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The Hole in PGH

Architecture & Planning, Collections, University Archives
The portal or breezeway in the center bay of Philip G. HoffmanHall. Photo by the author

The breezeway in the center bay of Philip G. Hoffman Hall. Photo by the author

The recent post about Philip G. Hoffman Hall (PGH) failed to answer an important question:  Why does it have a big hole in it?  As with most cosmic questions, the answer to this one is that “it’s all connected.”  In this case, PGH and its hole are connected to the change in the university’s master plan in the mid 1960s.

1967 aerial view shows UH buildings arranged around several formal axes [UH Photographs Collection]

UH Campus looking east (1967). Note street between Anderson Library and Ezekiel Cullen Building.  UH Photographs Collection

The university’s original 1930s master plan provided for the buildings to be laid out very formally at right angles along a series of axes and esplanaded streets.  From important buildings like Ezekiel Cullen and M.D, Anderson Library, this offered unobstructed views to Cullen Boulevard. The university redesigned its master plan in the 1960s to replace these long vistas with smaller, people-oriented places.  The result was Anne Garrett Butler Plaza and the nearby Cullen Family Plaza.

Before the change in the master plan, a street ran through what is now Butler Plaza and passed between the Ezekiel Cullen Building and Anderson Library. See the 1967 aerial view of the campus. University planners decided to remove the street to create the plaza, and this required a new building opposite the library to provide a sense of enclosure.

Philip G. Hoffman Hall, Section view. Kenneth E. Bentsen Architectural Papers

PGH, section view. Agnes Arnold Hall in background. Note storm drain below breezeway. Kenneth E. Bentsen Architectural Papers

But below the street was a major city storm sewer, and an easement prevented them from placing a building over it.  Their solution was a building with a large hole in the center that left the area over the storm sewer open, providing access if it is ever needed. In the construction view below, looking to the southeast, excavation for a basement stops short of the center of the building.

Philip G. Hoffman Hall Construction [UH Photographs Collection]

Construction of Philip G. Hoffman Hall (c. 1972) UH Photographs Collection

Most people think the breezeway in the center bay of PGH is just a cool design feature—and it is—but that’s not why it’s there. Necessity is the mother of invention. The Kenneth E. Bentsen Architectural Papers are housed in the library’s Special Collections department and are currently being processed. Pictures of PGH and other campus buildings are available in the University of Houston Buildings collection of the UH Digital Library.

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