Foliage architecture (and art) on Rice University campus


At my alma mater in Houston last month (right after Hurricane Harvey), I appreciated the marriage of foliage and architecture at the Brochstein Pavilion, a remarkable structure and hub of student activity that didn’t exist when I was a student at Rice University.

A hedge of tightly clipped horsetail divides the pavilion’s patio from the main sidewalk, all of which is shaded by a wide trellis of aluminum tubes. The trellis roof seems to float ethereally over the space and provides a good deal of shade, which, if you’ve ever been to Houston, you know is essential. It also evokes the floating roof of the campus’s James Turrell Skyspace.


I’m always surprised by how much I love a bosque. I find them inviting and visually soothing. The one at Brochstein Pavilion runs alongside the building, just across the main sidewalk. According to an article in ArchDaily:

“Responding [to] the grid of the building, a bosque of 48 specimen Allee Lacebark Elms rise from a plane of decomposed granite and provide an organizational framework that humanizes the scale of the space. A generous concrete walk connecting the library and the pavilion bisects the grove into garden rooms whose perimeters are defined by plantings of African Iris. Long black concrete fountains filled with beach stone occupy the center of each space, filling the garden with the murmur of running water and reflecting the filtered light through the canopy.”


The contemporary trough fountains were leaf-strewn a week after Harvey, but otherwise the landscape appeared to have held up well.


On the other side of the pavilion, a broad allee of Southern live oaks — one of many such live oak allees on the Rice campus — shelters additional seating and leads the eye to a sculpture by Jaume Plensa called Mirror.


While I was on campus, I visited Fondren Library, where I knew there was a display of Mike Stilkey’s book sculptures. (Here’s an article about his exhibit at Rice Gallery.) I first discovered Stilkey’s work at the L.A. home of Joy and Roland Feuer (scroll down for their Stilkey installation). His work is striking, often humorous, and instantly recognizable. Speaking of trees, Stilkey used a book about Texas trees for the “capstone” of this monumental book sculpture…


…seen in full here, seemingly balanced atop a small stack of books painted with wavy apartment towers and whimsical animals.


I found other pieces throughout the library, like this doleful water bird in a top hat…


…and a giraffe peeking from a stairwell over a railing…


…and a slinking cat.


I’ll leave you with one last book sculpture that brings us back around to the theme of trees as architecture. And thanks for bearing with me as I veered off-topic a bit with my Foliage Follow-Up post!

This is my October post for Foliage Follow-Up. Fellow bloggers, what leafy loveliness is happening in your garden or one you’ve visited this month? Please join me in giving foliage its due on the day after Bloom Day. Leave a link to your post in a comment below. I’d appreciate it if you’ll also link to my post in your own — sharing link love! I look forward to seeing your foliage faves.

I welcome your comments; please scroll to the end of this post to leave one. If you’re reading this in a subscription email, click here to visit Digging and find the comment box at the end of each post.
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14 Responses

  1. Absolutely amazing sculptures!
    Here is my Foliage Follow-up post
    https://leasmenagerie.blogspot.com/2017/10/coleus-october-16-2017.html
    Have a wonderful week!

  2. Peter/Outlaw says:

    I’m always saddened to see so many books being discarded so it’s wonderful to see some being repurposed in such an interesting and entertaining way. One wonders how they’re being held together. The precarious nature of the stacks adds a fascinating dimension to the work. My post is here: https://outlawgarden.blogspot.com/2017/10/foliage-follow-up-october-2017.html

    • Pam/Digging says:

      He gets them from discard stacks at libraries, Peter. Like you, we wondered how they were held together. It’s so tempting to reach out and try to lift a book off the stack — but we didn’t! —Pam

  3. Karin says:

    Love to see the grounds of Rice University as my oldest daughter went there for both undergraduate and graduate programs. I will send this to her as I write this.
    Thanks.

  4. Such interesting art here, from the bosque to the stacked painted books.

  5. Heidi says:

    What a fabulous post, you are so in tune with what interests your readers. Love the sculptures and the architecture, need to visit this campus on our next Houston trip. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in my hometown, and our loss of trees was staggering and heartbreaking, so your beautiful pics are a sight for sore eyes!

    • Pam/Digging says:

      Heidi, I’m glad that art and architecture interest you too! I sometimes wonder whether I venture too far off-topic with posts like this one, and I just hope my readers will humor me. Even better when they enjoy it, as you do.

      I’m very sorry to hear about the damage Harvey wreaked in your hometown. Losing trees is heartbreaking indeed. Sending my wishes for swift rebuilding and replanting. —Pam

  6. Kris P says:

    I love the trough fountain. The exterior shots reminded me a bit of my own undergrad alma mater in Santa Barbara but then I haven’t been back there in years. Here’s my belated foliage post: https://krispgarden.blogspot.com/2017/10/too-much-of-good-thing-foliage-follow-up.html

  7. I always enjoy your combinations of evergreen plants that are so different from what we have here in the northeast. The Agaves are my favorite! You have given some excellent tips for Austin gardeners. Here is my Foliage Follow-Up…a bit late this month! http://landscapedesignbylee.blogspot.com/2017/10/garden-bloggers-bloom-day-foliage.html#.WezJt1uPKUk

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