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Oherville and Environs

Fennimore County Courthouse #2

Oherville is a rural commune in the French department of Seine-Maritime with a population under 300. I can’t imagine the last time an American tourist passed through; perhaps I’ll be the first.

Just east of the concentration of houses—calling it a village would be an exaggeration—is the 16th century manoir d’Auffay-le-Mallet, an aggressive example of Norman brickwork found throughout the region. It’s farfetched to believe that WHW might have been here or even seen this, or any other sample of this characteristic patterning, for that matter. But the moment I saw it, Halsey Wood immediately came to mind.

There is a scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy about someone about to testify at a trial. He is sworn in and agrees to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” What no one knows is that he happens to be in a state where he will have to do precisely that. The officers of the court, in fact, are unable to stop him from telling the Truth, whole and absolute, and it isn’t pretty.

Sometimes I feel that way about architecture: There are great buildings—not nearly as many as you might imagine—and there are good buildings, still worthy of note and discussion, and then there are those buildings with a level of “goodness” that makes me wish I’d designed them. The old church at Biville is in that last category: I could close my eyes at night, completely satisfied that this work was mine; not because anyone would think it great—it isn’t—but because I could die comfortably, knowing this were part of my legacy.

These French buildings are discussed here, as well as in the William Halsey Wood blog, because Wood himself has a foot in each endeavor. One is about him; the other, about his particular influence in a small unassuming Iowa town. I know how the manor house will become part of the project. The church is simply along for the ride.


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