This boldly expressive building, faced with white, vertically striated, precast-concrete panels and bronze solar glass, is capped by an oversailing penthouse suspended from four concrete pylons. It faces the academic mall of Texas Southern University (TSU) following the line of what was once Wheeler Avenue. TSU was founded in 1927 as a junior college for African American students and was administered by the Houston Independent School District. In 1946, what was then called Houston College for Negroes, a four-year institution, moved to this fifty-three-acre tract donated by independent oilman and philanthropist Hugh Roy Cullen. The State of Texas bought the college in 1947 and transformed it into Texas Southern University, authorizing a law school and other graduate professional programs.
Beginning in the late 1950s, Houston architect John S. Chase was commissioned to design buildings at TSU. Chase's masterpiece is the Sterling Student Center. It is one of the most compelling examples of New Brutalism in Houston. Its forceful shapes and high-contrast coloration reappear in Chase's other major campus buildings: the School of Education Building (1981) next door to the student center, and the Thurgood Marshall School of Law (1976) at 3601 Wheeler, several blocks east of the main campus. Across from the student center is Mack H. Hannah Hall of 1950, TSU's administration and auditorium building, by Houston architect Lamar Q. Cato.