this dystopian american life…

It’s been busy. I also went through a spell of books, some of which were good, and some of which were Academically Adrift, which left my soul and my interest and my creativity adrift.

However, recently, I’ve gone through a series of books, been reading some articles, and been playing some video games that finally got me back on track with the creative kick.

Fallout 3 on PS3

Slate articles related to Project Hieroglyph, a project to use Sci-Fi to create a better tomorrow.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman


I’ve been immersing myself in a dystopian extravaganza, a rather exciting desert of post-human existence.  The World Without Us helps to inform some of the aspect that appear in Fallout and A Canticle, particularly how nature responds or is unable to respond, and just how bad the nuclear situation could get post-human.  While Weisman does tend to drag and teased my urban design sensibilities way hard in the initial chapter, his look at the response of the natural world to the sudden extinction of humanity (but the very material and hazardous waste future we leave behind) is an interesting non-fiction take on the dystopian story.

A Canticle spends the first third of it’s length getting me all worked up about the discovery of a fallout shelter post-deluge, which is so Fallout, and which I would read all the books about.

I was sort of upset that it wasn’t the focus of the book, and to be honest, it lost me until the last few chapters, which made the book well-worthwhile, and highly recommended.  So dystopian, so anti-“Project Hieroglyph,” and I love it.

I didn’t plan it out this way at all, I’ve just been grabbing books off my to-read shelf based on my mood after finishing the book before it.  I lucked out that these two came together in this order, that I’ve been playing Fallout again, and Slate had been running this really interesting series of articles on sci-fi’s influence.  I do look forward to picking up a copy of Project Hieroglyph to check out how the future of sci-fi can improve humanity, but until then…

grumpday humpday…

Hello.  You have probably been directed to this blog post by an automatic posting on Facebook or Twitter.  However, this is not a real blog post, as I am currently at Jury Duty.

If you would like an analysis of my experience, might I highly recommend My Cousin Vinny.  This blog is suspended until I am no longer doing my civic duty of dutiful civility.


They said no shorts or tank tops… sooooo… I’m going with this number tomorrow.

Jury Room Reading: Theodore Rex – Edmund Morris

what where place space…

So, I’m returning to the Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg again this week, because I’m currently reading Academically Adrift, and I can’t even wrap my head around a blog post for that, because it’s not like I’m…

but more like…

…so you’re welcome for that (I don’t do statistics vs I do story time!).

Where were we?

Oh yeah, back to The Great Good Place, looking at a particular passage that I found interesting which is also from the “Hostile Habitat” chapter that I spoke of in my last post on this book.  In a section labelled A Tradeoff, Oldenburg speaks to a shift in American culture and the concept of the ideal space, quoting architect Dolores Hayden:

The dream house replaced the ideal city as the spatial representation of American hopes for the good life.

Oldenburg also writes that the model city was to be a cure for social ills, but the dream house has emerged since then as an escape from them.  So, we gave up?

This chapter reminded me of the Truman Show a lot.

These ideas and claims of a reversal from ideal city to ideal home is echoed in Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” which I have blogged on previously and which is a must read on these subjects.

I would love to see and figure out how this change in culture, the push to suburbia, and the ideal of a personal home over the ideal of a communal city, has influenced the urban college campus and the urban union, and will have to pocket that question until I get the time to actually get into that research later on in life.

Later on in this section, it gets even more interesting as Oldenburg delves into the changing definition of adequate space was for Americans, stating that since 1950, our houses have gotten bigger and bigger, so that at the time of publishing, on average, the typical American home has 2 rooms for every person, compared to 1 room for every 1.5 people in an Israeli household.

Hey Luigi, maybe if you didn’t have a whole mansion to yourself, it wouldn’t be so creepy.

So, this concept of the larger American space has always kind of fascinated me, and this article from Apartment Therapy caught my attention years ago, and spurred one of my first blog posts on space (and really, one of my first blog posts ever).

There is, of course, a lot that goes into why Americans have so much space or want so much space, including Manifest Destiny, the push to suburbia, a very material culture (think the export of Hollywood and McDonaldization of the world), that is its own sociological endeavor.  One of my all-time favorite books on this subject is Material World by Peter Menzel, which goes around the world to explore what it looks like when families from various countries move all their possessions in front of their home.  Americans are likely to have more XBoxes than other families are likely to have pots and pans.  For a visual learner like myself, this really reinforces the concept of space, idealized spaces, and the importance of stuff for me.

I think this is an area rich for research in exploring how unions came to be built in their current form, and why renovations or rebuilds are needed on 1950s and 60s era unions (think GI Bill).  As cities push the envelope and explore the idea of micro units, what does this mean for urban residence halls and urban unions?  Does our multifunctional ballroom have a lot in common with the newest 256sq ft micro apartment, while our 250 fixed seat theater has more in common with Kobe Bryant’s mansion?  Hmmm.




*Sidenote* I highly recommend the episode of Gadget Man featured below, with my favsies Richard Ayoade, but which looks at the concept of a 12m squared house at about 15mins in.  Very interesting concept and ideal of space.


the third union place…

I previously wrote about some of my thoughts on Ray Oldenburg’s “The Great Good Place” in July here, and wanted to develop some more thoughts on how the student union can serve as a community third place based on some of Oldenburg’s later chapters.

So, as Great Good continues, the author moves into exploring specific famous third places of the past, like the English Pub, French Cafe, American Tavern, and coffeehouses of various sizes, shapes, and nationalities.  In a section on the English coffeehouse, we explore the concept that the English gained knowledge of and explore through conversation the news of the community and the world, and that the coffeehouse was the end all be all of this service.  Up until the mid-19th century, the coffeehouse was a daily stop for English men to gather, hear the news, discuss, and argue.

Give me the news!

Oldenburg credits the development of home mail delivery, the daily newspaper, coffeehouse owners going for bad business policy, and other factors as the downfall of the coffeehouse.  A quote stood out to me from this section, included from a foreign visitor observing English coffeehouse culture and life, stating “…workmen habitually begin the day [we are talking everyday] by going to coffee rooms in order to read the daily news.”

In a sense, this is sort of what we hope for in thinking about how our unions can function for our campus and our student community.  It’s why we have services that draw students to our buildings (food, post office boxes, printing services) and its why we have unique and pleasurable spaces to relax, connect, and study.  We want to draw the student community in in order to introduce them to new opportunities and the greater involvement picture of campus life, and in the perfect union world, they are exposed to new ideas and perspectives that provide them more context on their academic work and help to craft a more open and understanding student.

Look at all the things you can look at, experience, taste, enjoy! *Neither I or ACUI endorse installing a candy room in your Union. This would cause both gastrointestinal bloat and administrative bloat.*

This transitions well into a later chapter, titled A Hostile Habitat, which explores why modern urban environments and designs are so hostile to these third places, where the community should be able to gather together at their local.

Oldenburg contends that “the modern urban environment accommodates people as players of unifunctional roles… it reduces people… allowing them little opportunity to be human beings.”  Wow, that is harsh.  Borrowing from architectural critic Wolf Von Eckardt, who you know you can get behind 100% because his first name is WOLF (*Does not apply to Wolf Blitzer), Oldenburg explains “what ails us… is not that we are incapable of living a satisfactory and creative life in harmony with ourselves, but that our habitat does not offer sufficient opportunities.  It hems us in.  It isolates us.”

West Wing Walk and Talks are bifunctional, so they are not allowed.  Be sad about that.

But, that’s supposed to be the beauty of the college union – the fact that there are a lot of functionalities crammed into one building, so that students, even if they aren’t that over-involved student leader, are in the building often, and hopefully in a vibrant and active atmosphere that we have fostered, are exposed to new learning opportunities and experiences.  The union fails if it is unifunctional, but multifunctional will take on a different look on each campus (a rural campus union will serve a very different role than an urban campus union), each era of student culture (game rooms and smoking lounges may not be the highest priority anymore), and will need the commitment of the community to ensure it stays updated and functioning to the highest degrees for our multifaceted campuses.

When it comes to our buildings, we have to ask each and every constituent to consider “Does this place offer sufficient opportunities to explore, grow, and live?” and if the answer is no, we may need to go back to the drawing board to better understand what our spaces need beyond just the basic architectural and engineering requirements.  I’m not advocating for over the top everything to please every constituency, but we really have to understand how the environment influences the user, because if our whole mission is based around exploration, we need spaces that encourage that, rather than hemming us in.  That’s what works.  That’s a lot more important than mosaics of your mascot or Starbucks on every floor.

But, uh, your SGA does not need this in their office.

I think I’ve got one more blog post that can come from this book, so stay tuned for that.  It’s about space.  Not Neil DeGrasse Tyson space, but like, TLC’s Trading Spaces space.

All I need to know…

I’ve been struggling for a topic for a couple weeks now while making my way through a couple of longer books, and finally settled on developing further a quick bit from my presentation with Jessi Eaton at ACUI’s 2014 Annual Conference.  

So, I present a portion of a longer piece, All I Need to Know About Student Affairs, I Learned from Star Trek, which looks at the USS Enterprise as a Student Union, and how the two can compare in their mission, operations, spaces, and resources.

This is low quality, but perfectly hilarious.

You may be like, zomg, Joel’s gone off the deep end, but just bear with me, this is a fun topic I think.  And yes, I realize there are some significant differences, especially when I have to wait 15 minutes for a grilled chicken sandwich in the food court when Picard just gets to roll up to a Replicator for a “Tea… Earl Grey… Hot.”

So, let’s get to it shall we.

Ten Forward

Ten Forward is the hub of the ship’s social activity. Everyone on board comes here.
– Jean-Luc Picard
Ten Forward is a lounge and recreation facility located on Deck 10, section 1 of a Galaxy-class starship. (TNG: “Power Play”, “Deja Q”) Ten Forward has much the same function as a mess hall on smaller starships.

Freaking Wil Wheaton.

Sound familiar?  10 Forward, the social hub of the ship, serves multiple capacities, including bar, game room, concert hall and performance space, and more.  Like a true third place, everyone is welcome, whether you are an Admiral, an ambassador, or a Red Shirt who dies in the next scene.
Much like a pub or a coffee house in our union buildings, and other buildings around campus, these areas serve as a social and programming space to encourage interaction, engagement, and community building if utilized as such.  A place to come together and chat, or to do campus karaoke on Tuesday nights, or the perfect venue for Grad/Prof Trivia, these spaces in our buildings are also open to the entire university community: faculty, students, staff, alumni, and community members.
They are a place for socialization and learning (Ohio Union’s collaboration with Hospitality Services academic programs), are multi-functional, but all in all, inclusive, inviting, and community building.
The Bridge
Bridge design may have changed over the various iterations of the Enterprise, but, it still remains a hub of its own, directing and coordinating action for the rest of the ship and crew, serving as the brain of the Enterprise’s functions.
Really, we could compare this to two distinct areas in our unions: the Administrative Suites as well as Student Organization Office Spaces.  Both of these areas are working in the same vein as the Bridge, directing the operations of the union and what is going on within it, and coordinating the various functions that help the union run smoothly at impulse (winter break) or warp speed (orientation).
The beauty of the Bridge/Admin Suite/Student Org Offices is that they bring together various specialties and stations (Engineering, Communication, Navigation, Science, Security) to provide the best possible answers and ideas to the problems and situations at hand.  Admin Suites and Student Organization Offices do this as well, as a solution from the marketing department of the Union may solve a fraternity and sorority life problem, basically Data coming up with a kick-butt creative theme for the winter mixer.

“Data, for the 4th year in a row, since getting Spot the cat, suggests ‘The Cat’s Pajamas’ as the theme for the ship’s annual StarBall.”

Warp Drive
The driving force of the Enterprise, the engines and warp drive are an essential piece of our unions, just like our physical plants, our storage areas, our basement hallways that connect catering kitchens with ballrooms, our loading docks, and our janitorial and facilities staff.
Now, when it comes to the engines, we have our specialists, like Scotty or Geordi, but the remainder of the staff should have some sort of understanding or knowledge of these systems, so that in an emergency, and the specialist can’t be found, someone can immediately respond with some idea of what to do.  This speaks a lot to cross-training our staffs, and ensuring that even though they may work in the Information Center, they are aware of some of the more vital pieces of how the union works and initial steps in a tense situation.

My reaction when “holodeck funny gif” only returns super inappropriate, but funny, Riker/Holodeck/Rule 34 images. So, no gif for you.

This is one of my favorite comparisons because currently in the union construction/renovation biz, flexibility is the key for ballrooms/multipurpose rooms/etc. and if there is any space on the Enterprise that screams flexibility, it’s the Holodeck (srsly, think about it: Shakespeare <—> Boat <—> Worf’s Klingon Ritual Space).

We are going through a major look at how much construction or spaces cost these days, and flexibility gives us the best bang for our buck.  A ballroom that can serve in many different styles, structures, layouts, and functions will also beat out, cost wise, a tiered, fixed-seat theater.  That is what the holodeck offers to the Enterprise, a chance to relax, train, learn, reflect, or play a little Jazz Trombone.

You know what I’m talking about Riker… you creep.

So, just like a holodeck, think about if you have a space in your union that is the definition of flexibility, a space that can be utilized for most any event and can succeed in almost any configuration.  This will be helpful in offering space for unique events and more users, and may be more cost effective than other room types.


The Enterprise in Crisis

There are no gifs easily accessible of saucer separation on the interwebs.  Not cool dude, not cool.

What am I trying to get at here though?  The Enterprise and the Union in crisis.  Whether is it a major disaster event in our city, a weather related shutdown on campus, or a power outage, often our Unions are the safe place and the gathering place for the campus community.  We often have plenty of power backup, we often include essential systems, we often have dining and food operations, and we have lots of space for folks to gather for safety.  The Enterprise has a similar function, the Battle Bridge and the separation of the saucer section.  In order to save the maximum number of people on board, it is sometimes necessary for a major evacuation to take place via the saucer section and for essential staff to remain behind for the fight or for protection on the battle bridge.

I remember at Wooster, even though none of my responsibilities resided in the campus center, I was essential staff during a major weather emergency, and the gathering place for the campus community for ultimate safety was the campus center.  We are a gathering place for our community, we are there to serve the campus community, and so we need to be well-versed in how to serve our campus during crisis.


Would love to hear your thoughts on how the Union relates to the Enterprise, or other sci-fi concepts, and of course, a big thanks and hug to friend Jessi for helping me develop these concepts from the get-go.

Enjoy August, peeps.