Nestled on the Rice University campus, amid multiple microhabitats and surrounded by green, you will see a small pavilion that looks a bit like an ancient Greek temple. But this pavilion was carefully crafted to have a modern design. It’s sustainable, beautiful and an example that might just inspire campuses around the world.

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A structure with beams made out of timber

Wet savannah, shrublands and dense forest all come together in this part of the campus. Rice University is unique. It is one of the most biodiverse campuses in the nation and has more bird species than any North American campus.

Related: New timber observatory is an immersive forest experience

A structure in front of a school set in a field

The pavilion is set in the midst of it all, surrounded by the landscape. It is open and simple, connected to nature and made from natural objects. There is no glass and no divisions. The natural world flows around and through here, making you a part of it. It’s the perfect place to study or just to hang out with friends.

An up-close of the direct timber panels

Mass Timber Pavilion is made with cross-laminated timber taken from local forests and is a negative carbon use structure. That means it has reduced more CO2 emissions than it has created. The CLT is not painted or covered. It is left in a pure form, like the nature all around it. This was done intentionally, so you can really see the wood and really envision all the possibilities.

A timber structure in a field

Moreover, CLT is engineered wood panel that is lightweight but durable. It holds up well against seismic activity and fire. It’s quick and easy to construct with and generates little waste with a low environmental impact. It can be used for walls, floors and roofs. It’s starting to become a favorite material for sustainable building. It’s easy to figure out why this is such a popular material in sustainable building, and why the students who designed this amazing structure chose it in the first place.

A timber structure in the middle of a field

Graduate students Pouya Khadem and Lene Sollie worked with structural engineer Tracy Huynh to lead the design team. This project was designed by Professor Jesus Vassallo’s mass timber seminar at Rice.

+ Jesús Vassallo

Photography by Brandon Martin and Cesar Bejar