"On March 25, 2022, Raymond D. Brochstein, vintage 1932, passed away at the home he designed, built, cherished and meticulously maintained. He was a man of profound loyalty to his family, friends, and Rice University with a deep passion for millwork, architecture and art. While publicly he upheld an image of respectability and stature, his inner child was well known to those close to him through his sense of humor, storytelling and an almost prodigious memory for dirty limericks. No one knew his rascally side better than his adoring and beloved wife, Susan, with whom he was fortunate to have enjoyed 62 exciting and adventurous years."
-excerpt from his obituary, published by Houston Chronicle on Apr. 3, 2022.
As a tribute to the life and work of Raymond Brochstein we share the remembrances, anecdotes, and stories below from friends, former colleagues, and others whose lives were influenced by the life and work of Raymond. Raymond Brochstein was deeply loved and his impact on the many lives in this community and beyond will live for generations to come.
Igor Marjanović, William Ward Watkin Dean, Rice Architecture
As a community, we mourn the recent passing of our dear friend, alum, and member of the William Ward Watkin Dean’s Council, Raymond Brochstein (BA 1955, BSc 1956). Raymond cared deeply for Rice and for the School of Architecture in particular. He was known and applauded as a generous philanthropist, for sure, but his contributions of time, support, and advice cannot be understated.
We are most fortunate here at Rice Architecture to have benefited from the unflagging generosity and kindness he showed to the students, faculty, and alumni. I know that I speak for all the deans who preceded me when I say that Raymond was always there for us, ready to provide advice and support. His energy seemed boundless, even in the last months of his life. When we met for dinner recently, I could not keep up with him on Chimney Rock Road as I followed him in my car on our way to Post Oak Boulevard. He always offered a much welcome challenge—constantly aiming to make us all better architects and citizens.
I am indebted to Raymond for his advice and support and for sharing his memories with me so generously—be it during our walk-through at Brochsteins Inc. or on the terrace of his amazingly cubic home, gazing at the beautiful pine trees as we discussed our newest building addition and the importance of craft in architecture. He was generous beyond words—the many Rice buildings inscribed with the Brochstein family name are ample testimony to this, but his generosity was also personal: even though we did not know each other for too long, he would give me his books as gifts. Most important, he would give me a tap on the shoulder and offer encouragement and humane support (often delivered with a dash of his uniquely witty, almost East European sense of humor).
Recently, to celebrate Raymond’s life, we gathered at Rice University in the beautiful Brochstein Pavilion—whose elegance, beauty, and simplicity exemplify Raymond’s taste and strength of character. I was deeply struck by the diversity of people from the greater Houston community who came together to reflect on his life and contributions: architects, artists, historians, professors, publishers, curators, community activists, physicians, and many others. This is a testament to the reach of his philanthropy, care, and, above all, his civic-minded leadership, which touched the lives of many people from all walks of life. Included below are a few of the memories from some of those many. For those who did not have the honor of knowing Raymond, these brief reminiscences begin to paint a picture of his towering character and legacy. May that legacy of devotion and service continue in our work and contributions to the School of Architecture, Rice University, and the Houston community.
Larry Burns, Principal, Kendall/Heaton Associates
Kendall/Heaton Associates was fortunate to have worked with Raymond Brochstein and the Brochstein family business on many projects over the years and was always assured of quality woodwork from conceptual design through installation. With his architectural background, Raymond was a bridge between the design and contracting sides of a project. He fostered collaboration with many architects and contractors. When Brochsteins was the millwork subcontractor on a project, the quality of the millwork was never in question. Raymond was so knowledgeable about wood veneers and the huge inventory in stock in his shop that it made selection of a specific veneer for a project very difficult. It is amazing that he was able to lead the family business for so many years and then play such a vital role in passing it on to his daughter Deborah to continue the tradition for many years to come. Kendall/Heaton Associates was also fortunate to have connections with Raymond at Rice University, where he played such a large role in architecture and the arts as well as the Rice Design Alliance. Our firm was successful in receiving architectural commissions at Rice University when Raymond was a member of the architect selection committee, and he was a thoughtful member of the Design Subcommittees and Buildings and Grounds Committees during design presentations on our projects, which benefitted from his knowledge and love of the Rice campus.
William T. Cannady, Professor Emeritus, Rice Architecture
In 1973, Raymond hired Anderson Todd (his former teacher at the Department of Architecture at the Rice Institute) and Will Cannady to design a new house. Cannady’s practice was expanding rapidly due to the success of his first house project, the Cannady House, which won national acclaim. His next house project would be the Brochstein House.
The design trio met at Alfred’s Delicatessen in Rice Village. The design concept was developed within the lunch hour. Cannady loosely diagrammed the scheme on the back of a paper placemat that is now in the Cannady Archives in the Woodson Collection in Fondren Library. The mat reveals a couple of markings by Andy and Raymond, as well as stains of spilled matzo ball soup.
Raymond was clear about what he wanted: no exposed wood! (He had to look at wood all day long. Expensive wood at that!) We complied with his wish. However, as the house neared completion, I asked the contractor not to paint the main freestanding oak stair handrail so we could stain it. Raymond complained, but his wife, Susan, Andy, and I got our way. Raymond was a tall, gruff guy who was also charming and thoughtful after his bark faded.
This client/designer relationship was the beginning of a long and fruitful personal and professional relationship with Raymond. He recommended and assisted my firm with several important commissions over the years.
Raymond loved Rice University and the Rice School of Architecture. He was effective and generous, as we can see with the Brochstein Pavilion. This wonderful addition to the heart of the Rice Campus was significantly enhanced by the generous gift of Susan and Raymond Brochstein.
John J. Casbarian, Harry K. and Albert K. Smith Professor and Director of External Programs, and Dean Emeritus, Rice Architecture
Behind Raymond Brochstein’s occasional curmudgeonly facade lay a heart of gold and an extraordinary spirit of generosity. His love for Rice, architecture, and the arts are unmatched, and his significant legacy will long endure, epitomized by the visionary Susan and Raymond Brochstein Pavilion, a transformative structure that bridges the past and future of the Rice campus and so deeply represents his architectural convictions.
Raymond’s impact on academic programs and the physical context of Rice through his philanthropy and service on countless committees and advisory councils is immeasurable, setting the highest standards for intellectual and design excellence. I have observed, firsthand, with delight and admiration, how, with few words, he was able to steer discussions on design issues to his desired resolution in quest of architectural excellence. His voice and vision will be sorely missed.
Doug Childers, Principal, HKS Inc.
Over the last thirty years, I have had a few perspectives on Raymond Brochstein. Initially, I came to know Brochsteins the company. As a young intern architect in New York, I was involved in the design and construction of two projects for Barneys New York. I learned how to detail millwork by checking Brochsteins’ shop drawings. Or, maybe I learned how to check shop drawings by checking Brochsteins’ shop drawings. They were good!
The Barneys flagship store in New York involved seven floors, all of them packed with one-of-a-kind casework, paneling, and custom store fixtures fabricated with precious veneers, mosaics, translucent stone and shell, custom metalwork, and integrated power and lighting. All delivered on an insane schedule. Multiple top-tier millwork companies from North America and Italy were engaged to deliver the project on time. As a newbie architect and amateur cabinet maker, I was blown away. Who knew that companies did what Brochsteins could do!
That was my introduction to Brochsteins the company. I don’t think I met Raymond in the course of those projects, but I made a mental note that Brochsteins was based in Houston. In the late ’90s, my family and I decided to move here. I didn’t have a professional network in Houston, but I knew about Brochsteins. Using the Barneys projects as a calling card—I made a cold call to Raymond and asked if he knew of any job opportunities. Of course, he knew of all the good jobs. He made a couple of phone calls, and within days I had an interview. I was employed within a few weeks. The first project I did in Houston involved three floors of Brochsteins’ millwork. More on-the-job training with Brochsteins’ shop drawings! So, Raymond launched my career in Houston.
I have a feeling Raymond helped a lot of young architects. Giving back seemed to be part of his DNA. We all know his contributions to Rice University and his work on most of Houston’s Class A office lobbies, law firms, and corporate headquarters. (Somebody should do a map of all those spaces! We could fill some pages with his work and his contributions.) I love that he was an architect who loved the craft and business of making. But I recall his physical presence above all. We are about the same height. Whenever we met up at a social event, he would look me in the eye and ask with genuine interest and a deep, almost Texan drawl, “How you doing, what are your working on?” I will miss those close encounters and that slow, deep voice above all. Bon voyage, Raymond. Please send more veneer samples, but keep the shop drawings! I have that down!
Kevin Kirby, Vice President for Administration, Rice University
Raymond was the l’enfant terrible of the Rice Trustee Buildings and Ground Committee. His judgment about architects and architecture was insightful and delightful but often delivered in an exacting tone that left no doubt. Simply put, if you didn’t know what Raymond was thinking, you weren’t listening. As the father of public art at Rice, Raymond had amazing perseverance but little patience. And as the program blossomed, we’d catch glimpses of the impish nature that belied his rigorous aesthetic mind. But mostly, I loved being in his company—so generous with his time and wisdom, as if I were part of his family.
Thomas Phifer, Principal, Thomas Phifer and Partners
First of all I remember his kindness.
When I would arrive on the Rice campus
I just remember his warm smile
as he greeted me.
Always with open arms.
He was sincere.
He was authentic.
Always, always telling me how it is.
There was no sugarcoating with Raymond.
He was the beginning of everything for me.
I was a young architect
having not built much.
His immediate and absolute support
from beginning to end
gave me the freedom to work.
To think expansively.
To make a special pavilion
in the heart of the campus.
Raymond was so proud of our work together.
It warmed my heart.
His love of life warmed my heart.
For generations to come,
the pavilion we made together
will honor and celebrate his life.
Most of all,
it will honor and celebrate the life he had
with Susan, Deborah, Benjamin, and Rachel.
What a remarkable and loving family.
I honor Raymond.
I honor Susan, Deborah, Benjamin, and Rachel.
Rob Rogers, FAIA, BArch 1983, and Chair of William Ward Watkin Dean’s Council, Rice Architecture; Principal, Rogers Partners
Raymond Brochstein was a champion—a champion for architecture. He served and loved Rice Architecture, and he served and loved the Rice University campus. I had the distinct privilege to work with him in both situations. He was a founding member of the Rice Architecture Watkin Advisory Board, where I joined him several years ago. He was always there with sage advice and questions that demanded research and response. As a key member of the Rice Building and Grounds Committee, he was actually in a client role when our firm designed Kraft Hall. Once again he probed and encouraged and made the building better. And I believe he has done that for many projects in recent decades. With an eye and a bit of attitude, he pushed Rice to be better. And it worked. Thanks, Raymond.
Emily Stein, Senior Director of Development, School of Humanities, Rice University
For those of us at Rice, Raymond truly remains a daily part of our lives, whether we know it or not. His contributions to this campus are in the timber of the new Hanszen College wing, they’re in the landscape, they’re where the Jaume Plensa sculpture is sited, and they are in the Susan and Raymond Brochstein Pavilion—both the jewel and heart of campus—among many other such tangible things. He loved this university deeply, and Rice is better for his time, for his support, and for his commitment to excellence in all things, especially design.
James Turrell, Artist
Working on Rice University’s Skyspace, Twilight Epiphany, I met Ray Brochstein with Molly Hipp Hubbard. Ray was extremely helpful in selecting the site for the work and very insightful on the architecture. Much of the work done in preparation for my drawings on the architecture was completed in accord with Ray, a perceptive gentleman who considered how this work could truly fit into the campus at Rice. I loved working with him and coming to understand how he considered public involvement with structures and spaces. I am deeply grateful that he helped to make this one of my most successful artworks. Knowing and working with Ray was truly a delight.
Alison Weaver, Suzanne Deal Booth Executive Director of the Moody Center for the Arts, Rice University
Raymond Brochstein was a man with strong opinions. One of the qualities I admired most about him was that he not only voiced his points of view but acted upon them. In the late 2000s, Raymond observed that Rice’s 300-acre campus would benefit from the addition of public art. He founded a committee and spent the next fifteen years advocating for and supporting the addition of the highest quality artworks to campus. Now more than fifty creative works enrich the spaces where students, faculty, staff, and visitors learn, live, and work.
At the core of Raymond’s approach was the question, “What would most benefit Rice University?” His ability to place the greater good of the institution ahead of his own agenda modeled the kind of enlightened support by an alumnus, trustee, and patron that makes institutions like Rice stronger. Through the Brochstein Pavilion and many works of art, he has left a lasting legacy for future generations.
I most admired Raymond for his open-minded approach to new ideas. He and Susan would arrive early to sit in the front row for the Moody’s most experimental programs. He did not predetermine his response, although he always had one. Well into his eighth decade, he approached the world with the interest and enthusiasm of a much younger Rice graduate. As the years go by, I can only aspire to do the same.
Although known for his curmudgeonly manner, Raymond was the first to share positive feedback or express a compliment. When he admired a person, program, or accomplishment, he didn’t miss an opportunity to say so. From the first day I arrived at Rice until the last day I saw him, I was the fortunate beneficiary of Raymond’s words of encouragement and support. Like gifts, I will treasure those words and remember the exceptional man who said them, always.
Sarah M. Whiting, Dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design and former Dean, Rice Architecture
I’ll forever associate the expression “long story short” with Raymond Brochstein, and I’ll forever hear it in my head with that Raymond tone—that emphasis on every syllable, that combination of bemusement and impatience, that voice simultaneously drawling and booming from someplace above me, since he was so much taller (pace, dear Susan—I know that the topic of height differential is really yours to own). Raymond was always cutting to the quick. He had little patience for bullshit and made sure everyone knew it. When his patience for meetings or committees or lectures or chitchat ran short, he would proclaim that he was quitting. I think he quit Rice’s Public Arts and Buildings and Grounds committees a half dozen times while we were serving on them together, and the Architecture School’s William Ward Watkin Dean’s Council twice as much. Raymond’s cutting to the quick and his quitting was admittedly largely theatrical. Raymond was a talented man: smart, knowledgeable, and possessing a sharp eye, honed over the years by Andy Todd. But he was a pretty lousy actor. And he was too committed to Rice, to the school, to architecture, to art, and to craft to quit any of these things. But these proclamations—impatient outbursts, really—were not boy-who-cried-wolf moments. When Raymond got to the point of saying, “I’m going to quit this damn committee,” that didn’t mean he was turning away; on the contrary, it meant we’d hit a point so crucial that we’d all better damn well pay close attention. Raymond’s quit mark was like a flag being planted, decisively and precisely, on a point that needed design, needed working out, needed our support. And that’s why so many buildings and art installations across Rice’s campus are as amazing as they are—he knew when he had to dig in his heels. Cutting to the quick for Raymond never meant cutting corners.
Paired with my memories of Raymond’s productive impatience are memories of moments preserved in amber—moments when he paused, when he looked closely at something when he focused on the present. One of those was when he first showed me the veneers at Brochstein’s—panels of wood samples that folded out from the wall like John Soane’s collection in his London home, the depth of the stories for each piece contrasting with the thinness of the veneer. Another was a day when Raymond and Susan surprised us at our home with an abundance of fresh figs from the trees on Brochstein’s property and he regaled us with details of those trees. But the strongest memory is the hardest one for me, for it’s the last time he and I saw one another. To put it lightly, Raymond was not happy when I accepted a job 1,841.7 miles away from Houston, and that evening is for me one that is frozen in time. At the reception he and Susan held in their home for the William Ward Watkin Dean’s Council, he was gracious but glowering.
Long story short: Raymond, I hope you realize that I wasn’t quitting our joint ambition to hurl architecture fast-forward into the future but was extending that shared project, still and always with your voice in my head.