Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rayl Cafeteria: Rolla Modernism Threatened with Demolition

By Ryan Reed

Striking contemporary architecture in Rolla is far and few between.  Even less likely is architecture designed by a successful internationally known practice who has shaped the built environment for nearly six decades.  Throw in an architect with a local connection and this would be a complete anomaly.  Luckily for us, we have all of these rarities contained in one building at the intersection of Highway 63 and 10th Street.  Rayl Cafeteria was constructed in 1958* for the Missouri School of Mines, currently the Missouri University of Science and Technology, as part of their student housing community.  Fifty-five years later, the same school wants to raze the building and surrounding dormitories for a surface parking lot.

Rayl Cafeteria
After World War II, the student population of the Missouri School of Mines (MSM) exploded.  This was due in part to the GI Bill which provided returning veterans with a slew of benefits including tuition to attend college.  Kelly Hall, constructed in 1949, was MSM’s only dormitory.  It quickly became insufficient for the growing student body.  To compensate, MSM designed a new student housing community around a quadrangle.  Between 1958 and 1959, McAnerney, Farrar and Altman Halls and the architecturally astounding Rayl Cafeteria were constructed.  To design the dining hall, MSM hired the nascent architectural firm of Hellmuth, Obata and Kassabaum (HOK). 

The St. Louis firm was founded in 1955 by three Washington University School of Architecture graduates, George Hellmuth, Jr., Gyo Obata and George Kassabaum.  Hellmuth’s father, George Sr., was born and raised in St. James and attended MSM.  After graduation, George Sr. moved to St. Louis and established a successful architecture firm of his own.  He even designed several buildings in Phelps County including the James Memorial Library in St. James and Parker Hall on the Missouri S&T campus.  The descendants of George Sr. and Jr. occasionally make the pilgrimage back to St. James to see the two story frame white house on Scioto where their ancestors lived. 

The cafeteria designed by HOK was a functional yet sculptural building with an emphasis on the horizontal.  It was a straightforward International style design, created nearly 30 years after the movement started in Europe.  The most prominent feature is a large hollowed out concrete rectangle with recessed glass curtain walls on the north and south facades.  Within this section is an open plan where the cafeteria was located.   The concrete and glass cafeteria is cantilevered on a brick foundation which contains the food preparation and service area.  The lower level is accessed by entrances flanked by single light side lights on the south and east elevations.  The building resembles a large eye staring at the row of gas stations and fast food chains along Highway 63.

George Hellmuth, Gyo Obata and George Kassabaum in 1956
Since designing Rayl Cafeteria, HOK’s work has steady evolved and they have created an extremely diverse practice.  Their ability to connect designers across building types, design disciplines and regions across the world is unparalleled.  The firm’s early commissions were designing elementary schools, high schools and colleges.  Worried they would be classified as “one building” type architects, HOK pursued a wide variety of projects.  HOK went after hospitals, corporate buildings, religious institutions, prisons, etc., because they wanted a practice with a greater range in comparison to other firms.  Their extensive portfolio includes, St. Louis Priory Chapel (1962), James S. McDonnell Planetarium (1963), National Air and Space Museum (1976), Independence Temple (1994) and many more.  The fact the Rolla has one of HOK's earliest works at a prominent intersection is something to be cherished.

In 2009, the Missouri University of Science and Technology released their Campus Master Plan which details several demolitions of prominent buildings, including Rayl Auditorium, for surface parking lots and new construction.  The amount of material waste produced from demolition and the expenditure of resources used to construct new goes against the advocacy of the university.

At the turn of the twenty-first century, Missouri S&T became the first university in the nation to voluntarily commit to an Environmental Management System (EMS).  An EMS provides a structured approach to the planning and implementation of environmental protection procedures using the guidelines set forth under the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).  These guidelines encourage creative and relevant solutions from within the organization itself to reduce its impact on the environment and our natural resources.  To further their commitment, Missouri S&T implemented a sustainability policy to minimize the university’s pollutants and advocate environmental stewardship. Stated within the purpose of their policy is the continual improvement of environmental stewardship with respect to materials, water and energy use.

L to R St. Louis Priory Chapel (1962), McDonnell Planetarium (1963) and the National Air and Space Museum (1976)

The university further advocates sustainability through the Student Design and Experimental Learning Center (SDELC).  The center allows experimental learning through projects supporting multi-disciplinary student research.  These projects include initiatives in solar technology to limit our dependence on finite resources.  The projects include the solar decathlon and solar housing which have given the university international recognition concerning solar technology.

Location of Rayl on Missouri S&T's Master Plan
The university can further its commitment to sustainability and limit its impact upon the environment by reusing the historic building such as Rayl and others slated for demolition in their Master Plan.  Retrofitting historic buildings and structures for modern purposes is recycling on a large scale.  The building contains a tremendous amount of embodied energy.  The term embodied energy relates to the  amount of energy expended in the creation and construction of a building.  For example, the bricks of Rayl contain a large amount of embodied energy.  The clay used to create the brick was mined using a bevy of miners to extract the material.  Once mined, the clay was loaded onto trucks and transported to a brick manufacturer.  At the manufacturer, the clay was molded into shape, hydraulically pressed and fired in large kilns.  The finished brick was again loaded onto trucks and transported to the site where the cafeteria now sits.  The brick was laid in place by a handful of masons and bricklayers to create the walls of Rayl.  Each step of this process required a large amount of fossil fuels, cash and manpower that are now “contained” within the brick.  A similar amount of resources were also needed for the windows, metal and other elements used in the creation of the cafeteria.  Demolishing the building and others would require a similar expenditure of energy to construct a new building and increase the university’s carbon foot print on the environment.

Missouri S&T has the opportunity to make Rayl, the former Trachoma Hospital and other building slated for demolition an integral part of Rolla again.  The rehabilitation of the buildings will further the university’s commitment to their sustainability policy and EMS.  A rehabilitation of the buildings can also be integrated into the curriculum of the university and be used as a learning opportunity for SDELC. The combination of these opportunities has the ability to attract more students to the university and individuals and families to Rolla while maintaining a valued piece of Rolla’s cultural heritage.

If you share the same sentiment, please contact the following people.  Let them know you prefer the rehabilitation and creative adaptive reuse of Rolla’s historic built environment.  Our landscape is unique.  No other town has a Rayl Caferteria, a Missouri Trachoma Hospital or other buildings that separate us from the hamlets, villages, town and cities of America.  Let’s be an example of sustainability for the surrounding region while retaining our character.

Chancellor of Missouri S&T: Cheryl B. Schrader 
Assistant to the Chancellor: Linda Bramel
Vice Chancellor of Missouri S&T: Debra Robinson
Provost of Missouri S&T: Warren K. Wray
Mayor of Rolla:  Bill Jenks

Rolla City Council Memers

Ward 1
Monty Jordan
William Lindgren

Ward 2
Steve Leonard
Greg Sawyer

Ward 3
Kelly Long
Sue Eudlay

Ward 4
Don Morris
Louis Magdits

Ward 5
Jim Williams
Carrolyn Bolin

Ward 6
Tony Bahr
Fran Mazanec

* Special thanks to Leann Arndt of the State Historical Society of Missouri, Rolla Research Center for discovering the architect and date of construction for Rayl Cafeteria.


  1. Another very interesting and informative essay. Some historic buildings are more difficult than others to adaptively reuse. This one should be a piece of cake. With its very open floor plan it will be relatvely easy to repurpose it. Personally, I like the idea of it as gallery space, a place to showcase a broad variety of MST "products."