Building a Legacy: Architecture Alumnus Now Helping to Grow Texas Tech

Brian Griggs is working to share his passion for the university.

Brian Griggs

Brian Griggs

From the Administration Building’s carillon towers and central stairways to the stone detailing over the Frazier Alumni Pavilion’s entrance to the ornate façades found on many other buildings, Texas Tech University is known for its Spanish Renaissance-style architecture. Perhaps no one has quite as much passion for that architecture as Brian Griggs.

Griggs, who came to Texas Tech as a student in the College of Architecture, now has come full circle. These days, he helps to design and build new structures on campus, and he’s embarked on a mission to share his passion with the world.

A strong foundation

As a high school student in the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch, Griggs knew he wanted to be an architect.

“I loved things like drawing, sketching and model building, so any career that included crafts like that fascinated me,” he said.

A two-week architecture camp the summer after his freshman year sealed the deal. A year later, he was working as a draftsman under Deen Ritter at D.E. Ritter Architects in Farmers Branch, a job Griggs calls “a treat.” But he didn’t know yet where he wanted to go after high school. College was the obvious next step, but Texas Tech wasn’t on his radar.

In the spring of 1998, his junior year, a career advancement program at his school gave him the opportunity to visit the Dallas office of HOK, a global design, architecture, engineering and planning firm, where a helping hand pointed him in the right direction.

“While there, the architect that toured me through their office, David Holmes, first told me about Texas Tech and urged me to consider it,” Griggs said. “That fall, I went with my parents to Lubbock for the first time. We arrived on a Sunday, and I remember everyone was somber because Texas Tech had just lost to Texas A&M the day before. I can’t explain why, exactly, but I fell in love with Texas Tech immediately.”

Architecture

Griggs started at Texas Tech in the fall of 1999. He has fond memories of his time in the College of Architecture as well as the respect students from other areas had for it.

“Even when I first visited Texas Tech, people mentioned, ‘The lights never turn off over in the Architecture Building,’ and they were right,” Griggs said. “On the first day of class in Design Environment & Society, a standard first-year course for architecture students, all 300-plus freshmen sat in the basement lecture space in the old Business Administration building, and we were told to look to our right and left and know that only one in three or four people around us would graduate from the program.”

Building a career

Not content just to graduate, Griggs wanted to find an opportunity to stay involved in the profession throughout his student career.

“Deen thought I had begun to develop some strong skills in completing architectural renderings, so I contacted a number of Lubbock-area architecture firms to see if they needed someone who could complete renderings for their projects at cheaper rates than traditional contractors,” Griggs said. “Most firms did not have a need for this, but an architect partner at Tisdel Minckler & Associates, Richard Minckler, recommended I contact Parkhill, Smith & Cooper.”

After Griggs called and submitted a resume, a month passed with no word. Then one morning early in the fall of his sophomore year, the phone rang. On the other end was Mary Crites, head of the higher education studio at Parkhill, Smith & Cooper (PSC).

“Two days later I interviewed for a position as a contract architectural illustrator,” Griggs said.

He started his new job in September 2000, and it wasn’t long before he found his calling.

“Though I did work for all of PSC’s design sectors – renderings for hospitals, elementary schools, retirement communities and banks, amongst others – I also did a lot of higher education work and learned a lot about higher education work under Mary’s leadership,” Griggs said. “At first, higher education just seemed like another architectural market, but over time, my opinions on college and university work evolved into a sincere love and passion for this area of design.

Rawls College of Business

Rawls College of Business

“One of the greatest American inventions of the last 200-plus years is the American college campus. It has emerged from the old European model of an ecclesiastical hodge-podge of buildings into an idyllic environment that has become a required destination for millions of American young adults and a mecca for other students from around the world. Every new facility or campus master plan is an opportunity to add beauty or added pride-of-place in an environment that shapes the lives of millions of students.”

In late 2004, as Griggs prepared to graduate with master’s degrees in architecture and business administration, PSC had some projects on the horizon Griggs knew he had to be a part of, one of which was Texas Tech’s new Rawls College of Business. He requested to be staffed to the project and became an intern at PSC upon his graduation.

He began working on the Rawls College project in 2005 as a member of the project team focusing first on programming and later on master planning. After becoming a licensed architect in May 2009, Griggs served as one of the project’s architects until its completion in 2012. He even circled back to it in 2015 to develop façade design solutions for the west expansion to the building.

But that building wasn’t his sole project for those years. During that time, he worked on several building projects, including many at Texas Tech. He was a team member for the Athletics Hall of Fame construction at the Football Training Facility and in the United Supermarkets Arena and served as the architect-of-record for three phases of the College of Media and Communication renovation.

He moved in early 2011 to lead PSC’s office in Amarillo, where he met his wife Jaime and recently welcomed the arrival of their son Will in 2015. Since making the move, he’s worked his way up, becoming first an associate and later a principal with the firm.

Bayer CropScience Lubbock Seeds Innovation Center

 

He continued working on projects at Texas Tech, serving as project manager and architect-of-record for the Bayer CropScience Lubbock Seeds Innovation Center and as an architectural and planning history consultant for the Texas Tech and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center master plan update. His latest project, which is still under construction, is the new office building for the Texas Tech University System

The Seeds Innovation Center, which he called “a very challenging project,” and the master plan update are the two Griggs said he’s most proud of.

“The new headhouse and greenhouse was an effort to create a 21st-century research facility that fit within the Spanish Renaissance fabric of the Texas Tech campus,” he said. “The main entry arch to the building is the first at Texas Tech in over 60 years to draw directly upon a Spanish Renaissance case study.

“On the campus master plan update, so much of what our team accomplished was to take an already great campus master plan, adapt it to the issues of 2014 and essentially fill in the gaps. I got to develop concepts for architectural features and components to the future Texas Tech campus that, though small in scale, will go far in finessing the Texas Tech campus fabric to become a world-class institution over the next 10 years.”

Sharing his passion

In 2009, Griggs was in Chicago for a Texas Society of Architects board meeting and stopped by one of the few architecture-only bookstores in the United States, Prairie Avenue Bookstore. Upon learning the store was planning to close in a few months, he took his time perusing the shelves. And there, in the loft where antiquarian architecture books were housed, he found an oversized book with damaged binding and the imperial seal of Spain: “Renaissance Architecture and Ornament in Spain” by Andrew Noble Prentice.

Administration Building

Administration Building

“I opened it to a page with a detailed hand-drawn elevation of the façade to the Colegio de San Ildefonso at the Universidad de Álcala – the façade that our Administration Building façade is based upon,” Griggs said. “I quickly bought the book and had it shipped back to Lubbock. When going through it in greater detail, there were other façades and elements that I recognized from architecture seen on the Texas Tech campus, but that work had not been mentioned in the one book to date written on the history of Texas Tech’s architecture, ‘Texas Tech: The Unobserved Heritage,’ written in 1985 by Nolan Barrick, who was a former head of the architecture program and college architect from 1953 to 1965.”

A few months later, PSC was competing for a new project at the university and Griggs’ superiors asked him to develop a narrative on Texas Tech architectural history to include with the proposal.

“In writing that narrative and knowing that Mr. Barrick’s work did not include some of the information recently learned from the Prentice book,” Griggs said, “I decided to write my own book.”

And that initial effort has led Griggs to some great discoveries.

“When this book effort began, it was merely an interest in telling a story about a unique architectural style at a university,” Griggs said. “Since then, over the last seven years, research has led me to the distinct and objective opinion that perhaps no other college or university in the United States has had its heritage more significantly impacted by its architecture than Texas Tech. That is a bold statement, but one must ask where would this institution and its traditions be if not for its architecture? Our school colors, original mascot, fight song and a host of other elements of our heritage are owed to our campus architecture.

“The dramatic story of how our architectural style and campus came to be is a great and compelling story. We have something in our architectural heritage that most U.S. universities do not have, and it is a shame so few people know much of anything about it.”

James Brink, director of the Honors Arts and Letters program, has been following Griggs’ progress for several years.

Physical Plant

Physical Plant

“One measure of a civilization is in its ‘monumental architecture,’ those structures and styles people build to last. He is chronicling, and more importantly explaining, the history of Texas Tech’s physical plant from the first five structures to the current construction,” said Brink, an associate professor in the Honors College. “I have been impressed with his research skills aided tremendously by his architect’s eye and passion for his alma mater. He has the ‘big vision’ so the stories of individual buildings fit in with overarching philosophies and both internal and external influences to form a convincing picture of why we are the way we are.”

Texas Tech’s architecture

One thing Griggs is quick to mention is that, contrary to popular opinion, the Spanish Renaissance architecture of Texas Tech is not just some Spanish response to architecture in the Renaissance era or some quaint combination of brick, stone and clay tile roofs.

“There were multiple architecture styles in Spain over the course of the renaissance era,” Griggs said. “Thanks to the suggestion of noted Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram to his Houston-based protégé William Ward Watkin for the use of a Spanish style for a new library in Houston in 1923, Watkin – Texas Tech’s original design architect – convinced college leadership in 1924 to proceed with the design of the first college in the U.S. designed in the Plateresque style. The estilo plateresco was named in Spain for the resemblance the ornate ornament used in the style bore to the popular silver (or plata) jewelry style of the period.”

Mission

Click to enlarge.

In addition to five structures discovered by Barrick in his research in the early 1980s, Griggs has found six structures or edifices that were drawn upon by Watkin and his partner Wyatt Hedrick in the original designs for the Texas Tech campus. Nine reside in Spain, one in Balboa Park in San Diego and one at the Mission San Jose de Aguayo in San Antonio.

“Texas Tech is a ‘first vernacular’ institution as its design was drawn upon from architecture directly from Europe or elsewhere and not from another college or university,” Griggs said. “There are so many beautiful colleges and universities across the country, but you would be surprised how many are based upon the architecture of prior institutions. For example, Oklahoma State owes much of its architectural heritage to Princeton, while Baylor, Dallas Baptist University and Mercer owe their style to the original Wake Forest campus, which was based upon the architectural style at Johns Hopkins.

“There are a lot of campuses in American higher education that people call beautiful. Stanford is beautiful, and so is Duke or Cornell or Bryn Mawr. But much of those institutions’ beauty is owed to their vegetation and topography – two things which Texas Tech has little of, even in its mature years. But today, Texas Tech is nationally respected as a campus in large part because those who know it realize it literally emerged from a flat sea of nothingness in one of the last-developed regions of the Great American Desert, as West Texas was referenced a century ago. Leadership at Texas Tech have committed us to remain true to the Beaux-Arts and Plateresque heritage of the original campus plan, which we have done. This is not a cheap or easy course to take, but the university and university system have remained steadfastly committed to this course, which sets us apart in the present age of higher education.”

Joanna Conrad, Texas Tech University Press assistant director and editor-in-chief, has been working closely with Griggs as he writes the manuscript. She said the work he’s doing makes an important contribution.

“Over the past six decades, there have been many significant studies of Texas Tech University but comparatively little has been written about Texas Tech’s architectural history,” Conrad said. “The work Brian is doing is so exciting because it seeks to fundamentally remedy that omission, not only documenting the inspiration for our oldest campus buildings but also exploring the fascinating story behind how that architectural style was carried all the way to a West Texas college campus.”

 

Conrad believes Griggs is uniquely qualified to write such a work.

“Throughout this process, I have been amazed at the breadth of Brian’s knowledge, and he can convey architectural terminology with both accuracy and enthusiasm,” she said. “It is so apparent that his alma mater is a true passion for Brian, and he is so excited about the prospect of sharing his work with the entire campus community.”

For now, Griggs is working to finish his book, “Opus in Brick and Stone: The Architectural and Planning Heritage of Texas Tech,” which is in negotiations to be published by Texas Tech University Press.

“My hope is that the book will spur greater understanding, pride and synergy in expanding and honoring the architectural heritage of Texas Tech,” Griggs said.


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