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Syzygy

Posterous.com is shutting down in a little over a month. I has several blogs there, though most of them had no more than a half dozen entries. I’m migrating some of them here to wordpress, with the hope that I can flesh them out in the spirit of Agincourt. One of those soon-to-be-defunct blogs was devoted to the Episcopal churches of Dakota Territory, my homage to Fargo architect George Hancock and his collaborators Rev B. F. Cooley and the first bishop of the diocese, Rt Rev William D. Walker. I’ve got enough material on these guys and the phenomenon of that handful of buildings to write a book. [It would be appropriate at this point for you to break into wild guffaws. Go ahead; you know you want to.]

The first and only entry in that blog follows. It has nothing to do with Agincourt—yet.

SYZYGY

“A bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture.”

So wrote British architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner* in the introduction to An Outline of European Architecture. He further defined architecture as a word that “only applied to buildings designed with a view to aesthetic appeal.” From the book’s publication in 1943, and well past the author’s death forty years later, subsequent editions have maintained that position. The discipline of architectural history, however, has grown considerably since Pevsner’s important work and it has reconsidered what looks today like an elitist point of view. By the turn of the 21st century, a vast number of churches have been erected that are unworthy of being called architecture in Pevsner’s sense. [I could name names.] Contrarily, there are some elegant bicycle now sheds adding grace to our world. These observations say as much about shifts in the profession of architecture as they do about new perspectives for interpreting and appreciating its products.

This blog is devoted to one big idea (the relationship between spirituality and its outward physical expression as built form) and a very localized application of that notion. The subject here may, on its surface, interest very few, because it will focus on the Episcopal church architecture of North Dakota during a very limited period of its history, the decade just prior to statehood in 1889. The story of a handful of buildings (a little more than a dozen) in Dakota Territory, however, can be the vehicle for telling the story of a generation of settlers; be a window for understanding the impact of their collective lives on the American frontier–and on one another.

We hope you will visit here often and follow the trail of our investigation. Enjoy the narrative of another time and place; contribute your own insights or new information to what you find here; and challenge the interpretations we offer. That’s what blogs are about.

*During the summer of 1971 I attended an English summer school focused on country house architecture. One of the guest instructors that year was none other than Sir Nikolaus himself. During an evening turn around the garden with several of us Americans, we learned from the already-elderly scholar that his nickname was–are you ready for this?–snickers! I found him to be anything other than the snob that might be inferred from the quotation above.


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