College of Architecture Texas A&M University


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Architecture Ranch

"Architecture Ranch" taking shape
at Texas A&M's Riverside Campus



Visitors to Texas A&M University's new “Architecture Ranch” won't see faculty and students punching cattle. Instead, they'll be met with scenes of future architects, landscape architects and construction managers hard at work on projects at a large-scale state-of-the-art workshop being built at the Riverside Campus.

“The College of Architecture's 8,000 square-foot Built Environment Teaching and Research Facility, or 'Architecture Ranch,' will provide a much needed area where students can gain hands-on experience,” says Taeg Nishimoto, the architecture professor and registered architect coordinating the project. “In addition to lots of open space inside and around the building for construction and fabrication, the facility will feature equipment for metal welding and woodworking. An 1,800 square-foot canopied open space at the front of the building, directly connected to the workshop, will extend the construction activities outside. The area immediately surrounding the building is not quite developed at this stage, though I'm sure our landscape architecture and construction science people will have plenty of ideas for developing the open ground at the site.”

The idea for the Architecture Ranch came to Texas A&M with the college's dean, J. Thomas Regan, who wanted to expand the college's design and build activities to a much larger scale.

“For many years, faculty in colleges of agriculture at land grant universities have developed new strategies in their research laboratories for improving plants and animals, then tested these new ideas on experimental farms within the university,” Regan said. “Similarly, Texas A&M College of Architecture faculty and students are developing advanced strategies for design, construction, and planning in our design-research studios and laboratories. Now our new Built Environment Teaching and Research Facility - also known as the Architecture Ranch - will give our faculty and students, in collaboration with the professions and industries, the opportunity to test their research theories by constructing full-size experimental prototypes.

“The facility will also give our students the opportunity to learn through action,” Regan continued. “The Architecture Ranch will significantly advance our planning, design, and construction research, and it will encourage research and teaching opportunities for our faculty and students that few colleges of architecture enjoy.”

Planning for the ranch began in November, 2003, when the College of Architecture was allocated 16 acres at Texas A&M's Riverside Campus, located on Highway 47 about 10 miles from the main campus.

“All interested faculty members were invited to meet at the site for a one-day brainstorming session,” Nishimoto says. “We divided into three teams, spent the day developing ideas for using the site, then presented them to the group. After we explored what we imagined the building and place to be, we spent about one year in the initial design of the building.

“After we had the initial design approved, Physical Plant, represented by Audry Rohloff, officially became the coordinator of the project. We decided to pursue this project as a design/build contract, which awards the project to an architectural firm and construction company working congruently as a team. This process ensures that the building's scope and cost will be presented to us simultaneously for efficient decision making.”

Architects Hunter-Moody and Meridian Constructors, L.L.C. both of Houston, were awarded the contract, and ground was broken before Christmas, just after the fall semester ended. Construction on the ranch is expected to be completed by early April.

“The faculty perceives the ranch as a physical embodiment of the college's initiative to promote interdisciplinary collaboration among architects, landscape architects and construction science people in our college,” Nishimoto says. “We will probably spend the summer getting the inside of the building ready for students, then open it to the first classes in the fall semester of 2006.”

Nishimoto stresses the high levels of collaboration among college faculty during the planning and design of the ranch.

“I continually sought input from my peers at the college,” he says, “not only on the design of the building but especially with regard to issues of sustainability. Because our budget was limited, we were unable to use certain features as we would have liked, but we feel that design features - such as translucent paneling to admit natural light, the way the cross ventilation occurs inside the building, and the canopy which shades the south side of the building - will help making the building sustainable.”

Nishimoto worked on the overall design with Dean Regan and Chuck Tedrick, the college's facility coordinator. On sustainability issues, he consulted Tom Woodfin, associate professor in landscape architecture; Neil Eldin, former associate professor in construction science; and architecture professors Jeff Haberl and Pliny Fisk. Additionally, visualizations of the project site were provided by Fred Parke, a professor in the college's visualization science program.

“The workshop being constructed now is just the beginning,” says Nishimoto. “We hope to build more facilities as funds become available, and to see it become a real working 'ranch,” triggering more direct involvement from our diverse faculty, students and former students. In time, we hope to see everyone at the ranch.”


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