“Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber? […] Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.” (4.7.4-6) — Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut
Dear, dear Reader—
The new year is just four weeks away and with it comes the tenth anniversary of this enterprise. Both retro- and introspection seem in order.
“Agincourt” grew from an innocuous question, the sort that occur to persons like myself with a prurient interest in architectural history. By now it’s all too familiar: Can I imagine a Carnegie-era public library designed by Louis Sullivan? As the question took shape, I innocently thought myself capable of an enlightened guess; the last nine years have proved otherwise.
What emerged from that question, though, was something entirely unexpected, a complete surprise. In snooty academic terms it became an exploration of the relationship between narrative and design; between story-telling and place-making. And what ought to have been a very personal journey morphed into a collaboration that seemed without limit. Colleagues, students, and friends; artists, craftspeople and composers; all came to play in the sandbox of history. To tell a story or design a building or landscape, but neither without the other. Several seminars, design studios, and exhibitions later, the Agincourt Project had become too complex for me to keep track. Hence, this blog which began in September 2010 to document its past and future. This will be blog entry #880.
Why I continue the project is a mystery. Beyond some measure of personal satisfaction, a handful of people visit the blog [just six are “registered” subscribers] and I recall about the same number have commented, though there may be no overlap between those groups. All that feedback — there is actually very little — has been welcome and helpful. One in particular makes me smile: the story of Swedish emigrant Nina Köpman resonated with a graduate of many years ago who shared the remarkably parallel story of his own grandmother. That morsel of vindication kept me going for months.
Another anniversary is about to pass (my seventy-second birthday) which causes me to wonder about Agincourt’s role in the remainder of my life. There is a third projected exhibit on the horizon (at Grinnell College in the Fall of 2017) and so many more fragments of the story that I need to write or design or fabricate. And I intend to follow through with that, if for no other reason than Agincourt needs to go “on the road.” And to prove wrong one of the project’s critics, who has questioned its academic value and/or merit.
There is talent on my radar, people I know who get it; whose creativity would add dimension to what looks (as far as this blog is concerned) like a one-man band playing a single repeated note. But I fear (with apologies for the rhyme) that my periodic bludgeon has generated more than a little dudgeon. Would people prefer I went away or at least STFU.
My bucket list includes a number of projects, all vying for the top slot, and each of them occupies that spot for a while. But Agincourt is the only one which satisfies two criteria: 1) it involves actual design — I am, after all, educated as an architect — and 2) it has been collaborative, though not to the degree I might have hoped but still holds out that potential.¹ I’m not quite ready to push away from the table.
The invitation is still open. Come and play. Bring your shovel and bucket or we can provide them. Scratch the itch that’s been nagging you for years. Tell a story of small-town life in Middle America and show us its consequences. It’s therapeutic, I can attest.
¹ There is a little irony here. My graduate thesis ought to have been a design project, but I was afraid of design and chose instead to write one; and now I avoid various writing projects by using the design of Agincourt as an excuse. Go figure.