In our department’s thesis process—a rigorous comprehensive design, though not the university’s required “capstone” project—there are a few hurdles to successful completion. Two that recur each year are the I-am-my-own-client phenomenon and the a-building-isn’t-what-I’m actually-trying-to-design situation. The first is easily solved; the second is more insidious.
It’s no surprise that I’m a precedent-driven kind of guy. So creating Agincourt’s new Normal School reminds me that my task is to imagine the style and substance of a Midwestern institution for teacher training circa WWI, one that in this case will occupy an earlier building or set of buildings that had until recently served as an orphanage. First the orphanage, then the school. Not incompatible buildings, since they are both modular and defined by double-loaded corridors and fairly clear zoning issues. On the other hand, my task is not to re-imagine the Normal School phenomenon in American history, nor to reinvent its curriculum. Those things are very well laid out in literature of the period in professional journals such as The Elementary School Journal and more recent historical studies accessed through on-line sources like JSTOR and google.books.
A quick search this afternoon yielded an article by H. A. Brown, of the State Normal School, Oshkosh, Wisconsin titled “The Normal-School Curriculum” which, in its nine short pages, offers four focused two-year curricula. Coupled with short institutional histories for schools typical of that period—the North Dakota schools at Valley City and Mayville, for example, which are close at hand and familiar in their architectural evolution—I’m comfortable outlining the issues that faced Dr. Wilhelm Reinhardt, Northwest Iowa Normal’s first president.
Do you think we can do better than this fortress in Alva, Oklahoma, that is unfortunately all too typical of its times?