Hall and another early campus building, Herzstein Hall.

The central commons area, named for institute benefactor William J. Doré, accommodates the formal and informal gatherings that are central to the mission of the institute. Activities on a daily basis range from impromptu gatherings to highly structured programs and events. Advanced communications and data systems link the institute to national and international audiences. Live events are frequently held in this room, seating upward of 250 people per event.

The Kelly International Conference Facility, donated by Edward A. and Hermena Hancock Kelly, provides real-time audiovisual links and broadcast-quality video and sound support systems. At maximum capacity, this conference facility was designed to seat 120 people as well as a contingent of press corps members with cameras along the back row. The facility is capable of dual simultaneous translation during events.

With a capacity for 34 participants, the R. Stockton Rush Conference Center on the third floor of Baker Hall features the very latest in communications technologies. With the provision of two-way videoconference broadcasts anywhere in the world, this facility is a focal point for workshops, seminars and small conferences, providing our speakers with an ever broader and more diverse national and international audience. The conference center was made possible through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Burton J. McMurtry, as well as the Cullen Foundation; the Honorable Hushang Ansary and Mrs. Ansary; the Honorable James A. Baker, III, and Mrs. Baker; Mr. and Mrs. Clive Runnells; the family of R. Stockton Rush; and an anonymous donor.

Events from the Doré Commons, Kelly International Conference Facility and the Rush Conference Center can be connected through audiovisual links and webcast live throughout the world.

Construction of a 1,100 sq. ft. research lab on the third floor was completed in the summer of 2016. The space, divided into a large common area and a smaller conference room, is designed to provide an additional work area for research interns and visiting scholars. It is equipped with 14 moveable intern workstations with power outlets and network cables for laptop use, four fixed visiting scholar workstations with desktop computers and lockable storage, a large conference table and a 55-inch display screen with an HDMI interface.

On the ground floor, administration offices, classrooms and meeting rooms surround the commons. Immediately across from the Baker Institute office suite is the Lee and Joseph D. Jamail West Wing, which will enable the institute to expand into an area currently occupied by another Rice University department. At the second level, the offices of the faculty and fellows are arranged to allow maximum interaction on a daily basis. In addition to the research lab, the third level houses storage and more offices.