Bryson named fellow of American Institute of Architects

Bryson named fellow of American Institute of Architects

Rice News Staff

Barbara White Bryson knew at age 13 that she wanted to be an architect. But she probably didn’t anticipate that several decades later she would be named a fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) — the voice of the architectural profession.

Now Rice’s associate vice president for Facilities, Engineering and Planning (FE&P), Bryson is one of 116 AIA members who were elevated this week to the institute’s prestigious College of Fellows — an honor awarded only to members who have made significant contributions to architecture and society and who have achieved a standard of excellence in the profession on a national level.


Since joining the Rice staff in 2000, Bryson has guided the campus through the largest expansion in the university’s history, overseeing projects whose total value approaches $1 billion.  She planned the addition of more than a million square feet to the historic campus, including the current construction projects for Duncan College, McMurty College, the South Main Plant, the Collaborative Research Center, the Rice Village Apartments for graduate students, the Rice Children’s Campus and Brochstein Pavilion and the renovation of Autry Court, the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen and other labs.

“Universities aren’t about buildings,” Bryson said. “They’re about the teaching and research that goes on in those buildings. We’re making sure we support that mission to the best of our ability.”

As one of the nation’s leading university architects and planners, Bryson has developed innovative processes that integrate design and construction. “Owners, designers and construction professionals can have completely different priorities and values, but to complete complex projects together, they need to be closely integrated,” she said. “We have been able to put together some systems, processes and strategies that allow Rice to get much higher value, much more consistency and much more predictability, which results in more efficient delivery of the projects.”

As a lecturer and adjunct professor in Rice’s School of Architecture and the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management, Bryson has taught this new way of thinking about planning and design to the next generation of professionals. “It’s a personal mission of mine to educate young architects and MBAs so they know how to communicate with each other and understand the tools they need to be team leaders and innovators in the industry.”

Longtime friends of Bryson probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she has been pioneering innovative planning and delivery processes.  She’s always been a pioneer.

In junior high school, she was the only girl in the mechanical drafting class.
Because her mom had taught her how to cook and sew at an early age, Bryson saw no need to take home economics and instead signed up for mechanical drafting. “The class helped me understand that I could think about things in three dimensions,” she said. “I saw a natural connection between mathematics and art, and I enjoyed problem solving. I started researching which professions might connect all of these aspects, and I decided at age 13 that I was going to be an architect.”

Before coming to Rice, Bryson spent five years as a university architect at the University of Miami, where she earned a master’s in business administration.  At the university’s school of medicine, she developed the first-ever master plan that positioned the school for a decade of unprecedented growth, including two $40 million research facilities.

Prior to that she studied at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas at Arlington, where she received a Bachelor of Science in architecture.

Although Rice hired Bryson to direct only project management and planning, her role was later expanded to include facilities. “It’s a very powerful thing to have this incredible group of people working together in a single direction,” she said.

Bryson originally oversaw the master planning for $250 million in projects that included the new homes for the School of Humanities and the Jones School and several residential colleges. Her scope widened dramatically with the implementation of the Vision for the Second Century and plans for further expansion.

In anticipation of the increased workload, Bryson expanded her FE&P team. Recognizing the importance of sustainable values early on, she prepared Rice for climate commitment by creating the Office of Sustainability and the 100 percent LEED building program. With all the construction projects taking place simultaneously, Bryson also recognized the need to communicate information about them both internally and externally, so she established the Construction Information Center.

Bryson feels very strongly about documenting everything that FE&P does — from building relationships with subcontractors and city officials to planning fast-track projects to keeping clients as comfortable as possible when their work environment is surrounded by construction equipment and noise.  “We’ve made a lot of mistakes, but we’ve also made a lot of accomplishments,” she said. “Innovations won’t be possible if we don’t document what we’re doing and what we’ve learned.”

“Barbara is the right person in the right role at the right time leading the largest physical expansion in Rice’s history,” said Kevin Kirby, vice president for administration. “With Barbara’s elevation to AIA Fellow, her peers across the country have acknowledged what we see firsthand every day — an extraordinary level of professional competence and leadership.”

As a new AIA Fellow, Bryson is invited to the investiture ceremony that will be held May 16 at Boston’s Old South Church during the 2008 AIA National Convention. The AIA’s membership includes nearly 83,000 licensed architects, emerging professionals and allied partners, but fewer than 2,650 have been distinguished with the honor of fellowship.

Bryson won’t be able to stay for entire convention. Shortly after the investiture ceremony, she’ll be rushing back to Texas to watch her youngest son graduate from Trinity University in San Antonio.   

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