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Form Follows Function


“History is not usually what has happened. History is what some people have thought to be significant.”

― Idries Shah, Reflections

“History isn’t what happened, but a story of what happened.”

— Some guy

Twice a week I stand in a classroom and summarize some of what happened during particular chunks of space-time. Today, for example, we considered late Mediæval developments in the nether reaches of the Gothic—in Bohemia, Spain, and Portugal. Seventy-five minutes hardly does justice to any of these topics. And just before I walk into that classroom, Idries Shah’s observation haunts me: I’m the filter he was writing about.

Browsing—what I consider a species of academic grazing—continues to be my favored academic activity. Our friend Cecil Elliott likened me to a former colleague at N. C. State who he described this way: “He grazes much but produces no wool.” But whereas another friend, Jonathan Taylor Rutter, posits my behavior as more goat- than sheep-like — a perspective I have welcomed and taken to heart — there comes a time when I must spin that wool into thread and weave some fucking yardage. Product; I need product. I gotta birthday coming up, and occurs to me several times a day that I’m not going to live forever.

Surely the joys of grazing include serendipitous discoveries like this duo of buildings from Paris: the Cirque Medrano, which once stood at 63 Boulevard Rochechouart, and La Ruche, an artists’ colony still holding the line against redevelopment in the 15th arrondissement. I visited La Ruche (“the beehive”) in 2013 because Gabriel Spat once maintained a studio there in the early 20th century. Each of these eccentric buildings inspires me (i.e., make me smile) and reinforces a prospect that Agincourt once had a similar building on the unfashionable stretch of South Broad Street.

s-l1600-4 presse_ Lebée La Ruche

Nineteenth century entertainment more often took place outside the home — at church socials and county fairs; at baseball games and other athletic events; on Saturday afternoons in The Commons and evenings at the Auditorium; even in the disreputable pool halls of “Music Man” fame. Perhaps because Fargo once had a roller rink, I hoped Agincourt might enjoy a similar facility. In fact, there has been one on the 100 block of South Broad since the earliest days of the project. But I had doubts about its whimsical form, which is a reason why discoveries like Cirque Medrano and La Ruche are so reassuring.

La Ruche, by the way, was a recycled structure from the 1900 World’s Fair, dismantled, reconstructed and repurposed for artist’s studios.

Oh, and not incidentally, Cecil Elliott took a dim view of aphorisms like Louis Sullivan’s famous observation “Form Follows Function.” Elliott’s retort, invariably, was “funk follows formtion,” which has always struck me as an equally reasonable point of view.


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