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Chilean Architect Visits St. Edward’s

This article was originally written for the Hilltop Views.

Alejandro Aravena, the Chilean architect who designed St. Edward’s new residence halls, was in Austin this past Friday to see his completed project before the residential village grand opening.

Earning his degree in architecture from the Universidad Católica in Santiago, Chile, and having his postgraduate studies in theory and history, Aravena was chosen by St. Edward’s so that he would bring a global perspective to the campus. “[St. Edward’s] took a year to choose the architect, it took a year to design, and it took a little over a year to build,” Aravena explained. “It says a lot about the campus when it takes over a year to choose an architect.”

The new residential community is Aravena’s first major project outside of Chile, as well as his first dormitory. “It was a challenge,” Aravena explained, “to consider what the institution needed, but still consider what the [residents] wanted.” It was important to him that “it is not social housing with just good will,” and that the halls cater to the needs of the campus.

Aravena said that “open space is a novelty in dormitories. This is not the typical ‘corridor with rows of rooms’ designs.” The layout is very much focused on freedom and visual stimulation, with the intermediate spaces between halls acting as a mutual gathering place for students and the red, grey, and white glass windows being used as “visual noise,” as Aravena called it. “All the rooms have light and openness, without sacrificing privacy. [St. Edward’s] has private spaces. Dorm rooms, offices, and classrooms are given.  The openness [the new residential village] has is distinctive,” Aravena explained.

However, the architect insisted that his designs are not “inspired.” In fact, the idea that architecture is a visionary, idealist process irks Aravena. “Architecture is not about being inspired. It is simply answering a client’s problem with a form.”

“I am not an artist. I am an architect.”

Aravena did admit, however, that elements of nature give him ideas about to solve problems that he often faces in designing. For instance, Aravena wanted the common area in the residential village to be cool in the brutally hot Texas weather. He turned to canyons to see how those physical forms filter wind and bend sunlight so that the
area is a few degrees cooler than its surroundings.

“It is fine if people interpret parts of the building as a canyon or a geode, but I was not inspired by those. It is not wrong to interpret it that way, but I simply used those elements for problem solving.”

In fact, Aravena is gaining notoriety in the world of architecture for his “problem solving” techniques and ideas. Being able to work with low costs and scarce resources has caused prestigious architectural magazines, associations, and the like to take notice of Aravena’s skills and capabilities. However, Aravena says that being able to work with a small budget and limited supplies “ought to be the rule, not the exception.”

When asked whether or not he considered his finished products may be considered art, the logic-ruled, humble Chilean took a long pause. “You know, there are things that can be spoken about, and things that cannot—that are unspoken. Art is unspoken, much like the concept of time. I cannot tell you what time is, but I know what it is. Art is
something you reflect silently about. I think if someone looks at what I built—which was an answer to a problem—and sees something else in it, they can reflect on that internally. That is fine. But I am not an artist. I am an architect.”

The residential village grand opening is set to take place at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, February 17. The St. Edward’s community is welcome to take a tour of the new residence halls, enjoy free food, enjoy live entertainment, and participate in online university housing sign-up.

The Residential Village

The Residential Village

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“Hometown Glory”

Adele, the Grammy-winning English crooner, has had mad props given to her for her divine talent and sensational debut album, “19.” Her commanding vocals resemble those of Etta James and Amy Winehouse, yet Adele maintains a very distinctive sound.

Songs like “Chasing Pavement” and “Cold Shoulder” rocketed Adele to stardom, even earning her the Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance awards at the Grammys this year. The song that ignites my bones, however, is Adele’s soon-to-be smash hit, “Hometown Glory.” It’s poetic; it’s haunting; it’s ardent.

I beg you to listen to it, and see if you don’t find yourself reminiscing of summers during your childhood or growing up in the cities and suburbs.

Love that Adele.

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Dr. Shirley McKellar Speaks to St. Ed’s Students

This article was originally written for the Hilltop Views.

A group of roughly thirty-five individuals filled a room on the third floor of Fleck Hall this past Thursday, February 5, to listen to Dr. Shirley McKellar, the founder and chief executive officer of her own company, a retired major who served overseas during “Operation Iraqi Freedom” and “Operation Enduring Freedom,” and a motivational speaker for breast cancer and women’s issues.

The kind-looking, African-American woman stood from her seat in the
front row of the room and gracefully made her way to the podium. After
carefully adjusting her glasses on the bridge of her nose, McKellar began her lecture, “Good evening, St. Edward’s University.”

McKellar (left) and her sister at a political rally

McKellar (left) and her sister at a political rally

“I want to challenge you tonight to do five things. First, listen carefully. Second, understand what is being said. Third, believe in yourself, because how else do you expect anyone else to believe in you? Fourth, retain what I say to you. Fifth and last, please act on whatever your passion is in life.”

McKellar delved right into her motivational talk on education and  leadership. Her personal apothegm, “Reach one, teach one,” was the underlying theme of her presentation, “Unfettered Potential: Military
Success and Women’s Health.” McKellar passionately spoke of the importance of education in today’s world in the shaping of leaders. She stressed that we must share our wisdom with others if we want to instill change nationally and internationally.

“Why should you have knowledge if you won’t share it with others?” McKellar asked the audience.

McKellar spoke of how her experiences in school and in the military —both the good and bad experiences—shaped the natural-born leader in her. She reflected on the monumental day in 1975 that Congress broke down walls for women in the military, and that a mere five years later, 217 women cadets graduated from West Point in Annapolis.

However, McKellar also recalled the discrimination in the military she experienced for being an educated African-American woman. McKellar, who had stood at the podium with the utmost dignity and poise the entire evening, shook her head sadly when she called to mind her stint at Tyler Junior College, where her professor had two exams—one version for white students and another for African-American students. She looked back up at the audience afterwards, and she said she had decided then that she would not allow anyone to make her feel less capable than she knew she was. Decades later, McKellar now sponsors grade-school trips to Tyler Junior College to encourage young girls to pursue math and science. “We can’t let these young girls feel intimidated.”

McKellar brought the evening to a close by emphasizing the importance
of education. “If you have nothing to do or say, read!” McKellar’s diagnosis for what she calls the world’s “education deficient syndrome” is “a dose of math and science, a helping of standard English, a mental health day or two, and lots and lots of sleep.”

As the audience applauded at the end of the lecture, McKellar quickly spoke into the microphone once more, “Students, if a door closes in your face, unlock a window.”

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Super Bowl Commercials | 2009

Click here to find each and every Super Bowl commercial in its hilarity.

And, my favorites…

The woman on the dolphin both cracks me up and freaks me out.

“PepSuber!”

Can Miller produce a one-second commerical? Oh, yes they can.

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Steelers’ Holmes Keeps Feet on the Ground

Many Steelers fans were stricken with panic when the Cardinals rebounded in the last quarter of Super Bowl XLIII, but not Santonio Holmes–he kept his feet on the ground. Literally.

In what had to have been the most well caught pass of the game (if not the season), Holmes planted his tip-toes on the very lip of the boundary line, allowing the Steelers to pull ahead enough in the last minute of the game to win.

He was cornered. He caught a pass from [Steelers quarterback] Ben Roethlisberger on the back side of the end zone, with three Arizona Cardinals bearing down on him while he balanced on the tips of his toes. (New York Times)

For a moment, Holmes sat crouching over, clutching the ball to his chest. As thousands of Steelers fans jumped to their feet and cheered, Holmes seemed to need just a quiet second or two to soak in what had just happened. His teammates ran and fell on top of him, patting his helmet and shoulders with great gaiety and pride.

Holmes was voted the game’s most valuable player. He caught nine passes for 131 yards. (New York Times)

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“If It Moves to Music, I’m in Love”

“Theoretically, I am ready to go to anything– once. If it moves, I’m interested; if it moves to music, I’m in love.” -Arlene Croce

Arlene Croce, formerly a dance critic for twenty-five years at the “New Yorker,” makes her love of the arts and, especially, dance clear in the anthology “Writing in the Dark, Dancing in the “New Yorker.'”

“Writing in the Dark” covers Croce’s long reviews of performances from the time she started at the “New Yorker” in 1973 until she left in 1998.

Croce’s work covers a topic about which very few have real, substantial knowledge; however, her reviews are just as informational as they are critical. Going into “Writing in the Dark,” I assumed that Croce would frequently use dance jargon and refer to performaces about which I did not know. I found myself, to my suprise, thoroughly enjoying Croce’s reviews of dance performaces and even learning a thing or two about this lovely art form.

Croce’s word choice is exemplary; it conveys the kinesthetic movements of the dancers, the underlying themes of the performances, and the powerful vitality of the music. “Writing in the Dark” is 745 pages of vivid description and sharp criticism, making it a wonderful read.

Ballet

The only criticism of Croce–for whom I have tremendous respect since reading her work– is in her 1994 review entitled “Discussing the Undiscussable.” The performance in question was Bill T. Jones‘ “Still/Here,” where Jones presented people who were terminally ill and proceeded to talk about it (Jones himself has AIDS). Croce stated that she had no intent on reviewing it, the reason being that Croce felt the performance was “pity art.” Croce wrote that by working dying people into his act, Jones put himself beyond the reach of criticism. She continued to defend her decision not to review the perforance which she dubbed unreviewable. I absolutely respect her decision and support her right to make such a choice. I only criticize Croce for this for the reason that a “New Yorker” writer has a certain authority and voice. When she wrote this controversial piece, it could have seriously cost her her reputation. Nonetheless, Croce wrote what she did and that is simply that. Read an excerpt of the review here.

Arlene Croce’s reviews, especially those published in “Writing in the Dark, Dancing in the “New Yorker,'” are as close to an acclaimed dance performance as you can get. Her writing style, as well as her knowledge and love of dance, makes for tremendous reviews.

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A New Dorm for the New Year

St. Edward’s ushered in the new year with a new residential community. With construction nearing completion, students have finally begun moving into Lady Bird Johnson Hall, Edmund Hunt Hall, and Le Mans Hall.

Resident Directors Mark Convery and Roy Pequeno led an intimate group of students and faculty on a tour of the three new halls in early January to show off the new, ultra-modern amenities. From super-spacious private suites, to solid security systems, to environmentally friendly bathrooms, the university spared no expense when it came to students’ comfort and safety.

The residential community’s layout and views are also superlative. Alejandro Aravena, the award-winning Chilean architect who designed the halls, modeled the view of what is referred to as “the canyon”—the view of the breezeway and surrounding halls—to reflect elements of nature. For instance, the coarse brick hall facades, paired with the dissimilar shades of red glass windows, is meant to resemble a cracked-open geode, as Convery explained on the tour.

Freshman Joe Vrana, who moved from Doyle Hall to Hunt Hall, said it has been “interesting” living in the new residential village. Vrana explained that the construction has negatively affected social interaction between students now living in the new halls. “Everyone was really social at Doyle, but no one does anything now because of [the construction]. But otherwise, it’s been great,” Vrana added.

A prominent concern among students is how the university is planning to expand the campus while maintaining the personal touch it has with students and faculty. Patrick Kirby, who works in Office of Financial Affairs, expressed great sanguinity in St. Edward’s approach. He suggests “that responding to students in a thoughtful, individual manner…is not an issue of size, rather one of our values.” By providing improved health and counseling services, additional food services, and added common areas for students, Kirby says that the university’s hopes are that this will present more ways for students to “ascertain their own sense of individuality and identity.”

The residential community, aside from the on-site counseling center, is scheduled to be entirely finished on February 14th, with the grand opening on February 17th. For more information about the new residence halls, check out the Residence Life page on the university website.

(Written for the Hilltop Views)

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