Architecture Ranch

Prototype research facility to
help Aggies invent the future

Plans are quickly taking shape for the construction of a new $850,000 facility at the “Architecture Ranch” — the College of Architecture’s new 16-acre prototype research facility located at Texas A&M’s Riverside Campus.

Preliminary designs for the new building, drawn by architecture professor Taeg Nishimoto and based on input from college faculty, call for a multiuse structure incorporating classroom and studio facilities, as well as high-tech wood and metal shops and a voluminous indoor-outdoor area that can facilitate large-scale building projects. The building will be situated on the southeast corner of the site.

The college plans to use the ranch as a testing ground for college research initiatives and to support student projects in construction, design, planning, landscape architecture and art. The proposed facility and its potential for advancing knowledge have generated a great deal of enthusiasm throughout the college, says Tom Regan, dean of the College of Architecture, and one of the project’s chief proponents.

“For many years, faculty in A&M’s College of Agriculture have developed new strategies in their research laboratories for improving plants and animals, and then tested these new ideas on experimental farms,” Regan said.

“Likewise, in our research studios and laboratories, College of Architecture faculty are developing advanced strategies for design, construction, and building-use. Now our new Built-Environment Research Facility — also known as the Architecture Ranch — will give our faculty and students, in collaboration with the professions and industries, the opportunity to construct full-size experimental prototypes and to test emerging concepts,” Regan continued. “This new facility 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.”

In Nishimoto’s preliminary design, the ranch’s metal-fabricated building is articulated into two parts, separated by a 6,000-square-foot grass-covered courtyard. The smaller 3,000-square-foot section, housing classrooms and offices, will be located north of the courtyard. The larger structure, tentatively sized at 10,000 square feet and located south of the courtyard, will accommodate the wood and metal shops, an open construction area and a second-floor mezzanine, all liberally bathed in natural light from a row of north-facing windows and sky lights.

The roof extends from the high south side of the shop, providing an additional 6,000 square feet of outdoor covered workspace that is further shaded from direct sunlight by a series of louvers that run laterally across the top half of the south side. Two large roll-up doors connect the covered outdoor area to the indoor workspace, and a third bay door opens to the west.

The building’s roof slopes gradually upward from north to south, culminating at the end of the south side where the louvers are located. On the western side, a covered walkway bridges the courtyard, tying the classroom and workshop together.

The design incorporates concepts developed last year at a daylong faculty charrette examining potential uses for the Riverside Campus site. The three charrette teams agreed that the initial structure should facilitate mixed use, allow for future development and establish an iconic quality through a strong visual identity. The charrette also identified a need for a meaningful outdoor-indoor relationship.

“The idea for the design came from a collective sense of making the building sustainable,” Nishimoto explained. “From that came the building’s north-south orientation, the big covered area on the south side, the use of northern light, and the use of different volumes for workshop and class space.”

The design process also embraced the charrette teams’ desire to use the ranch for activities not readily facilitated at the Langford Architecture Center on main campus. For instance, the building provides covered wide open space that can facilitate a variety of activities, such as construction projects, that wouldn’t be possible on the main campus.

“Visitors approaching the building from the Riverside Campus’ main entrance will see students all over the place, working, building and constructing,” he said. “The covered area will become a sign board showcasing student’s activities and what we’re about.”

Adding to the structure’s iconic character is a fence that runs parallel along the eastern side of the structure. The fence, Nishimoto said, gives the building a ranch-like look and feel, while separating the courtyard from the road.

“The louvers and fence are the elements that make the building unique,” Nishimoto said.

The grass-covered courtyard nestled between the two sections, will be open to the west and fenced on the east. It separates the “clean” space that includes classrooms, labs and studios, from the “dirty” space that includes the shops and construction bays.

“The courtyard is an area for students and faculty to come together, to collaborate on designs and projects and criticize each other’s work,” Nishimoto explained. “Students will literally be sweating away together out there and their collaborations, in this case, will be rewarded with a tangible product.”

Nishimoto stressed that his design is still in the preliminary stages and thus subject to the modifications and budget constraints usually encountered in the building process. A design-build contract will be negotiated through Texas A&M’s Physical Plant Department, and Nishimoto will serve as the college’s representative on the project.

“The ranch concept is really quite extraordinary,” Nishimoto said. “Many architecture schools have embraced the transition to a virtual world where, with the latest digital technology, almost anything can be visualized. Our ranch will expand this development into the tangible realm, allowing us the ability to actually construct and test many of these ideas.”

Because of the College of Architecture’s unique composition, with programs in architecture, planning, landscape architecture and construction science, it is uniquely suited for the sort of multidisciplinary collaboration that the ranch is designed to facilitate.

“Ideas for future expansions on the 16-acre ranch, including more labs and studios, and perhaps even an art colony, will come after we establish what we can do and learn, and how much we can take advantage of the area,” Nishimoto said. “The possibilities for the ranch are very exciting and this building will have a big influence on the college’s future growth. It will be an ongoing, evolving process.”

— The End —

January 10, 2005

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“…our new Built-Environment Research Facility will give our faculty and students, in collaboration with the professions and industries, the opportunity to construct full-size experimental prototypes and to test emerging concepts."

— J. Thomas Regan
College of Architecture
Texas A&M University