Tag Archives: Review

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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I Curse the Day McDonald’s Was Contrived

Let me tell you about the morning I had today.

I had a huge exam scheduled today (I did very well on it–thank you for wondering). I took the first two hours off of my morning shift at work so that I would have that little extra time to continue going over my notes for the test.

Before I headed to work, I decided to reward myself for studying so diligently with a delicious, healthy breakfast. Since I didn’t have time for that, I had to settle for McDonald’s. I didn’t mind too much, though. I love their coffee and for whatever reason, I’m slightly addicted to their sausage biscuit with egg. I’m never content after I eat one of those things (it always feels like I have grease slathered all over my body after I eat one of those things), but I figured that I just needed to eat something.

So I pull up to the drive-through…

“I’d like a number four please.”
“A number four?”
“Yes.”
“A sausage biscuit with egg?”
(Long, irritated pause.)
“Yes. A sausage biscuit with egg please. I’d like a coffee with that.”
“What would you like to drink with that ma’am?”
(A deep breath as to not scream.)
“…Coffee.”
“OK, ma’am. That’s a number four with a coffee. Would you like cream or sugar?”
“No, thanks. That’s all.”
“Alright. That’ll be $3.46. Please pull up to the first window.”

So, I did as she said. Now, let me preface the rest of the story by mentioning that I was armed with only a $20 bill and a cup of pennies, nickles, and dimes (all the coins that the insolent laundry machine at my apartment complex won’t take). I pick out four dimes, a nickle, and a penny. Andrew Jackson accompanies the loose change. I pull up to the first window.

“$3.46, please, m’am.”

I hand the bill and change to the girl in the window, who does “her thing” (her thing being pressing some buttons on the register, making changed, tearing off a receipt). She hands me a wad of bills.

“Thank you ma’am. Please pull around.”
“Thanks.”

The woman at the second window hands me a bag and a cup of coffee. I take the goods, thank her, and begin to drive off. As I went to stuff the wad of bills back into my wallet, I realize I only got $7 back. I did not just pay $13.46 for something that will probably add two solid pounds of lard to my back end.

I immediately back up (no one was behind me–no worries, people). I told the woman that I gave the girl at the register a $20, and she hadn’t given me enough change back. I just needed a $10 bill. She told me to pull into the parking space labeled for “drive through waiting.” OK…

Twenty-two minutes later (oh yes, you bet I counted), I just about break my car door opening it so I can get out of the freakin’ vehicle and pummel every McDonald’s customer. I walk up to the counter and demand that they give me my change now and that I am tired of waiting for these people to give me my correct change.

“Oh, yeah! We totally forgot. Here…”

The moron opens her register, and hands me a $10 bill.

I hate you, McDonald’s.

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Austin’s Muse

The Green Muse, located in the ever-eccentric south of Austin, is a coffee bar hidden away in a discreet niche off of Oltorf. Without the typical lit-up sign out front, a company Web site, or even any kind of bona fide advertising, the Green Muse booms mostly due to client word-of-mouth.

This coffee mecca is exactly what you would conjure in your mind if I told you that it was uber “Austiny.” Eccentric Indie music? Check. Wonderfully strange, local artwork? Check. Fliers promoting local events and bands? Double check. Not to mention, the Muse has a mélange of coffees, teas, and other drinks that are sure to sate your pallet.

Hungry? Try a piquant panini, scrumptious sandwich, or savory soup. You can also get a side of hummus, tabbouleh, baba Ganoush (served with toasted pita and cucumbers).

At the Muse, you’ll find students plugged into chairs, laptops, books, and papers within arm’s reach. It’s a hot spot for the twenty-something crowd for the very reason that it’s just a chill, local shop. I recommend it. The free Wi-Fi isn’t bad either.

The Green Muse
519 W Oltorf St
Austin, TX 78704
(512) 912-7789

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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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Bon Appétit Seeks to Better St. Ed’s Dining Hall

This article was originally written for the Hilltop Views.

Since Bon Appétit was chosen to manage St. Edward’s dining hall in the
summer of 2007, there have been continual efforts to improve dining
services on campus. Recently, the St. Edward’s community had another
chance to voice opinions as Bon Appétit took further steps toward the betterment of the dining hall.

On January 19-21, Bon Appétit offered an opportunity for students,
faculty and staff to participate in on-line surveys on their current and future services.  In addition, they asked members of the campus community to sign up for focus groups, and over the next few days, met
with those groups.  Mike Stone, Director of Auxiliary Services at St.
Edward’s, explained that “the purpose of this research is to assess
what’s good with dining services” and what sort of opportunities there
are for improvement.

Michael Smith, General Manager of Bon Appétit, finds the feedback very
informative and helpful. He mentions though that those who responded
in the polls, surveys, and focus groups had mixed views. “Those who
have been educated about Bon Appétit and our philosophy where very
helpful in the discussion groups, [but] those who came just to complain do not know much about us and our philosophy.”

A problem, Smith recalls, was that students who had originally volunteered to express their needs and wants at the focus groups simply did not show. This understandably makes it difficult for Bon Appétit to gauge how to address particular needs.

“During our survey, we asked students to sign up for the focus groups, and we had each one full to capacity. A day before each session, we e-mailed those who signed up and anticipated full focus groups. We had two sessions each day with ten people per session. We did the focus groups for one week. We only had around thirty people show up of the one hundred who signed up.”

Student Nicole Henson attended one of the focus groups hosted by Bon Appétit. “They asked pretty basic questions like, ‘What would improve your dining experience?’ or, ‘What would you like to see in the cafeteria?’ We went around with our answers and discussed the issues.” The group discussed a few choice concerns as well, such as how the dining ware has been disappearing and how much food is wasted.

Students have had strong opinions in regards to how the services and
cuisine currently provided by Bon Appétit can be improved. Student Eugene Haller says he feels that there is too little variety and too much pomp in the cafeteria. “They try too hard to look upscale. I don’t necessarily just want sushi—I want the option of having barbecue or chicken fried steak too.” Haller went on to say that he wishes Bon Appétit would incorporate more local, Texas foods.

Student Amanda Nevarez says she also has many problems with how things
are being run in the dining hall. “When I first heard that the school was going to redo the cafeteria, I was really excited.  That really isn’t the case anymore. I try to avoid eating there as much as I can.” Nevarez criticizes Bon Appétit for their lack of selection, the quality of the food, and the inopportune dining hall hours. “Some students can’t get food when it’s open, so then they’re out of luck.”

Stone says that a report of the results from the polls, surveys, and focus group discussions should be ready around March 1. “The data from the surveys and focus groups is being processed and analyzed by the regional marketing staff of Bon Appétit.  When Bon Appetit has completed their analysis, the results will be shared with St.  Edward’s, including the Dining Services Advisory Council.”

Smith reiterates that Bon Appétit is listening to students and doing its best to address any problems or areas that may be improved. “One [concern] was about having the cereal left out all day and not just for breakfast. We started to leave it out all day and have had a few responses about it. Students were happy, especially those who like cereal for all meal periods. We are listening.”

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Leisure on the Lake

This article was originally written for the Hilltop Views.

Head over to Zilker Park or Lady Bird Lake on any sunny afternoon in Austin, and you’ll find locals who love to revel and romp outside. From running, to cycling, to swimming, Austinites love to play and compete.

One outdoor hobby that is becoming increasingly popular among the twenty-something crowd is kayaking and rowing. Student organizations like Crew, the St. Edward’s rowing team, promote “the use of physical activity in a healthy lifestyle” and “a greater appreciation of Austin’s culture.” However, rowing isn’t just for the pros and competitors anymore.

Rowing

Junior student Brett Powers is enthusiastic about kayaking and rowing, recommending that everyone try it at least once. Powers began cruising around Lady Bird Lake in a kayak his sophomore year of high school for the considerable exercise it provides.

“If you rent for an hour and stay paddling or moving the whole time, you will get a great cardiovascular workout, as well as endurance training.” An added bonus, says Powers, is that kayaking and rowing are low impact sports, meaning just about anyone can do it without injuring themselves.

There are three docks on Lady Bird Lake that rent out kayaks and paddle boats, as well as offer rowing lessons: the Texas Rowing Center, the Town Lake Rowing Center and The Rowing Dock. Powers prefers The Rowing Dock, explaining that he always “thought [it] was nicer.”

For newcomers to the popular Austin pastime, the Rowing Dock provides three one-hour lessons, during which students will learn basic paddling skills. The Intro to Kayaking course also includes two vouchers to use the kayaks on your own during open hours.

For skeptics or novices who may be hesitant to hop in a boat, the Rowing Dock offers encouraging words. “Our kayaks are very stable boats and are great for a wide range of ages. The boats are designed for inexperienced kayakers and are virtually untippable.” In addition, the company provides lake-goers with the paddles and lifejackets needed to have a fun, safe time. “Bring your water or sports drink and we will supply everything else.”

The Rowing Dock is located at 2418 Stratford Drive, and the company may be reached at (512) 459-0999.

Grab a friend or two and head over to the lake this weekend; a kayak awaits you.

Rentals
Single Kayak $10/hr.
Double Kayak $15/hr.
Triple Kayak $20/hr.
Paddle Boat $15/half hr. or $25/hr.

Season Passes/Memberships
Three-Month Season Pass $165
One-Year Membership $432
One-Year Debit Membership $36/month for 12 months

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