2021 James Templeton Kelley Prize: Yuming Feng’s “American Brick and the Difficult Whole”

Exterior view of brick facade in a three story building.

by Yuming Feng (MArch II '21) — Recipient of the James Templeton Kelley Prize, Master in Architecture II

Nothing engages more in the dialogue of “rationalism in material” than brick. On the one hand, the structural nature of brick was rendered meaningless by the modern need for large and flexible spaces; on the other hand, the critique of the new construction systems as cold and indifferent makes the cultural aspects of brick more important than ever.

As a multicultural center at Rice University, this project tries to establish a new ground for brick architecture in which brick fulfills both its structural value and cultural purpose. The facade is a brick architecture that inherits the material tradition of the campus; the interior, which makes use of timber, is an architecture with various scales of programs. The coexistence of the timber interior and the brick exterior immediately breaks the continuity between the content and context.

To address this discontinuity, the brick facade was designed to speak to the campus with order, symmetry, and proportion while responding to the interior with “material transfer,” which gives it the characters of timber. Moreover, the facade uses “diaphragm bonding” to perform structurally with timber. In this way, the brick not only “decorates the shed” but also participates actively in other fronts of the architecture. By reiterating the theme of material transfer, the four columns at the center are the architectural summary of the project. The details that distinguish the four columns focus on how they meet the ground and the roof, and clearly express the construction logics of the original and transferred materials.