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Now and then, presenting architectural history can profit from taking a “core” sample. The ebb and flow of architectural ideas through time and across geography needs the occasional spot check, a snap shot taken of the big picture. During the spring semester I look forward to doing just that in the crucial transition of the early Modern movement: a focus on the critical year 1929. I suppose you could stack the deck (i.e., manipulate the facts to demonstrate, possibly even prove, a tentative observation, if you’re uncomfortable with cliches). The year 1929 offers just that.

It begins with the convenient coincidence of two Modernist icons: Villa Savoy by LeCorbusier and Mies van der Rohe’s German pavilion at Barcelona’s International Exposition. It’s possible to develop a list of characteristics or qualities which could describe either one of those pivotal buildings. If you’ll permit a little wiggle room — dating a building from its conception, rather than its actual construction, for example — that list has grown each year when I reach that point in the syllabus. And so it came to an odd fruition during an Agincourt-related design studio.

Nick Braaksma gravitated to the story of Dr Reinhold Kölb, Austrian-trained psychologist who came to Agincourt in the early 1920s and almost accidentally opened a private sanitarium. The site is one of the outlots at the southern edge of the original townsite along the banks of Crispin Creek. It is also strategically situated across from Gnostic Grove, generally agreed as one of the community’s most spiritually charged places. I’ve toyed with that project for some time because it would take me out of my comfort zone, the Progressive Era. But Nick — whose Frisian ancestors might have predisposed him to ’20s Modernism — had far more potential for successive engagement with it.

His Agincourt Sanitorium is scaled for a larger community — like Des Moines or Omaha, for example, but that can be handled with appropriate backstory. I’m pleased to share the result of his effort, a remarkably complex well-developed design for a short project. I’m borrowing one of Nick’s drawings here but also providing a link to his website for a longer look. There you will se a composite image of his influences, but chief among them, I think, may have been the Zonnestraal Sanitorium, another Modernist icon, on the edge of Hilversum, designed by architects Duiker and Bijvoet, constructed during 1925-1931, and now exquisitely restored. Is that close enough to ’29?

Agincourt Sanitorium / conceived by Nick Braaksma in 2014

Thanks, Nick, for your talented response to the Agincourt Project. It was a genuine pleasure working with you. And Grace makes a pretty good latté, too.

Zonnestraal Sanitorium, Hilversum, Netherlands (1925+) / Jan Duiker and Johannes Bijvoet, architects


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