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Wasted Space


Looking at architecture of any size or species, I often hear the wee small voice of my grandmother Clara Markiewicz Ramsey speaking about what I see. “Dust catchers!” she would exclaim about extraneous doodads, gewgaws, gimcracks, and thingamabobs likely to accumulate crud and require her attention. Wasted space was another comparable irritant. In fact, I’ve come to think of Clara as a proto-minimalist.

So you can imagine my discomfort designing the second Fennimore County Courthouse at Agincourt: more that one-third of its volume consisted of attic beneath a massive hipped roof and cupola. Sure, I placed several secondary county functions up in that cavernous space: miscellaneous dormered meeting rooms; portions of the county law library; even a meteorological station to monitor weather conditions and keep records. Was that the act of a desperate man? Imagine my relief when examples have shown up to justify my initial design instincts.

The former Christian Church in Marion, Iowa has a massive octagonal roof, but it is likely to be open to the sanctuary below (even if it seems not to be skylit. Then, yesterday, the city hall in La Salle, Illinois helped even more: it sports one of the simplest and most massive roofs I’ve seen on a public building—that is, not designed by Imhotep the Wise for his pharaoh client.

Christian Church, Marion, IA

City Hall, La Salle, IL (1907)/ Victor Andre Matteson, architect

Neither of these gets me completely off the hook, but I thought you might find them interesting.


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