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Facility Design Project of the Month, July Aug. 2010: Duncan and McMurtry Colleges at Rice University, Houston

A glass-enclosed servery, two spacious commons and a display kitchen offer student-customers a dining experience unlike any other on this Houston campus.

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At Duncan’s common, the interior solid wood, tree-shaped columns are reminiscent of neighboring live oaks.

As part of a plan to grow its undergraduate population to 3,800 students, Rice University built a pair of new residence halls that opened in 2009: Duncan and McMurtry Colleges. Following Yale and Oxford Universities' college system, each holds residence hall, dining operation and other student facilities. Rice University also wanted to improve its foodservice program in bring quality of life ratings up to its high academic ratings.

Duncan and McMurtry Colleges are the 10th and 11th residence halls on Rice's Houston campus, and each houses 324 students. As a result of these two facilities, a total of 2,300 undergraduates now live on campus.

Duncan and McMurtry each connect to its own dining room, which students and faculty refer to as common areas. In addition to meal service, these commons can accommodate a variety of seating configurations for such gatherings as theater events and lectures. External paths and glazed enclosed connectors link the Duncan and McMurtry buildings to their shared servery.

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Students dine outdoors on the terrace in front of the servery with the McMurtry Common in the background.Known as West Servery, the 5,000-square-foot space includes a 4,600-square-foot kitchen, which cost $1.3 million to equip. Combining scatter, buffet and served stations, the operation serves 1,800 meals a day: 250 at breakfast; 800 at lunch; and 750 at dinner. Upstairs, 4,100 square feet of private dining rooms and libraries overlook a fully planted green roof that tops the servery.

"The amount of space allocated for the servery, kitchen and seating is perfect," says David McDonald, director of Rice University's dining services. "This project reflects the culmination of lessons learned from servery projects built during the past 10 years."

"The freestanding glass partition separates the servery from the public walkway, allowing the whole space to function as one impressive hall with strong character given by the sculptural quality of the concrete," says Laura Carrara-Cagni, associate partner at Hopkins Architects in London. The stations in the transparent servery align in a rectilinear configuration and feature clean lines and understated décor. Customers can watch kitchen production through large glazed windows on each side of the gas-fired pizza oven that serves as the servery's centerline.

Sustainable by Design

The use of sustainable materials was an important consideration throughout the project. Rice expects the new colleges to be the first LEED gold-certified colleges on its campus. "The facades are shaded by louvers to protect against heat gain from the sun while still providing plenty of daylight. This minimizes the use of artificial light," Carrara-Cagni says. "The self-finished materials such as concrete, glass, wood, brick and steel age better and require less maintenance."

The use of concrete in the servery for columns, beams and, soffits creates a striking visual impact. "The concrete mix contains the highest recycled content—70 percent—ever used on a super structure in this high proportion in the U.S.," Carrara-Cagni says. "The slag cement—ground, granulated blast-furnace slag—also gives its creamy color a very fine texture."

One of the buildings' most notable structural features is their modular design, which creates an imaginary grid. "We used the grid to control the design process," Carrara-Cagni says. "We never would have been able to build an exposed concrete ceiling without coordination among the project consultants. The construction materials are exposed because the ceiling does not hide the services."

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Duncan and McMurtry Colleges have separate dining areas but share this servery and kitchen.

The grid presented challenges for the project's foodservice consultant, Rod Worrell, principal of Worrell Design Group. "Hopkins Architects had a strong sense of order and modularity in the dimensional control to the building," Worrell says. "Everything is on a nine-foot center, and lighting and equipment must align every four and a half feet. This means, for example, that each of the serving counters, food shields and brackets for tray slides or vertical reveals for front panels had to fit exactly into two 13 and one-half foot spaces that were allotted for the cooking elements for the hot entrée, vegan, grill and dessert stations on either side of the enclosed deck pizza oven. It may sound easy to do, but there's no room for randomness. As a result, we customized some of the equipment."

Another challenge was finding equipment that met the architects' specifications that called for no handles on doors or drawers. "We had to ask the refrigeration manufacturer to design a new door and front panel assembly to conceal their handles and door pulls," Worrell says. "The height of the reach-in refrigerator had to go from seven to eight feet to match the vertical space allotted."

A Healthy Display

In the servery, displays of food and equipment convey a message of healthfulness, which is McDonald's top priority. "We control the use of ingredients so we can make wholesome foods," he says. "We want customers to see the equipment we're using so they know how much care we take in preparation and display."

At the first station, 10 steam wells hold meat and vegetarian entrees, such as ginger pork tenderloin, honey mustard chicken, Philly cheese steak, crab cakes, lasagna, and spinach and mushroom crepes. Two sinks and two warmers, which can also become cold if needed, sit behind the wells. A duplicate arrangement is at the opposite end of the serving line. "Students come in from each of the two colleges, so each side offers the same choices," McDonald says. They meet in the middle at the pizza and dessert stations.

Next is the grill station, which contains a 36-inch flat top and a 36-inch grooved griddle for making burgers, grilled chicken and other sandwiches. A fryer sits adjacent to the flattop, which is next to a cooler, freezer and food warmer.

The next station is what Roger Elkhouri, CEC, Rice University's executive chef, calls his "sauté sensation." This live action area allows chefs to cook vegetable and rice dishes in induction cookers. "The cookers are easy to clean, safe and save energy," Elkhouri says. "We can promote fresh foods and healthy dining to our customers while they watch the sous chefs prepare a variety of popular dishes like brown rice with cranberries and walnuts."

The next station contains the pizza oven, the servery's focal point. In addition to pizza pies, staff bake focaccia, garlic and tomatoes. "We've had to train cooks how to work with the cold and hot zones," Elkhouri says.

The dessert station sits next to the pizza area and offers cakes, pies, cookies and healthful sweets.

Floating in the middle of the servery is an oval-shaped salad and soup bar and deli station. "I designed the salad bar to split in half so customers can serve themselves on both sides," Elkhouri says. Customers help themselves to fresh products replenished continuously by two staff members. Bread stations sit on two sides of the oval. Another oval-shaped bar offers beverages, cereals and yogurt.

To accommodate students who want food after normal service hours, a service counter was built into the perimeter of the servery. "We offer the space, called The Hoot after our owl mascot, and various student groups provide the food from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m.," McDonald says.

Delivery and Storage

Deliveries enter on the west side of the building and staff place them in dry or cold storage. One walk-in cooler holds produce and another contains cheese, deli products, chicken, seafood, beef, juices and liquid eggs. Each food type has its own section. A walk-in freezer inside the cooler contains shrimp and other seafood, sausage, chicken tenders and chicken fried steak, as well as fries, vegetables and pasta.

The kitchen divides into three square areas: one for dishwashing; one for the cookline; and the third for cold prep for garde-manger, pastry and bakery.

"The architects did an awesome job with this space, as well as the servery space," Elkhouri says. "It is very European in its design. Each area has glass windows so you can be in one space and see through to the others. It's so unlike the dungeon environment that you feel in many kitchens. I've found from my restaurant experience that cooks and other staff members are much happier in open kitchens."

In the cold-prep section, a large, drawerless prep table serves as an operational hub. "We have no drawers in this kitchen because they collect dust, get broken and are a place for cockroaches to gather," Elkhouri says. "Staff tend to put things in drawers and forget about them. In this kitchen, nothing is hidden. What you see is what you get, and this helps us keep it clean."

In the garde-manger area, staff use a large food processor and a small slicer, which Elkhouri likes because "the motor stops when you lift it, and when you place it back down the motor starts, so you don't have to keep pushing the on and off button."

The bakery sits to the left of the garde-manger area. It contains 20- and 60-quart mixers and a dough sheeter so employees can make baguettes, dinner rolls, focaccia, pastries, cakes, pies, cookies and pizza dough. A cookie machine prepares 240 cookies in three minutes. All desserts, including the most popular tiramisu and chocolate ganache tarts, are made in-house.

pizza oven

In the hot cooking area, a combi oven holds 20 sheet pans of French bread, roasts, ribs and other meat, fish, chicken and duck. Staff use the six-burner range for delicate sauces and the 72-inch flattop for sautéing chicken and fish and finishing items such as flank steak. An adjacent fryer contains a closed-loop oil dispensing system; oil is added and discarded through lines connected to remote 1,400-gallon tanks.

On the other side of the aisle, a double steamer cooks vegetables. Staff use the versatile 10-rack combi oven to cook numerous menu items including fish, pork chops, turkey legs and baked goods. The 30-gallon tilting skillet heats sauces, soups, stews, beef short ribs, while the 40-gallon kettle holds sauces and the 60-gallon kettle cooks pasta.

At the end of the kitchen, a blast chiller quickly cools sauces and leftover food. "I use shallow pans in here because I want products to be chilled very quickly," Elkhouri says.

The dishwashing area is on the delivery side of the kitchen. "This area is screened from public view," Worrell says. "Because of the geographic separation of the commons and the kitchen, we couldn't put in a conveyor system. Rather, students bus their serviceware to a dish collection room near their dining commons. There's a strong emphasis on recycling. Staff members cart soiled ware from the satellite room to the dishroom."

A three-sink pot-wash station and a granular pot-wash machine assist in sanitation. "In a four-minute time cycle, the pot-wash machine washes and rinses soiled ware," Worrell says. "Ceramic pellets in the water become a virtual sand blast against dirty pots and pans."

Elkhouri is pleased with the granular pot-washer, which he says allowed a two-person staff reduction.

As the Rice University dining-service staff prepares for the next wave of renovations, they use the Duncan and McMurtry project as a model for supporting efficient, productive foodservice production and service. The university's foodservice ratings continue to improve, which contributes to higher student satisfaction the ratings don't contribute to satisfaction. Satisfaction contributes to ratings. and further enticing prospective students who believe that lifestyle is a very important component of one's total educational experience.

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Design Capsule
Opened in August 2009, Duncan and McMurtry Colleges (residential houses) were built concurrently as a critical part of Rice University's plan to grow its undergraduate enrollment to 3,800 students. The two five-story buildings that each house 324 students are the 10th and 11th residence halls built on campus. The university has 3,000 undergraduates with 2,300 of them living on campus. The 5,000-square-foot West Servery serves both Duncan and McMurtry and attaches to both buildings' commons areas. West Servery combines scatter, buffet and served stations. A 4,600-square-foot kitchen prepares 1,800 meals a day: 250 at breakfast; 800 at lunch; and 750 at dinner. Anticipated revenue is about $2.7 million generated from student meal plans. Operating hours are 7:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m. for breakfast; 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. for lunch; and 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. for dinner. A 4,100-square-foot second floor includes private dining rooms, libraries and a green roof. Staff includes four managers and 25 others in various positions. The total cost of the project was $132 million. The foodservice equipment cost $1.3 million.

  • Owner: Rice University
  • Director of Dining Services: David McDonald
  • General Manager: Veronica Boorom
  • Executive Chef: Roger Elkhouri, CEC
  • Managing Chef: Derrix Norman
  • Pastry Chef: Maricela Lucciola, CWPC
  • Design Architect: Hopkins Architects, London; Sir Michael Hopkins, Andrew Barnett and Laura Carrara-Cagni
  • Executive Architect: Hanbury Evans Wright Flattas + Company, Norfolk, Va.; Jane Cady Wright, FAIA, Jean Webster, AIA, and Richard Rusinak, AIA
  • Foodservice Consultant: Worrell Design Group, Houston; Rodney A. Worrell, president
  • Equipment Dealer: Kitchen Equipment Fabricating Co. (Kefco), Houston
  • Construction: Linbeck Group L.P., Houston
  • Website: dining.rice.edu