- Elemental (Alejandro Aravena), Cotera + Reed Architects
Hunt, Le Mans and Johnson Halls comprise a dormitory complex consisting of 300 beds and totaling 120,000 square feet. Sleeping quarters are placed on the upper floors, with social spaces and student services located on the lower levels. The three halls create an interior court at ground level. The exterior is clad in brick and the interior in transparent and opaque glass.
To passersby on Woodward Street, the Hunt, Le Mans, and Johnson Halls present themselves in the distance as mysterious, skillfully cut yet rough gems. Brick facades and regular window placement create a sense of seriousness, pattern, and permanence. The unique composition of shapes distinguishes itself, yet still fits within the greater St. Edward’s campus.
Selectively skewed roof lines, chamfered corners, and the play of shadows collectively produce a sense of wonder, inviting one to take a closer look at the complex—which will reveal further joyful surprises.
The architecture invites one to walk slowly, in search of thoughtful details and wondrous internal spaces. Upon closer inspection, the brick is revealed to be rough-cut on select facades: a rich texture of masonry, mortar, and shadow that invites touch and gaze. A structural concrete column supporting a cantilever is accented by an adjacent, matching concrete slab ready to lend additional support. A few steps inside the dorm complex brings into view a seclude courtyard protected from the hot Texas sun. Internal voids are created by massive, Tetris-like pieces seemingly in motion.
The residence halls were broken up into separate blocks in order to increase the area of the exterior facades (and therefore the number of windows and access to natural light inside) while maintaining privacy for the dorm rooms. Common study areas on the upper floors line the interior metal and glass perimeter of the four-level complex. The 300 dorms are accompanied by dining halls and student services on the lower level.
The regimented and thoughtful design resonates with the disciplined design of a classic monastery. In fact, the architect described the dorm as such, in the spirit of the university’s religious affiliation: “It’s about how to organize a collection of repetitive small cells and how to relate them with larger special pieces. In the case of the monastery, it’s about the monks’ cells and how the relate them with the refectory and chapel. Here it was about the rooms and the dining hall and common facilities. Both of them have to do with old atavist situations: sleeping, studying and eating. Or to put it in a more suggestive way: feeding the body and the soul and digesting.”
An architectural jewel for Austin, the project represents the first international project for Chilean architect and Pritzker laureate Alejandro Aravena; the halls are the architect’s only work in the United States to date. – Jaime Alvarez, AIA
Chris Ferguson, AIA