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Isaiah 40:4

Eleven years of hindsight have only highlighted my fascination with squares. Agincourt’s original townsite, patterned after Philadelphia and several intermediate town plans, is comprised of one hundred forty-eight blocks. Of those, 96% are rectangles and a whopping 73% are square. Look at my own design predilections, prejudices, and defaults and you will find the infection of squares has risen to pandemic levels. Quinine is unlikely to help.

My study of Thomas Holme’s 1687 plan for Philadelphia several years ago was premised on the dynamic discrepancy between the ideal and the real; on what would happen to the abstraction of a Cartesian grid wafting earthward, draping itself abroad a nearly virgin landscape, and accommodating in varying degrees the lay of that land. Such accommodation was the stuff of a forty-page research paper which pleased both me and Cathy Matson, the seminar instructor who guided my thinking. And like so many things academic (or pretending to be, in my case), it was titled “‘The crooked straight and the rough places plain’: Implementing William Penn’s plan for Philadelphia” — or something even more cumbersome. [Ask me about the reaction of one other student in the seminar to my rather unfettered, free-wheeling style: he was not a fan.] So, imagine my chagrin while shopping for images on-line and finding a distant cousin of New York City’s renowned Flatiron Building.

Flatiron Building, NYC / D. H. Burnham, architect (1902) / photography by Alfred Steiglitz

Baltic, Connecticut* boasts its own iteration of the flatiron idea (four years before Mr Burnham), The Roderick Block, a two-story mixed-use wedge occupying a triangular plot. Google.maps confirms its pesky persistence, which makes me exceptionally happy.

Roderick Block (1898), Baltic, CT / at the intersection of Main and High Streets

I’m trying to imagine Steiglitz’s image if his train had been delayed at Baltic on a foggy winter’s night.

But the loss I feel right now derives from the nearly total lack of topographic variety in Agincourt, and what might have been if only there’d been such a fork in the road.

* Baltic straddles the Shetucket river, which sounds more like an accusation than body of water.


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