Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music announces Diller Scofidio + Renfro as architect for new opera theater

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HOUSTON – (March 17, 2014) – Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music today announced that Diller Scofidio + Renfro (DS+R) has been selected as architect of the school’s new opera theater, scheduled to open in 2018. In addition, Fisher Dachs Associates will lead the theater design, and Threshold Acoustics will provide acoustical direction for the project.

The architect and collaborators were selected after a 10-month search following the June 2013 announcement of a lead gift from an anonymous donor for a state-of-the-art opera theater.

“DS+R, Threshold Acoustics and Fisher Dachs Theatre Consultants are a dream team,” said Robert Yekovich, dean of the Shepherd School. “We all feel particularly fortunate and are tremendously excited by the prospect of working with a group whose collective expertise is second to none.

Yekovich said the new opera theater will be “a transformative addition to the opera program, the Shepherd School and the greater university.”

“The theater itself will be designed specifically for the training of young voices with careful attention paid to the acoustics and educational function; however, we envision the space accommodating chamber music and special campus lectures and presentations as well,” Yekovich said. “The additional building spaces will be utilized not only by Shepherd School faculty and students, but will be designed as points of intersection for the entire Rice community through formal and informal social gatherings.”

Yekovich added that the Shepherd School considers itself  “very fortunate” to be located in a place where the arts “are so warmly embraced and generously supported.”

“Having a jewel box theater primarily for the performance of opera will add more luster to Houston’s impressive list of performance venues and provide another opportunity for Houstonians to immerse themselves in the city’s wide array of cultural offerings,” he said.

DS+R is a New York-based interdisciplinary design studio that integrates architecture, the visual arts and the performing arts. Prominent projects of the firm include renovations of New York’s Juilliard School, Lincoln Center and the forthcoming expansion of the Museum of Modern Art. The project’s lead architect will be Rice alumnus Charles Renfro ’89, who joined DS+R in 1997 and became partner in 2004.

“This is kind of a triple homecoming for me, personally,” said Renfro, who is a Houston native. “I came to Rice first as a music major and played clarinet, and came back to Rice to study architecture and graduated with a professional degree. I taught here as a visiting professor in 2006, so I have had a continuing relationship with Rice since then.”

Renfro called himself “humbled, but thrilled” to lead the opera theater’s design.

“It feels really natural in a lot of ways to be returning to campus, a place I’ve spent so much time and love so much, and to be able to offer my professional services to Rice,” he said. “The Shepherd School is such a fantastic place, and so loved by students and faculty. I think the project will have a wellspring of support and such wonderful visionary thinking going into it that it will rise from the inside out to be a fantastic facility.”

Renfro said the opera theater will occupy “probably the most interesting and important space left on the Rice campus.”

“It’s the equivalent of the foundation building with the Sallyport except on the west side of campus,” he said. “To me, it will signify the entire shift of the university perceptually from one based in sciences to one that’s based in arts and sciences. The new front door will be an arts building, in addition to the existing Alice Pratt Brown Hall, which will be a great and wonderful new way to think about Rice in the city of Houston.”

Theater design will be led by Joshua Dachs of Fisher Dachs Associates, a New York-based theater planning and design firm with more than 40 years of experience in providing guidance to projects such as Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall and Alice Tully Hall, Radio City Music Hall, new opera houses in Toronto and St. Petersburg and multipurpose venues such as Houston’s Hobby Center for the Performing Arts.

The Chicago-based firm Threshold Acoustics will provide acoustic direction under Scott Pfeiffer. Threshold has directed a number of large-scale projects, including Royal Festival Hall in London, the Music Center at Strathmore and the refurbishing of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s home, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Verizon Hall.

Houston’s award-winning Linbeck Group will act as general contractor. Linbeck has overseen the construction of Rice’s McMurtry College, Brochstein Pavilion and James Turrell’s “Twilight Epiphany” Skyspace, and other major projects that include Fort Worth’s Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall, the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts in San Antonio and Dallas’s Winspear Opera House.

Rice’s Design Subcommittee, made up of current and former members of the Board of Trustees, with guidance from Yekovich and Rice President David Leebron, drove the selection process. The predesign phase is scheduled to launch in mid-April.

The Shepherd School’s Opera Department is a respected program that enrolls just 36 singers per school year, which provides each student with specialized individual attention from the internationally renowned opera and voice faculty members.

The department’s alumni have performed in top performance venues throughout the U.S. and abroad. Grammy-award winner Sasha Cooke ’04 has received praise from the New York Times for her performances in symphony, opera, chamber music and recital, including the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Opéra National de Bordeaux and the English National Opera. Michael Sumuel ’09 will perform with the Houston Grand Opera during the current season, in addition to a debut with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. His previous engagements have included the San Francisco Symphony and Dayton Opera.

Other alumni have been selected for highly prestigious development programs at some of the country’s top opera houses. Jennifer Johnson Cano ’08 and Mary-Jane Lee ’10 are part of the New York Metropolitan Opera’s Lindemann Young Artist Development Program, established to nurture the most talented young artists through training and performance opportunities. Brenton Ryan ’11 will be joining the Domingo-Colburn-Stein Young Artist Program with the Los Angeles Opera this fall following his debut with the Houston Grand Opera.

For more information on the Shepherd School Opera Department, visit http://music.rice.edu/opera/index.shtml.


Follow Rice News and Media Relations on Twitter @RiceUNews.

Located on a 300-acre forested campus in Houston, Rice University is consistently ranked among the nation’s top 20 universities by U.S. News & World Report. Rice has highly respected schools of Architecture, Business, Continuing Studies, Engineering, Humanities, Music, Natural Sciences and Social Sciences and is home to the Baker Institute for Public Policy. With 3,920 undergraduates and 2,567 graduate students, Rice’s undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio is 6.3-to-1. Its residential college system builds close-knit communities and lifelong friendships, just one reason why Rice has been ranked No. 1 for best quality of life multiple times by the Princeton Review and No. 2 for “best value” among private universities by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. To read “What they’re saying about Rice,” go here.

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