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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 an 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 a reasonable point of view.

 


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