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Charles Mulford Robinson, et al.

A trilogy of urban design influence is represented by 1) Messrs. Hegemann and Peets, authors in 1922 of The American Vitruvius; 2) Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin, creators of Letchworth, the world’s first “garden city”; and 3) Charles Mulford Robinson, journalist-turned-planner, who was active throughout the region as a lecturer and planning consultant — in Minnesota and the Missouri River valley. Influential in Agincourt, I should add, because they have been influential in my own thinking about what makes cities livable.

Frank Lloyd Wright is unlikely to have received a commission in Agincourt; his pre-WWI domestic work was simply too extreme for any but the most cosmopolitan. Yes, Wright did a few early projects in Iowa — the bank-hotel in Mason City, foremost among that small group — but the majority of “Prairie School” work in the state was done by others: the Griffins, Barry Byrne, William Drummond, Arthur Heun. There is another architect, a near contemporary of Wright with a shirttail connection to the “Prairie School”, who receives very little air time, yet who during his career was undoubtedly better know by the general public (rather than the architectural intelligentsia) than Wright was. That was the affable, low key architect Lawrence Buck [1965–1929].

Roycemore School, Evanston, IL (ca1917) / Lawrence Buck, architect / gouache rendering

Both Wright and Buck were skillful in using women’s magazines (Ladies Home Journal, House Beautiful, House & Garden) to promote their services to a middle-class audience. Buck was simply better at it. In the years between 1900 and WWI, Buck’s modest single-family residences can be found from Upstate New York and Pennsylvania to the Dakotas and California. Buck exhibited extensively in architectural clubs from Ohio to Oregon. And his skill as a delineator (an architectural illustrator) recommended him to possibly a dozen other architects. As a Chicagoan myself, and an admirer of Buck’s work for at least forty years, I can invoke him here for the simple reason that he, too, contributed design skills to multiple Iowa communities: there were four of his houses in Dubuque and three more in Cedar Rapids. And his single-family residences have more in common with the architectural work of Parker and Unwin. Witness this group of houses at New Earswick, near York in the north of England.

Row of houses, New Earswick, York, UK / Parker & Unwin, architects (1902)

A case can be made, in my view, that Buck was aware of, and strongly connected with, the British Arts & Crafts movement and incorporated more of its characteristics that he did of his contemporary Wright’s exoticisms. Is it even possible that he owned a copy of the 1901 P&U book The Art of Building a Home. All of this despite the fact that for several years Wright and Buck officed in Chicago’s Steinway Hall and without doubt shared numerous uncomfortable elevator rides on the way to work.

Since Lawrence Buck designed at least seven houses in Iowa, it is not at all farfetched that his designed three in Agincourt: a large house for Aidan and Cordelia Archer; a cottage for school principal Rose Kavana(ugh); and one of many duplicates of a house published in both the LHJ and the HB.

Oh, and that purported connection with Charles Mulford Robinson


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