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The “Top Ten” Challenge


Years from now (if I haven’t laid down for the “dirt nap”) will someone ask me about this? I have the sense that there is a significant component of architectural education missing from the curriculum at NDSU. Greater detail is likely to get me in a whole lot of hurt.

Earlier this evening I blogged at another site about a study from the 1950s which investigated the creative personality. About fifty architects (from a slightly longer list) were asked to participate in a battery of tests, questionnaires, and design exercises aimed at assessing what set these designers apart from the professional norm. I wondered what we might learn by putting an equal number of historical architects retroactively through that same regimen. Whether that speculation belongs at “Building the Social Gospel” I can’t say; probably not.

I titled the entry “Top Ten” and ended with a challenge to reveal your personal list: Who are the architects, living or otherwise, whose works turn your crank? Whose work would you drop everything to visit, if time and resources were available? I have such a list, though it fluctuates on a regular basis, as does my friend Richard Kenyon’s. We compare them now and then and learn from one another. That’s why we’re friends, I suppose.

Richard and I have known one another for well over fifty years, so you can imagine some duplication between our tabulation of favorites. Mine includes a few icons. Some have endured on the list for years; others are downright obscure. Jože Plečnik, for example, someone I discovered as an undergraduate, is on the list for two reasons: his work is the unlikely amalgam of movements as diverse as Mannerism, Modernism and the Arts & Crafts; and his printed name requires odd diacritical marks. What’s not to like?

I’ve shifted the narrative here because Agincourt has, to an extent, served as a laboratory, a playground, for my obtuse historical interests. And to the extent that Iowa can be linked in some plausible way with architectural obscurity — with names like Lawrence Buck, for example, or with Francis Barry Byrne — many of them are architecturally present in Agincourt and both of those just invoked have been, at one time or another, on my Top Ten.

What I find not only interesting and worthwhile about the work of these designers, but also downright seductive, is basic to my reservations concerning  contemporary architectural education. Fundamentally, I find, where attention should be paid to these ideas, I find a void, a cypher, a gap, a presumption, a missing link, all of the aforementioned, and I haven’t the foggiest notion what to do about it in the time remaining. It will be a regret I take to the grave; an itch that I cannot scratch.


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