Our neighborhood is changing. Two Sundays ago the Blanton Art Museum opened the Ellsworth Kelley “Austin” on the campus of the University of Texas. According to the paper it looks like a cross between an igloo and a chapel, and I think that is a pretty fair description. It is not a functional building in that it has no purpose as such, but is rather a “work of art.” The building “works” on the play of light across the interior walls. I get this since we here at St. Austin also enjoy the fabulous light display of our colored windows on sunny mornings as the sun blazes in, and the colors slowly drift across the shell-stone walls. We have been privileged to enjoy this for 60 years now. It is something to be proud of.
Then on Thursday the 22nd of last month the new Rolling Graduate Business School opened on the campus. Located on the corner of MLK Blvd and Guadalupe Streets, it is to me something of an enigma. First of all, the decision was made to break with the historic Italianate design of most of the UT campus – which I consider an unfortunate choice. But even more perplexing is the orientation of the building. The front of this $185 million building faces the AT&T Executive Education Center, to the EAST. It is a striking front and entrance. And the interior architecture is bold and dramatic. It is definitely worth a look.
But the result of this orientation is that the back of the building points towards the corner of MLK Blvd and Guadalupe Street, which is a very PUBLIC location in Austin. It hardly speaks of the University’s desire to interact with the City. And frankly I do not find that face of the building – the one we see – very attractive. It reminds me of a telephone exchange building near where I grew up, not architecture focused on a human scale. Perhaps I will get more used to it over time.
Meanwhile, the hole where the McDonald’s used to be gets deeper and deeper. We are told they plan to bottom out at the beginning of next month. It will be very interesting to see what this building looks like and how it will influence the neighborhood with traffic, congestion, dining opportunities, property values, guests who will attend our church on weekends, and even opportunities to support our school. Some impacts will be negative, such as traffic, but others could be positive. Maybe a few of the hotel guests will be church-going Catholics. They may even put something in the collection! It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out.
And of course we have our own renovation project now heading into the home stretch. I think we can already feel proud of what we have done. From being one of the dumpiest and least attractive buildings on the Drag, we are becoming one of the most attractive and beautiful. In a few weeks we will have the metal panels on the tower, the light fixture on top of the tower, and the new cross mounted on the tower. That will be a proud day for our parish. Even with all the new and exciting construction in our neighborhood, we can certainly be proud of our public face on the Drag.
Architecture is very important in helping define community and expressing a quality of life. I am very pleased and proud of what our major renovation project is accomplishing, and hope that we will be grateful for it for many years to come.