Welcome to Agincourt, Iowa

Home » Uncategorized » It’s hard to design not on purpose.

It’s hard to design not on purpose.


Some designs are labored, like ten hours in the stirrups birthing a bowling ball.

As a man I’m happy to have been spared what the other, fairer sex endures to maintain the species. You’ve seen works of architecture that qualify: each aspect, every detail finessed, finagled, but more likely shoe-horned or bludgeoned into place. They reek of so much thoughtful purpose and purposeful thought that just looking at them induces migraine.

Try to imitate the work of another architect and you’ll see what I mean. Designing Agincourt’s public library in the style of Louis Sullivan may be the principal case in point. During these past seven years, I’ve learned a lot about Louie and at least as much about myself. I ain’t no Louie.

While that design continues to evolve—and it had better do it pretty quickly, because the model builders start next week—why not complicate matters by diving back into another old design: the original St Ahab’s church dedicated in September 1862, designed and at least partially built by its priest Francis Manning. I’ve written more than a few words about Fr Manning, to tell the story of those driven by faith in spite of significant obstacles in their path, but also to establish the point of view that drove the design of the church building in the first place. You can read about St Ahab/Christ-the-King in four sequential bogs entries written early in the story [just search for “Manning”] but here is perhaps the meat of Rev Manning’s vision:

No faith can be stronger than its foundation, and Rev Manning had laid it well. From a few fish and a ship’s mast she had built St Ahab’s, probably from her own design. She was, it turns out, from a coastal town on the Atlantic side of Ireland. So, if you visit the cemetery today and squint at the old church, there is something downright nautical about it, a misplaced vessel washed up on our shore and recycled like flotsam from the beach. It was apparently not in her nature or the nature of her people to waste time, resource or opportunity. She would be proud that we’ve carried on the tradition. Being green is hardly new.

Yesterday’s blog offered a set of parentheses for Saint Ahab’s: St Henry’s Ecumenical Chapel in Turku, Finland, by Sanaksenaho Architects, and a simple vernacular solution to the need for shelter at the shore, half of an upturned boat used as a shed, on the northeast coast of England near (if not actually on) Holy Island. Could I have chosen better inspiration? Our son Georg appended an image of St Benedict’s Chapel, a 1988 design by Peter Zumthor. I heartily approve of adding its character to the mix of factors that should push me toward a solution.

zumthor benedict

Here (and in the other two examples mentioned) is precisely what I mean about effortless design. Zumthor’s work is thoughtful to be sure, pensive without anguish; something done with the ease of breathing at rest. Douglas Adams had something to say about this very idea in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, though I don’t have the quote at hand. It was something along the lines of “Oh, well, yes, then. It’s all right”.

You know what I mean.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: