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Monthly Archives: November 2014

Municipal Unmentionables

Agincourt is likely to undergo more change in its corporate infrastructure during the next ten years than it has seen in the previous one hundred and fifty. Next semester’s Landscape Architecture studio may resolve most of its past; the future can care for itself.

I often tell the story of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahoney Griffin, designers of Canberra, capitol of Australia, as a case study in infrastructure. The Griffins had won an international competition for the design of a new national capitol, intent like the Brazilians fifty years later on opening their country’s interior by removing the seat of government from the coast (Melbourne for the Federation of Australia and Rio de Janeiro for Brazil) to the interior. In each case the chosen site had been either grazing or farmland. In each case an international competition generated new ideas. And, I suspect, in each case the authorities soon had second thoughts.

Things went well enough for the Griffins, who emigrated to implement their plan, until a change in political parties put the project in jeopardy. Sensing the winds of change—and certain compromise of Canberra’s underlying ordering systems—Griffin strove to do with the limited time and financial resources what would assure the greatest level of implementation. You or I (though I shouldn’t speak for you) might have gone for the money shot and built the Parliament Building, symbolic heart of their conception, but that would have been a hollow victory, for the plan’s genius lay in its adaptation of Ebeneezer Howard’s “Garden City” principles to the needs of a modern government center. The Griffins’ solution: lay out the sewer and water lines, a financial commitment so extensive that its underlying order could never be abandoned. That’s why you and I (again, I should speak only for myself) are unlikely to be remembered by history so well.

light and water

For five years or more, I’ve wondered how many of my nitpicky design decisions would eventually be undone by not having had such Griffin-esque insight. How would Agincourt’s water and sewer lines have been placed? At whose expense and in what order—the squeaky wheel traditionally getting lubrication before all others? And what about electrical service? Private or public? [You can guess my sympathies.] The collection of waste is one thing, but what the hell do you do with it? Somewhere there will be treatment plants for water (from the river and or from wells) and human waste. Everyone understands the need, but no one wants it in their back yard.

Your thoughts on waste in a 21st century context will be, as always, most welcome.

Cole LaRocque [active]


[From the catalogue-in-progress for “Landscapes & Livestock”, a loan exhibition for Agincourt Homecoming in the Fall of 2015]

LaROCQUE, Cole [active]



watercolor on paper / image 8.5 inches by 11 inches

North Dakota artist Cole LaRocque works primarily in watercolor. This portrait of poet Maya Angelou, “Maya,” was purchased from the 2014 Newvember exhibit at Fargo, North Dakota’s ECCE Gallery for the Community Collection. It was given in memory of Maya Angelou’s appearance at the 2010 Writers’ Conference at Northwest Iowa College.


Coffee Break

Women in the Work Force

World War II materially shifted the roles of gender in the American work force. Rosie the Riveter is probably the most iconic example. There was also another time, earlier, when secretarial staff, artisans of the stenographic art, were men rather than the so-called fairer gender.

There are any number of reasons why a woman might be preferred for certain tasks: Those which have traditionally been “women’s work” like sewing, cooking and domestic chores (however fair you think such distinctions might be); jobs requiring tiny fingers, small bones or the ability to access confined spaces. If others come to mind, let me know.

coffee break001

I found this postcard recently and was immediately curious what sort of work might be awaiting these women who are obviously on a break of some sort. Is it industrial or agricultural? Could it have been in a smallish town such as Agincourt? Are they single or married? Do they work from choice or necessity? Whatever their circumstances, they seem content, a condition I hope for us all in days to come.

healthcare dot gov

The likelihood of contracting a disease can sometimes be proportional to class: the poor are more vulnerable than the not-so-poor. A significant exception to that rule of thumb has been tuberculosis, whose contraction in the 19th and early 20th centuries was pretty cavalier with regard to class lines and social distinctions. I was reading last night about the Open Air School movement of the early 20th century in the United States and its connection the McCormick family of International Harvester fame. The loss of a twelve-year-old child in that privileged family resulted in the establishment of the Elizabeth McCormick Memorial Fund and a wide variety of initiatives to minimize the threat of TB for us all. [On election eve 2014, I also offer this as testimony to the noblesse oblige that has become an endangered species in these latter days.]

Sanitaria—places set aside specifically for the treatment of tuberculosis—sprang up all across the U.S. and Canada, especially in locations more salubrious to the health of patients: higher elevations, woodland and mountainous settings, anywhere away from the damaging atmosphere of industrialization. Colorado Springs got a leg up in just that way. And needless to say, it created a whole new vocabulary of architectural forms, details and materials. Just today I ran across this image of the Woodland Sanitarium in California that is especially picturesque and worth your attention.


And if you’d like to see what tuberculesque architecture looks like in North Dakota, take a gander at San Haven:



My old teacher Fred Shellabarger couldn’t say “Christian Science” without appending the parenthetic editorial observation “…neither Christian nor scientific.” There’s a Christian Science church in Agincourt—though a congregation whose numbers have probably shrunk to unsustainable levels; CSs have a low birth rate, which the Mother Church in Boston is loathe to admit—so Agincourt’s hybrid Arts & Crafts-cum-Neo-Classical building is apt to be occupied these days by someone else. Let’s hope it’s not snake handlers.

Mary Baker Eddy may have been onto something, though. My years have demonstrated a capacity to make myself sick, so why shouldn’t the converse be true; at least a few Agincourt residents seem to have been persuaded.

Christian Science, Adventism and several other religious groups, however, often claim special dispensation with regard to medical treatments such as vaccination or blood transfusion. Stephen Jay Gould to the contrary, the notion of “non-overlapping magisteria” is usually replaced with a broad overlap or even the nesting of Science within Religion. The medical history of Agincourt is already peppered with references to alternative treatment and even a smattering of faith with regard to healing. So, with the prospect of a hospital design, I wonder about the community’s broad acceptance of current medical theories.



The history of health care and medical treatment in Western culture, even during the last two hundred years, has been a shifting landscape of supposition, claim and counter-claim that muddles the conversation and mystifies laity. Today the dominance of an organization like the American Medical Association creates (or tries to) a unified face that belies the seemingly endless experimentation of the 19th century. One branch of 19th-century American medicine derives from the theories of European physician Samuel Hahnemann [1755–1843], founder of Homeopathy. Hahnemann’s influence has already been manifest in the careers of Doc Fahnstock and also his cohort in herbal medicine Sissy Beddowes.


If Louis Sullivan was right (and Form does follow Function), how would the interior arrangement of a Hahnemann-based hospital—like this one from San Francisco—differ from a more orthodox AMA-related institution? Rooms, wards, double-loaded corridors, nursing stations, treatment-consulting rooms, operating suites, dispensaries, kitchens and other support facilities: these would have been standard program elements, regardless of the underlying medical basis. How might they have been adapted to the theories current at the time and the circumstances of a town like Agincourt?