The two or three decades before my birth have always been troubling to me regarding Agincourt. These represent stylistic phases of the Pre-Modern and Modern Movements that are difficult to put on, so to speak, as design idioms for Agincourt. This postcard of the Stanislaus County Hall of Records in Modesto, California, caught my eye today and inspired me to reconsider the six-story Medical Arts building I began two or three years ago.
Built in 1938-1939 from plans by architect Russell Guerne deLappe [1897-1955], I suppose technically this is a Moderne [moh-durn] building, and it may do double duty as a WPA/PWA project, as well. So I may be killing two of those birds with just one stone.
Photographs of the building today — stuccoed and painted an “eye rest” beige and sporting louvered window canopies — drain all that raw energy from the concrete formwork. And the rhythm of window mullions and muntins that had previously coördinated with the residual form marks has been lost in a re-windowing. Sure it was probably an energy conservation effort but something visceral was sacrificed in the process. And now that I look more closely and make these observations, I’m not so hesitant to plunge back into the Medical Arts challenge.
PS: My scheme for Medical Arts is a forty-five degree rotation at First Street SW and Louisa—a site previously occupied by single-family homes, I suspect. The rotation may have come from some sort of equanimity: that the sun should shine on as many of the building’s faces as possible throughout the year. But now that I think that through again, it’s clear that wings pointing to the cardinal points of the compass would do a better job of that. Ah, well, the best-laid schemes and all that.
What also occurred to me well after the scheme was “set” was the similarity with the original Southwest School [later renamed for Nicolaus Copernicus], a plan that I divined from a postcard view of a 19th century school in southern Illinois. You can see it at the far left of this segment of the city map. And that may also account for the rotation of the plan itself. Design is, for me at least, a highly intuitive process.
As a non-profit corporation, the Medical Arts building would have been ineligible for a WPA/PWA connection; those agencies were available to only government entities. Still, the client—the Corporation of Luke the Physician—would have been mindful of the spirit of the times and maintenance of a properly discreet corporate presence. No gratuitous marble cladding here, thank you very much.