‘A small house with a big heart’

Rice Centennial House ready to become a home

Shedding tears of joy at the dedication of the Rice Centennial House Sept. 15, new homeowner Artissue Flowers said, “I always wanted my own home for me and my kids. I’m so happy that I finally get to have my own home.”

Flowers and her two children, Morris, 4, and Heaven, 6, will live in the 1,300-square-foot, three-bedroom, energy-efficient house at 1706 Capron St. in Houston’s Fifth Ward.

The Rice Centennial House was designed by Rice architecture students and built by Rice Habitat for Humanity.

Designed by Courtney Benzon and Yoni Pressman when they were architecture students at Rice in consultation with Habitat for Humanity, the house was constructed over the past year by Rice Habitat for Humanity in honor of the university’s 100th anniversary in 2012. The house boasts front and back porches, a garage, two bathrooms and such efficiency features as passive cooling, day lighting and solar power for sustainability and affordability.

Pressman ’12 said he and Benzon had originally planned to do only a couple of weeks of design on the project but ended up getting more involved. “It became more exciting and more compelling, and we fell in love with the project and process,” he said.

Benzon ’12 described the project as “a small house with a big heart” and said it was amazing to see “our initial idea on a piece of paper turned into a real house.” She noted that not many graduating architecture students have a completed house in their portfolio.

Tawfik Jarjour ’12, former president of Rice Habitat for Humanity who led the Rice Centennial House project, thanked the volunteers from the organization, Rice’s Community Involvement Center and others at the university who helped raise $85,000 for the project and did the hands-on construction of the home. He also thanked Habitat for Humanity and a number of sponsors from the community.

“Our goal was to make a difference at Rice and in the Houston community and in the life of a family,” Jarjour said.

April 21 was designated as “Rice Day” at the Rice Centennial House, and students, faculty, staff, alumni and other friends of Rice volunteered to lend a hand at the construction site, including Rice alumna/Houston Mayor Annise Parker ’78, Rice President David Leebron and Y. Ping Sun, university representative.

“The collaboration with Rice University was just unique,” said Stephen Sye, corporate development manager for Habitat for Humanity. “It gives a lot of confidence of what the future’s going to be like when you have young people like this committing themselves to making a difference in people’s lives. So for them to come out not only to build but also come up with the enthusiasm and fundraising to have this house happen was just amazing.”

Habitat for Humanity’s philosophy is to teach fiscal responsibility, so the organization does not give houses away. Flowers and her family are expected to put in at least 100 hours of sweat equity for the first down payment in addition to paying off a 30-year no-interest mortgage on the house to pay for the construction costs.

Sye said the Rice Centennial House and other Habitat for Humanity homes provide a legacy. “No longer are families moving from rent to rent to rent,” he said. “They are now living in a stable house where the children can grow up.”

For more on the Rice Centennial House, visit http://habitat.rice.edu/rch.




About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.