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M. J. Hamblin Smith [1871-1936]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

HAMBLIN SMITH, M. J. [1871–1936; British]

“On the Move”

four-color woodcut / 6 inches by 7.5 inches / #6 of 50


Hamblin Smith is one of the collection’s mystery artists, attested by the paucity of biographical information available. It is possible he was the son of James Hamblin Smith, a life-long Cambridge tutor and author of texts on mathematics. Among Smith’s four children is a son named Maurice—who is plausibly the “M” in M. J.—though the latter’s career was spent in criminal justice as the superintendent of England’s Dartmoor Prison. It is tempting to imagine the administrator of a notorious detention facility like Dartmoor relaxing with chisels and a piece of soft wood—a hobby that would have been denied his inmates.

The pace of village life such as he might have encountered in Devon a hundred years ago is convincingly portrayed here with muted tones and stark contrast. We hear the whiney of a horse near retirement. We feel the weight of the teamster’s load. All is calm. It simply requires the arrival of Miss Marple.

Oleg Denisenko [born 1961]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

DENISENKO, Oleg [Oleh Denysenko / Олег Денисенко] [[born 1961; Ukrainian]

“Old Vine”


etching / 8.5 inches by 6.25 inches / #79 of 100



etching / 8.5 inches by 6.25 inches / #93 of 100

“The etchings of Ukrainian print artist, Oleg Denisenko, delight the imagination with their fantastical themes and complex, intricate detail. The fineness of line and rich imagery reflect the very strong and active print tradition of Eastern Europe and Russia.”

Another on-line blog waxes about Denisenko with even more enthusiasm:

“Sometimes artists can be self-consciously quirky in an attempt to be ‘different’ and carve a niche for themselves. Other times, though, artists are simply quirky because the are. I think Ukrainian artist Oleg Denisenko falls into the latter category.

“His delightfully bizarre prints of fantastical figures in elaborate armor, often sporting wings and accompanied by armored horses, arcane astrolabes, strange musical instruments, wheels, levers, charts and diagrams are filled with wonderful bits of texture and line. The monochromatic prints have a remarkable sense of being colorful because the variety of textures and line-filled areas have some of the same space-defining feeling as areas of color might in a painting.

“Though the images carry a sense of medieval times, Denisenko was born in 1961. [Another source gives 1959.]

“His images spill over with objects from his mental and emotional attic. Wheeled toys, wind-up keys, jester hats, and Da Vinci-like diagrams for nonsensical Renaissance machinery mix with textured amalgams of dragons and birds.

“Through it all is a wonderful graphic exuberance that makes you think that as soon as he stopped on one image, he would immediately begin the next just because he was having so much fun.”

These two delightful prints came to Agincourt as an exchange between Denisenko and NIN art faculty member Mason Glore, who has graciously placed them with us on extended loan. Though the scale is vastly different, in content they compare favorably with the lithographs and drawings of Robert A. Nelson.

Abel Kane

Six or seven years ago someone recommended that I get an external hard drive to replace the garland of miscellaneous jump drives around my neck. So I did. And within three weeks it died a horrible and irretrievable death, and with it so did most of the early files from the Agincourt Project. Revisiting a blog entry from 2011, I was surprised to be reacquainted with Abel Kane, who I see now, with ten years’ hindsight, was shaped by my recollection of an old friend.

Like Gaudeamus Tennant, who had a virgin birth, Kane’s mother E. G. Fromm became a mother without benefit of marriage. Agincourt seems built on a deep vein of illegitimacy, which I frankly can’t explain. Until further notice, it is what it is.


His name is an obvious contradiction in terms, similar in a way to Agincourt’s palindromatic grave digger Neil Klien, but Neil’s case was a very sad one. Kane, I suspect, had a more fundamental and long lasting influence on the community.

Like Frank Lloyd Wright who had a dominant mother figure during his formative years, in addition to being surrounded with sisters, Kane’s father was never identified—his mother picked the surname out of thin air—and his mother E. G. Fromm presented a gender-neutral public face to the world, at least through the name she used as a writer. Abel must have got his voracious reading habits from her. And that fits with the people we know he kept as close friends—people like Hal Holt. It’s a good bet he was a member of The Why and hung out in their repurposed water tower.

One wonders if he had a correspondence beyond Agincourt, perhaps even internationally.

The Place of Houses

“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” — Robert Frost


I can attest that building types vary in their degree of difficulty, and that in my case the more problematic are 1) structures for religious use and 2) single-family houses. The first because a “church” is supposed to look like the one we knew as children; the second because “home” is identified with our own, to the extent that we may have lived at one address for some length of time. A critical comment on either is personal affront.

Through the years, I’ve learned that over-familiarity with the single-family house also stands in our way as designers because buildings fit us like an old shoe, soft and comfortable and put on with ease and little forethought. It accommodates every bone and bunion, as do our homes, and “functions” with the same unconscience ease: things are simply where they ought to be; they’re at hand without thinking, like walking into a dark room and reaching for the light switch.

I designed a house once for an elderly couple in Breckenridge, Minnesota, in their early sixties. [I am much older now than they were then, you should know.] Visiting them once, gathering information about what they wanted (often at the expense of what they might need), I observed her answer the phone in her kitchen, bowl of cookie batter in hand, and without a hitch in her motion, answer it, place the receiver betwixt ear and shoulder, sit with her hip on the kitchen counter, reach for a pencil and jot down a number for Joe to call when he got home, all without ever setting down the bowl. In those few seconds she told me more about what her new home should be than hours of interview and shoeboxes of magazine clippings.

As you might imagine, housing accounts for the clear majority of building stock in any community, varying perhaps with decade and region in the United States. And, as I’ve written before, our houses come from a wider range of sources than you might imagine: yes, architects design them, but those are often not worth our notice. Others come from stock plans through builder-contractors or the lumber yard. But as a kid I was a devotee of plan books available at news counters and magazine racks; today those are likely to be found on-line. And material manufacturers and suppliers were inclined to suggest plans which specified their products. While other collections of plans were responsive to one or another of the issues of the day. All told, you’d really have to work at avoiding all house plans and allowing your new home to spring forth full-blown from the brow of Zeus. It simply doesn’t happen.¹

Considering the evolution of Agincourt, I have a good idea which neighbords developed a particular character; who lived where and why. And since the town plan is divided in symmetrical quadrants those neighborhoods developed with a measure of independence. The north-east, for example, had the highest elevation, was least flood prone and likely to have attracted greater wealth and socio-economic status. By contrast, the southwest came to be called “Mesopotamia” and was inclined to flood from both the Mighty Muskrat and Crispin Creek. They might as well have been on different planets.

What follows are — in no particular order and hardly inclusive — reference to several other blog entries where I’ve rambled about the house as a general architectural matter and one particular to Agincourt. I hope they might be helpful to the would-be designer of a memorable house in this imaginery place.

Your Solar House

The Place of Houses

Aidan & Cordelia Archer


¹ Having just written this, I’m reminded of something once said about architect Bruce Goff: that he designed each of his homes as though it were the first one in the world. Looking at them, you might think so. And in many cases you’d be mistaken.


Gordon Hope Grant [1875-1962]

[From the Community Collection, a public trust in Agincourt, Iowa]

GRANT, Gordon Hope [1875-1962]


undated (ca1940)

lithograph / 9 inches by 12 inches (image) / edition of 250

Best known for his marine paintings, watercolors, and etchings, Gordon Hope Grant was born in San Francisco and educated in Scotland. He then studied at the Heatherly and Lambeth Art School in London and returned to San Francisco where he worked as an illustrator for local newspapers until 1896, when he moved to New York as an illustrator for both the World and Journal. In 1899 Grant was sent as an artist-correspondent to South Africa by Harper’s Weekly to cover the Boer War. From 1901 to 1909, he was an illustrator for Puck.

In the years following service during World War I, Grant concentrated on marine subjects, producing paintings and etchings, and illustrating books with nautical themes. He also created a series of highly regarded views of Manhattan. A member of numerous professional societies, his work is held in important collections nationwide, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Gordon Hope Grant died in New York.

“Reflection” is one of several seascapes in the Collection. The oblique three-quarter profile of the larger boat compares favorably with both the John Edgar Platt prints.

Chicken Shit

Chicken Shit

Chicago industrialist John J. Glessner approached the renowned Boston architect H. H. Richardson with the commission for a house. Glessner had written with modesty, almost apologetically, since Richardson’s other Chicago buildings were both large and prominent. Why Glessner imagined his own home would be less noted, notable, or notorious is anyone’s guess.

At any rate, Richardson’s reply has become legend, attesting his own humility as well as setting the bar for the “worthiness” of a client or commission. He wrote: “I’ll plan anything a man wants, from a cathedral to a chicken coop. That’s what I do to make a living.” Not an ounce of Calatrava or Gehry-esque hubris there. And, though Richardson designed an unbuilt cathedral project for Albany, New York, that coop commission eluded his all too brief forty-eight years with us.

I’ve wanted for some time to assign a studio project in the spirit of Richardson’s light hearted jest-ure, but time’s awasting ’cause there aren’t many semesters left to me.

For those who know the traditional ARCH 272 design project (a birdhouse in the styles of renowned architects, most of which have little to do with the starchitects in question), I’d propose a slight variant: a chicken coop, say, in the style of C.F.A. Voysey or Adolf Loos. Now there’s a scary notion: Loos and chickens. Loos would certainly appreciate the “modernity” of the egg’s shape [read “Ornament and Crime” sometime] but I can’t imagine him handling the thing that made it. It’s far easier to conceive Karl Friederich Schinkel’s response.

So last night during reruns of the impeachment hearings [must-see TV], I googled some information on coop-itecture and, then, this morning for a half hour or so this is what I concocted. The vehicle is supposed to be William Halsey Wood, largely because I’ve begun to know his work pretty well, while most others haven’t a clue who he was. Gives me a slight advantage. It’s a long way from completion but I thought you might enjoy a peek.

One-shop Stopping

The Station-Store

There’s a joke about a Scot and a Spaniard.

Discussing differences in their languages, the Spaniard inquired: “We have a word in my country —”mañana”— which means tomorrow or some unspecified time in the future. In practical terms, though, it means whenever we get around to it. Do you have anything like that in Scotland?” After considerable introspection, the Scot responded in thick Glaswegian accent: “No. We dunna hae a word that quite describes that degree of urgency.” I learned firsthand about the Scots sense of time on my first visit to the Isle of Skye.

The train from Glasgow dropped me at a miniscule depot that marked the end of the line for our two-car train. From there I could see the ferry ticket office, which would get me across the strait to Skye, innermost of the Hebrides; I could just see the island through the morning mists. Trundling those few yards with one large bag, I inquired of Charybdis the Ferryman when the boat would leave for the island. His reply, delivered straight-faced and without a second’s hesitation — “Oh, about ten minutes after it gets here” — then turned to resume his morning tea.

Time in the Highlands and Islands keeps its own syncopated rhythm. Notions of timeliness or punctuality are foreign to the northern disposition. Tapping your foot achieves nothing. Likewise drumming the tabletop. All things happen in their own good time. And, indeed, the ferry did depart about ten minutes after its arrival.

For the next two weeks I understood the joke about the Spaniard and the Scot.

“A few figs from thistles…”

by Howard A. Tabor

One-shop Stopping

Summer service on the NITC line ran from the trackside shelter at Fahnstock to the Station-Store on Sturm und Drang between Memorial and Labor days. And some weekends before and after. That’s about eight miles, not accounting several curves and swerves which lengthened the trip to just over eleven. But the fifteen-to-twenty minute ride could take a bit longer when the driver was inclined to honor unofficial flag stops along the way. NITC was “user friendly.”

The end of the line was a loose accumulation of buildings of muddled character and mixed (which is to say miscellaneous and ill-defined) use. The station-store was a story-and-a-half wood farmhouse, gable end toward the water. The former living room had become a grocery-cum-hardware emporium; the dining room, a restaurant seating no more than eight on mismatched furniture that had seen other days but none better; kitchen with wood-burning stove; and an office that was home to a taxidermed menagerie. Upstairs, three hotel rooms, strictly “European Plan”. Wash basins were provided, but the toilet was downstairs, as was the shower —  bracingly cold for free; hot water ran an extra fifteen cents. Homemade lye soap could strip paint. Your hosts, the Prikleighs, Edith and son Ivor, had run the operation since the death of Mr P some time in the mid-Eighties.

Widow Prikleigh stood barely four feet tall, which was also her circumference, but Ivor was a lanky lad and must have taken after his dad. Edith was also postmistress for the area — named “Resort” — and Ivor ran a launch that served the lake’s other hostelries, Bagby’s, Moody’s, and Smith’s, the latter approximating a hotel in the accepted sense. Their limited conversational exchanges were delivered in a friendly Down East accent which hinted at New England origins; I never asked. But the food was hearty, farm fixin’s and seasonal fare, depending on what was in the garden or Ivor’s traps; you could never quite identify the principal ingredient in her stew, though it stuck to the ribs and left you wondering why your mother hadn’t cooked like that. Herbs and spices came from just outside the kitchen door and were rumored to’ve been fertilized with night soil — if you know what I mean.

The bench on the lakeside porch arrayed a changing cast of characters, though conversation rarely strayed from a narrow range of topics: 1) the weather, 2) whatever war had just concluded (or ought to have begun), or 3) a catch-all category I’d call “Back-in-the-Day”. Politics were off limits, and any attack on persons not there to defend themselves would get you sent packing. If Messrs Zuckerberg and Musk had some of Edith Prikleigh’s common sense, social media would be a good deal less contentious.

Three months of The Season couldn’t have been enough to keep the Prikleighs through the winter. So Edith wove rag rugs and did a brisk mail order business year round. Ivor tanned the hides of those critters in the stew and fashioned them into the most durable gloves you’ve ever worn. And folks drove out or came by trolley for the Friday fish extravaganza set up under a canvas awning along the hotel’s south side, served family-style on trestle tables and benches borrowed from Saint Ferreolus chapel. [Now that I think about it, it may have been the chapel that borrowed Edith’s benches.] Whatever way it was, you were guaranteed a full stomach and a good time. The coffee was strong and her iced tea hinted of an ingredient restricted by Prohibition. The pies were made by one of the Borogove sisters —  I forget which one, but she went to Chicago and opened a pretty fine restaurant; may have been Mitzie.

Fidgety young folks could always fish or go for a swim; teenagers could borrow a boat and spoon. But it didn’t take much persuasion for Ivor to get down his guitar. Before long, it all seemed like camp meeting without the exhortation, personal testimony or snakes — no bad thing on a Friday evening — and lasted long past sunset. The NITC ran a special late car on those days — kind of a “designated driver” —  so the party continued on into the Agincourt depot as people drifted homeward.

Those were simpler days. You could slow time and even wind back the clock to relive life’s better moments. Just like I’m doing here.

Bukowski on Writing

“So you want to be a writer

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.

if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.

if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.

if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.

if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.

if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.

if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.

unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.

unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.”
Charles Bukowski

ARCH 725: Forensic Architecture

ARCH 725 / History-Theory Seminar / Spring 2020 / Ramsay


“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backward.” — the Red Queen

The word “forensic” is used more often in two quite different contexts than I intend here: 1) the investigation of crime and its prosecution, and 2) in speech and debate tournaments. Narrowly applied to architecture, it often concerns industrial accidents and any resulting liability. And while I’m loathe to suggest a link between architecture and criminal intent, I would like to think that our understanding of architecture as both process and product can be sharpened through a forensic lens.

Toward that end, I propose a series of exercises, investigating architecture as a CSI specialist or an epidemiologist from the CDC might. I’m asking you to be Gil Grissom. How, from just the evidence at hand, can we intuit the whole from the part? The intent from its consequence? The idea behind the iteration? How through informed intelligent observation and analysis might we begin to understand architectonic design as both a generic, even universal, process and also one that is rooted in intense personal experience? Does a forensic approach, in fact, require us to step outside ourselves, even if for just the moment, to understand “the other”?

“Our contemporary understanding of the Parthenon and the symbolism that has been constructed for it from the Enlightenment on had everything to do with the self-image of those who have described and interpreted it. There is a natural tendency to see likeness to oneself when approaching a culture as foreign as that of Greek antiquity. How much more so this is when looking at a monument that has become the icon of Western art, the very symbol of democracy itself. With these labels comes a projection onto the Parthenon of all our standards of what it means to be civilized. In looking at the building, Western culture inevitably sees itself; indeed, it sees only what flatters its own self-image or explains it through connection to the birthplace of democracy.”

— Joan Breton Connelly, The Parthenon Enigma


If experience accounts for anything, my approach to the history of architecture (or what I prefer to call architectural history; there is a semantic distinction) has been analytic in nature, long before television programming made “forensics” familiar, if not an actual household word. It is more obvious when looking at the distant past, like a Romanesque church, for example, or at material culture alien to our own: a Mongolian yurt or an Indian bungaloo. Less obvious when looking at a single-family detached house: say a Usonian house of the 1940s by Frank Lloyd Wright or a townhouse of the ’60s by I.M. Pei. An over-familiarity with 20th century middle class domesticity (or the comforting illusion that it must have been like our own) enables us to project and presume more similarity than difference. But LOOKING isn’t SEEING. And a NOTION of what something is or once might have been is only a temporary substitute for KNOWLEDGE, until and unless those notions are challenged and confirmed. Yet enlightened speculation must lay a foundation for more accurate data which remain to be found and should be the basis for only tentative conclusion.


A CASE STUDY: Consider the 1682 plan for Philadelphia laid out by William Penn’s surveyor general Thomas Holme. Given that the plan has been studied by multiple generations of scholars as an example of applied Enlightenment thinking, what can be said about it that hasn’t already been said? [Hint: it comes from asking the right questions.]

“In drawing, one must look for or suspect that there is more than is casually seen.” — George Bridgman

With these observations in mind, here are our five challenges:

EXERCISE #1: A 3.5 by 5.5 inch black-and-white real photo postcard presents a late 19th century public school in rural Illinois. It’s safe to assume that it was typical of its time and place; that given enough time we might locate other examples similar in size and even configuration. Yet within that family of comparables there will be differences, even if two buildings came from the same hand. Still, it is possible to generate a plan from this image, through intelligent speculation about the shape, size, and placement of classrooms; the likely location of circulation (corridors and stairs) and auxiliary functions. In teams of two/three, generate a plan for this building. Add a written analysis and rationale for your conclusions. What do you conclude that you cannot see; why do you believe it? Present your interpretive plan(s) at one-eighth scale on 11 by 17 sheets.

“Seeing the obvious is often harder than seeing the hidden!”
— Mehmet Murat Ildan

EXERCISE #2: Architectural drawings of various sorts often convey information far beyond their intention.¹ This is especially true of working drawings or construction documents. Perspectives present an idealized view of what might be there; while WDs are layered with information, a good deal of it unintended but historically useful. Once again, in teams of two/three, choose one of the antique drawings hanging in the Klai+Juba+Wald Architecture Library and analyze what you see. Tell us what you find and how you found it; process matters.

The collection displayed in KJW Library’s walls were organized somewhat differently when this syllabus was written, so the order may have changed. The candidate drawings for your choice are: 01-International Correspondence School (6 drwgs); 02-House at Littlehampton, West Sussex (2 drwgs; these are now in the “Special Collection” Room); 03-Southport Bank-A (2 drwgs; see #11); 04-Two Banks; 05-Hebrard Beaux Arts Analytique; 06-Stockton, CA Church; 07-Spokane, WA Storefront (might be combined with #16); 08– NP Depot Cafe; 09-Skelton Church, UK; 10-NP Depot Roof; 11-Stockport Bank-B (2 drwgs; see #03); 12-South Framingham, MA Depot; 13-Detroit, MI Plaza; 14-First Lutheran Church; 15-W.F.Kurke. Then in the “Special Collection” Room, clockwise from the door): 16-Kearney Storefront (might be combined with #07); 17-Abbey at Mandan; 18-Clinton, OK Bank; 19-Glasgow Tenement. There are also several drawings not currently hanging, especially a group by Jaeger & Stravs. Plenty to go around.

“Eyes sense what mind sees.”
— Toba Beta, My Ancestor Was an Ancient Astronaut

EXERCISES #3A–F: Buildings in Series

Every building tells a story:

CASE STUDY: Frank Brangwyn was a British artist of Belgian ancestry who produced a large number of book illustrations. In 1923 he illustrated Windmills by Hayter Preston in his typical loose style of watercolor. I can’t recall how many are illustrated but it’s a substantial number. Like the examples suggested below, Brangwyn’s windmills form a group of closely related treatments of a typical British building type of the pre-20th century — which, I suppose was the reason for the book: a building type rapidly disappearing. The author discusses windmills not illustrated and I have always wanted to try my hand a watercolor and “add” to the number. If you google “brangwyn windmills” you’ll get a sampling.

EXERCISE #3A: Chicagoan Louis Sullivan [1856–1924], credited with giving the skyscraper its first legitimate expression, fell into decline after 1900, dogged by alcohol and drugs. He rebounded briefly during 1910–1920 to produce a remarkable series of banks for small Midwestern towns: Owatonna, MN; Cedar Rapids, Grinnell, and Algona in Iowa, among others.

EXERCISE #3B: During the last five or six years of his life, architect H. H. Richardson [1838–1886] designed a number of small suburban rail stations serving the Boston metropolitan area; nine of these commissions were for the Boston & Albany Railroad, three for other lines. [Drawing #12 above is not one of them.]

EXERCISE #3C: Like Richardson, Philadelphia architect Frank Furness [1839–1912] designed a number of train stations scattered in the Philly suburbs and larger stations farther afield for the Reading and the B&O. [I’d concentrate on the smaller examples like Mount Airy and Gravers Lane, which are similar in scale to the Richardson depots. Indeed, they make an interesting contrast with Richardson.]

EXERCISE #3D: As long as we’re considering buildings in series, investigate the small public library designs of Richardson in Greater Boston (Woburn, North Easton, Malden, and Quincy) and also farther afield (Ludlow, MA; Burlington, VT, and possibly New Orleans, LA). These formed a prototype for many subsequent libraries across America.

EXERCISE #3E: There are occasions when an architect does so many buildings for the same client that they create a virtual corporate image. Such was the case for Chicagoan S. S. Beman [1853–1914] who served as “in-house” architect for Christian Science, the new church founded (unintentionally) by Mary Baker Eddy. Beman designed dozens of them throughout the Midwest and beyond—including Fargo, by the way.

EXERCISE #3F: For variety (and maybe a little MCM spice), consider the six synagogues of Erich Mendelsohn (architect-refugee from Germany), paradigms of mid-century Modernism: University City, MO (1946), Cleveland, OH (1946), Baltimore, MD (1948), Grand Rapids, MI (1948), St Paul, MN (1950), and Dallas, TX (1951).

In teams of two or three, analyze the group of buildings identified with Sullivan, Richardson, Furness, Beman, or Mendelsohn. Abstract, if you can, a parti in the Beaux Arts sense which might be common to them all. Then perform an analytique (again in the Beaux Arts tradition) for each example (one per student in each group), abstracting in words and graphics its architectural character regarding space (generally) and plan; the presence and relation of functional, i.e., program, elements; its use of ornament other materials in general; the presence of proportional systems or defaults and other visual characteristics you discern. Present your analysis in a uniform sheet size, medium, and scale (coordinate among yourselves). Imagine they would be viewed together, as a group, in a book or exhibition (where size may be a factor). The Hebrard drawing in the KJW Library might serve as a model. Think of this exercise from a forgers perspective: What information would be useful in crafting a fake bank / depot / library / synagogue that might have a shot at fooling snooty academics?

“And what are the books you have under your arm?” Louis replied: “Books I was told at the American legation I would need.” “Ah, yes, let me see them.” He took the books, selected a large work on Descriptive Geometry, and began to turn the pages. “Now observe: Here is a problem with five exceptions or special cases; here a theorem, three special cases; another nine, and so on and on, a procession of exceptions and special cases. I suggest you place the book in the waste basket; we shall not need of it here; for here our demonstrations shall be so broad as to admit of NO EXCEPTION!”

— from Louis H. Sullivan, The Autobiography of an Idea

EXERCISE #4: There was an architectural phenomenon of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a unique [I contend] contribution to the long history of Christian church architecture. It was called the Akron Plan — inaccurately in my estimation, but we’re stuck with it — and closely linked with the Protestant movement called the Social Gospel. A fuller explanation of the Akron Plan takes more space than I have here; suffice to say there is a large and exceptionally diverse stock of these churches throughout North America, in both the U.S. and Canada, and as far as China, and heavily represented among Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Disciples of Christ, and a few other non-liturgical denominations. [Catholics, most Lutherans, and the Orthodox church avoided it like plague. Though, oddly, aspects of the Akron Plan attracted considerable interest for the design of synagogues.]

I should also tell you that the Akron Plan phenomenon has been poorly treated by art and architectural historians, who have variously dismissed, disliked, or disdained it. It has, therefore, been under-reported in scholarly literature. How, then, you might well ask, are examples to be found and identified? Happily, I’ve done that leg work for you and created a database of more than 8,000 candidates, predicated on an assumption that a large enough pool will inevitably generate patterns. I guarantee it.

One probable reason for such widespread ignorance has been the issue of style. Since the same functional arrangement of elements could have been “clothed” in any of the styles popular during the years 1880-1920 (and frequently was), their external diversity, their outright disparity, has confounded an appreciation for their internal consistency, at least in utilitarian terms. My question to you is this: Are there graphic means to cut through the dilemma of style and represent the essence of Akron-icity; to minimize the obfuscation of style, and make a more cohesive and simplified (without being simplistic) presentation of the idea itself? [“Pretty” often gets in the way.] Might there be other mechanisms for exploring the topic? I have two in mind: 1) the development of an algorithm for the design of A-A churches, and 2) another based on the techniques of Friedrich Fröbel, inventor of kindergarten. [I’ve tried this technique twice, found it worthwhile (for me), and invite you to look at an example posted at two entries in this blog; #1 and #2.]

“To see we must forget the name of the thing we are looking at.”

— Claude Monet [but I bet it sounds better in French.]

EXERCISE #5: Some of these and other forensic exercises are made difficult by complex, convoluted, or contradictory information. This final exercise involves information which is absent and can be reconstructed only partially and with a good deal of conjecture, i.e., enlightened speculation.

Nineteenth century architect William Halsey Wood [1855-1897] was a near contemporary of Louis Sullivan, but unlike Sullivan Wood did not live long enough to fully engage the technical innovations and muddle through the stylistic confusion of his time. Yet there are a few — primarily Ralph Adams Cram and critic Lewis Mumford — who suggest the direction of American architecture would have been profoundly different if Halsey Wood had lived a few more than his forty-one years.

One of his more remarkable forward-looking designs was the house built in 1890 for his new wife and their eventual three children. The house he named “Winmarleigh” once stood at #538 Summer Avenue in Newark, New Jersey. Sadly, the family sold the house shortly after his death and a subsequent owner used the house as a private hospital until it burned in the 1920s. It is fortunate, however, that some documentation survives: 1) at most a dozen photographs taken when the Woods still occupied the property; 2) its footprint on Sanborn Insurance and other urban maps; and 3) two written descriptions in a newspaper article and a popular periodical of the ’90s. The challenge here is fundamental: to what extent and with what degree of accuracy can the plan of “Winmarleigh” be reconstructed from these limited resources? I hope we may find an answer to that question.

“Anyone can look for fashion in a boutique or history in a museum. The creative explorer looks for history in a hardware store and fashion in an airport.”

— Robert S. Wieder

ONE MORE OPTIONAL CHALLENGE: [Are we having fun yet?] When John J. Glessner wrote renowned Boston architect H. H. Richardson concerning the design of his home, he approached Richardson with hesitance, almost apologetically. Richardson’s reply stands as a paradigm of practice for architects today: He wrote, “I will plan anything a man wants, from a cathedral to a chicken coop. That’s the way I make a living.” While he did design a cathedral, an unbuilt scheme for Albany, NY, so far as I know he never coped with a coop.  In the spirit of H. H. Richardson, design a chicken coop in the style of an architect of your choice from the list below:

01) Michel deKlerk / 02) Irving Gill / 03) Greene & Greene / 04) Sir Edwin Lutyens / 05) Adolf Loos / 06) Charles Rennie Mackintosh / 07) Bernard Maybeck / 08) McKim Mead & White (Stanford White) / 09) Purcell & Elmslie / 10) C. F. A. Voysey

I’ll admit that this list was carefully chosen: a) from characters who are familiar to me, i.e., from a period of architectural history that has special meaning for me but which may hold little fascination for you; and b) names selected with primary intent, i.e., offering a special or particular challenge. [Bernard Maybeck, for example, was arguably more eclectic than others on the list; but his work is deceptive, suggesting easy analysis that may elude you. G&G, CR Mackintosh, and CFA Voysey are known for their furniture and other decorative arts on an almost equal plane with their buildings (now there’s a hint!). De Klerk was part of the Amsterdam School, renowned for execution in brick masonry, hardly a material choice appropriate for chickens. Some names are strategically absent (like Gaudí, Sullivan, or Wright) because the temptations to imitate (i.e., cut & paste) are too strong [at least they would be for me; forgive me for projecting.] But since this exercise is decidedly optional, feel free to offer a candidate of your choosing.

Your strategy here may not be obvious; I’d be surprised if it were. The first hurdle, I suppose, is the question: would your architect have even accepted the commission? And if so, in what spirit? It’s hard to think of Adolf Loos having a sense of humor. Then there is the matter of finding a foothold among their works: their range of scale and clientele; their attitude toward materials and detailing. And eventually, how would they present a solution? In drawings or model? And at what scale? This project may offer the biggest challenge for getting into the mindset of another designer. So I offer it to the hardiest of you and those in sympathy with my notions of “play”. May we all play deeply.

“Deep play arises in such moments of intense enjoyment, focus, control, creativity, timelessness, confidence, volition, lack of self-awareness (hence transcendence) while doing things intrinsically worthwhile, rewarding for their own sake…It feels cleansing because when acting and thinking become one, there is no room left for other thoughts.”

― Diane Ackerman, Deep Play


fingerprint matching.jpg

SCHEDULE (a proposal both tentative and cautious):

WKS 01-02:   Introduction and Orientation: The (mis)reading of architectural drawings: case studies of works by H. H. Richardson and Frank Lloyd Wright; finding the pattern. Forensics in action. [See the fingerprint analysis above] [Thomas Holme’s 1687 plan for Philadelphia]

WKS 03-04:   Exercise #1: Archetypes: the discovery of both patterns and presumptions; be wary of the “familiar”. [WHW; HHR; LHS; G&G]

WKS 05-06:   Exercise #2: Architectural Representation: identifying, extracting, and articulating layers of meaning.

WKS 07-09:   Exercise #3: Architectural Abstraction: finding the common denominator; observing minds in motion. [The villas of Andrea Palladio] [HHR; LHS; FF]

WKS 10-12:   Exercise #4: Architectural Innovation: a case study of invention, evolution, and cultural diffusion. [Lawrence Buck: What does an architect do?]

WKS 13-16:   Exercise #5: Architecture as Cultural Artifact: reading “Winmarleigh” as both manifest domesticity and personal expression.


As you might imagine in such a hybrid topic as this, there is a wide variety of resource material in print and on the web.

  • The German group “Forensic Architecture” are developing an innovative approach to the resolution of complex political situations, especially those involving questions of human rights violation. There are multiple references to them everywhere from Wikipedia to YouTube. I highly recommend this presentation.
  • Seeking sources for “pattern in architecture” is complicated by the use of the word architecture in development of software. On the other hand, there is a large amount of material related to Christopher Alexander‘s book Pattern Language, which may have more application to what we’re about.
  • Algorithms are a technique for computer programming. Many years ago, someone wrote a program for the design of Palladian villas or country houses. Though the computer disc exists, software can no longer read it. Might it be possible to generate an algorithm (or critical decision-making tree) for the design of Akron Plan churches? In a similar way, considering A-A churches as a “kit of parts”, could the design process be reduced/concentrated to become a game? In much the way one might consider the design evolution of Romanesque or Gothic churches? I can begin to understand algorithms as an organic process, but its nature in computer science is a mystery.
  • Since each of these exercises derives from a project of my own, I shall take care to be a resource for information and a guide toward understanding (rather than a dogmatist); my familiarity with the problem might become a limiting factor, which is not my intention. Mea culpa.
  • I’ve also put several links on the BlackBoard site that may prove useful.


Course syllabi should include a rubric for evaluation. Those are easier to provide in courses where the content is fact-based, however. Some skills are far easier to show, to demonstrate, than they are to quantify. From my point of view as the perpetrator of this seminar, I believe those conditions apply here. Please see me if you know another way. That being said, let me suggest some criteria which will influence my decision-making with regard to a final grade:

  • Attendance is essential, but being in a classroom is not the same as engagement with the process at work there. So the shy student runs the risk of being identified as disengaged or disinterested. Speak up. Offer an opinion, a strategy, a different way of asking the question. Or a different, more pertinent question altogether.
  • Though this isn’t a design studio-laboratory, it is a place where design is foremost: we may not create designs, but we will analyze them; take projects apart, examine their components, seek common denominators, abstract principles, so as to speculate intelligently about their very nature. And, in that process, to understand the motives and methods of the designers in question. Is this a species of psychoanalysis?
  • Involvement with course content comes in various forms. Attendance and participation are one way. But so is the craft of presentation, the care we take in creating non-verbal materials, such as the analysis of a building type or a series of similar buildings or the creation of a Beaux Arts analytique.
  • Self-evaluation and peer evaluation are also methods that could prove interesting, at least, if not actually useful.
  • And remember that each of us is an accumulation of life experience and skill. I will learn from you and you will learn from one another. A grade is one measure. But the satisfaction that comes (not often enough in my experience) of a job well done — of “deep play” in the terms of Diane Ackerman — ought to have far more import. Do everything as though it were to be displayed as part of an exhibit to the general public, with your names prominently attached. Take pride in what you do and how you do it.

A VERY PERSONAL NOTE: In fifty-plus years of engagement with architectural education, I have rarely been as enthusiastic about a course as I am for this one. I also suspect it may be one of the more difficult challenges we will face in education for the profession, simply because it’s not quantifiable and also because it may seem to focus on issues infrequent in the professional world. On that second point, I would make a case that we may be in error: Design is design, and any opportunity to engage it offers potential for growth. [I’ve looked at birdhouses in the style of famous starchitects and similar exercises and been underwhelmed. It is far too easy to be superficial and/or cosmetic. I’ve been there.]

“In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, while in practice there is.” Benjamin Brewster (subsequently Episcopal Bishop of Maine)

AND A POSTSCRIPT: Now, as an Adjunct Professor (which means I work cheap but don’t have to attend faculty meetings), I’ve been cast into the role of “architectural historian”, which I do not mind if you remember I’m a pragmatist, not a theoretician. “Adjuncting”, however, has afforded me the opportunity to proffer my services in different ways. If you haven’t already had your fill, check out the history-based studio I tried a few semesters ago.² Look at it this way: you’ll already have a leg up on the process.

Stay tuned: this document is likely to change in minor ways, but never in its overall intent. I may be an old dog, but this is a new trick.

¹ During 1989 and extending into 1990, The Plains Art Museum [now the Rourke Art Museum] hosted an exhibit for which I was curator: a celebration of the North Dakota centennial seen through eighty architectural drawings which represented its history from territorial times to the 1990s. The exhibit was in Moorhead for six weeks, then in Grand Forks for about four, and finally in Bismarck for another two months. I hung out at the show quite a bit, curious how the public would react to drawings which ranged from preliminary sketches, to design development, and ultimately working drawings. You’ll be surprised to learn that it was the latter category which attracted the most intense scrutiny: the art-going public were simply fascinated by the beauty of what is for all intents and purposes a legal document.

² You can preview the syllabus for that studio on-line at the Agincourt blog. Search for “What If?

What If?

WHAT IF: Historical fiction in the architectural design studio

Ronald H. L. M. Ramsay, Fargo, ND

Is it safe to say that architectural history plays a diminishing role in preparation for a professional architectural career in North America? Courses treating architecture of the past are still integral parts of professional curricula (barely) but two other considerations speak to their marginalization: 1) history is inevitably hyphenated with theory, the latter now the dominant twin; and 2) history-based knowledge has almost entirely disappeared from the professional licensing examination, typically administered two to three years after receipt of the first professional degree; an examination where the ‘Jeopardy’ answers are usually ‘Frank Lloyd Wright’ or ‘LeCorbusier’ and far less often ‘Adolf Loos’ or (God forbid) ‘Basil Champneys’. As someone educated and apprenticed for that next step, though teaching architectural history and design rather than pursuing licensure, I’ve sought other ways both to reinforce the utility and purpose of architectural history, integrating it more fully with the process of design, and to situate that body of knowledge more centrally within professional education. During the last dozen years, what we call the Agincourt Project has become one of those mechanisms — the foundation for what follows.

In the anatomy of most architectural curricula, the sequence of design studios form the spine, serving as armature for technical and socio-historical courses which become its ribs, tendons, musculature and nervous system. Depending upon the program, the studio sequence (or more accurately the laboratory, for that indeed is its ideal) extends from three to five years; these are the petri dish for holistic or integrated design, where structure and mechanical systems, history, theory, legal and economic considerations are fused into the design of structures for real, simulated or generic clients. The constraints of site, program (or ‘brief’ in the UK), codes and other governmental regulations, and even budgetary constraints often contribute to such a scenario. The creation of a fictional place, the imaginary town of Agincourt, Iowa, became a way to weave architectural history into this narrative. [I hold that no architectural thesis or capstone projects will be better than the student’s ability to imagine a client — and to keep in mind that they are not that client.]

As someone educated [notice I did not say ‘trained’] in architecture but not licensed to practice, I’m rarely asked to design anything which might be built. This truth often encourages me to generate design problems for my own mental exercise and enjoyment. Twelve years ago a random thought developed well beyond its immediate context and birthed the Agincourt Project.

AGINCOURT, not just a battle any more

Musing during the summer of 2006 about American architect Louis Sullivan [1856-1924], his late career during 1900-1920 was dogged by personal demons, and then blossomed briefly in a series of exquisite small-town banks he called ‘jewel boxes’. Bracketed between 1908 and 1919, they coincide with (I noted with intense interest) the era of public library construction underwritten by industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who funded 1,800 libraries during more or less the same years that Sullivan designed his banks. One fascinating question arose in my mind: Sullivan was engaged in the right place and time with an appropriate clientele to have sought a Carnegie library commission — bank presidents are likely candidates to chair civic building committees — yet he apparently did not. That question alone is worth a moment’s consideration, but as a designer and teacher of architectural history, there was an inevitable follow-up: What would a Sullivan-designed public library look like? How would he have approached a problem that, by the time of his possible involvement, had already become formulaic — Sullivan’s own work being decidedly other than that, if the bank series is any evidence.

What began as a personal quest morphed into a design studio, and that into an exhibit, and those in turn became the basis for seminars and subsequent studios. A direct result of that evolution is the framework presented here, which defines a process that has evolved and been productive beyond my hopes and disappointing as well. More important, perhaps, is its potential to partner with traditional architectural history courses toward a common goal: an enhanced, more meaningful, and integrated role for architectural history in professional education.


The most recent iteration of Agincourt has been a third-year design studio set in a five-year M.Arch curriculum. It offered one project set in an historical context, a matrix of three conditions: 1) building types, 2) stylistic categories or clusters, and 3) specific architects of the chosen period. Geography is an aspect of the last factor, since each architect is associated with a particular place and its socio-economic and cultural context. Project types are all common, if not frequent, during the period 1900-1920, and examples can be found in all market areas represented by the array of individual architects. The link between stylistic clusters and individual designers is a chicken-egg phenomenon: I can’t tell you which came first in my thinking. The three-dimensional matrix of style, name and building type, however, establishes a framework that both minimizes duplication and increases opportunities for comparison and contrast between and among students. I’ll expand each of these in reverse order.


STYLE CLUSTERS: The years between 1900 and 1920 were a vibrant period in the architecture of both Europe and North America°. The era of 19th century eclecticism had begun to give way — or at minimum to make room for — the emergence of Modernism. Also, the industrialization of materials never completely replaced craft traditions. I have suggested five clusters of style from those years: those that are #1) Historically Based, #2) Progressive, #3) Arts & Crafts, #4) Modernist, and #5) Art Nouveau. Of these five, the Progressive may be the most American, connected with both a political party and the socio-economic programs it espoused, though there are parallel reflections of that movement in Europe. The Art Nouveau, on the other hand (whether non- or anti-historical), touched the U.S. only at the margins and that through the decorative arts.

HISTORICALLY BASED: Arthur Beresford Pite (#2 from an alphabetical list below); Sir Edwin Lutyens (#13); Bernard Maybeck (#16); McKim Mead & White (#17)

PROGRESSIVE: Peter Behrens (#1); Louis Singleton Curtiss (#3); Josef Hoffmann (#9); William Richard Lethaby (#11); George Washington Maher (#15); Purcell & Elmslie (#19); Louis Sullivan (#22); Frank Lloyd Wright (#25)

ARTS & CRAFTS: Michel DeKlerk (#4); Wilson Eyre (#5); Ernest Gimson Greene & Greene (#7); Sir Edwin Lutyens (#13, again); Charles Rennie Mackintosh (#14); Bernard Maybeck (#16, again); Eliel Saarinen (#20); C.F.A. Voysey (#24)

MODERNIST: Irving Gill (#6); Adolf Loos (#12); Auguste Perret (#18)

ART NOUVEAU: Hector Guimard (#8); Victor Horta (#10); Charles Rennie Mackintosh (#14, again); Lars Sonck (#21) Louis Sullivan (#22); Henry van de Velde (#23)

[A style which interests me, but which is often overlooked or lumped with others for convenience, is the “Edwardian” — a style of short duration and limited geography which is, in my mind, another of those Mannerist Moments that rear their heads now and again. Primarily a British phenomenon, it has echoes in the U.S. and a few other locations. I’ve been reluctant to incorporate it here as a sort of monadnock of historical styles—though Arthur Beresford Pite could qualify.]

ARCHITECTS: Within those clusters, not all architects fit comfortably in a single compartment. There is an obvious break in the work of Sir Edwin Lutyens, for example, between the Arts & Crafts character of his country houses and the later Classicism of his World War memorials; war can do that to people. Likewise, Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s work exhibits qualities of the continental Art Nouveau, which had limited acceptance in the U.K., but also of the Arts & Crafts which was native to Britain. In the case of Modernism, the net has been cast wide enough to include Austrian Adolf Loos, the Belgian-born French architect Auguste Perret, and Californian Irving Gill; all of their work seems to share a tendency toward clean lines, simple massing, and purged of all but crisp non- or minimally-historical detail.

  1. BEHRENS, Peter [1868-1940; Berlin]
  2. BERESFORD PITE, Arthur [1861-1934; London]
  3. CURTISS, Louis Singleton [1865-1924; Kansas City]
  4. deKLERK, Michel [1884-1923; Amsterdam]
  5. EYRE, Wilson, Jr. [1858-1924; Philadelphia]
  6. GILL, Irving John [1870-1936; Los Angeles]
  7. GREENE (Charles Sumner) & GREENE (Henry Mather) [1868-1957 and 1870-1954] [Pasadena]
  8. GUIMARD, Hector [1867-1942; Paris]
  9. HOFFMANN, Josef [1870-1956; Vienna]
  10. HORTA, Victor [1861-1947; Brussels]
  11. LETHABY, William Richard [1857-1931; London]
  12. LOOS, Adolf Karl Viktor Maria [1870-1933; Vienna]
  13. LUTYENS, Sir Edwin Landseer [1869-1944; London]
  14. MACKINTOSH, Charles Rennie [1868-1928; Glasgow]
  15. MAHER, George Washington [1864-1926; Chicago]
  16. MAYBECK, Bernard Ralph [1862-1957; Berkeley]
  17. McKIM MEAD & WHITE [look them up; New York City]
  18. PERRET, Auguste [1874-1954; Paris]
  19. PURCELL (William Gray) & ELMSLIE (George Grant) [1880-1965 and 1869-1952] [Minneapolis and Chicago]
  20. SAARINEN, Gottlieb Eliel [1873-1950; Helsinki]
  21. SONCK, Lars Eliel [1870-1956; Helsinki]
  22. SULLIVAN, Louis Henry [1856-1924; Chicago]
  23. Van de VELDE, Henry [1868-1957; Brussels]
  24. VOYSEY, Charles Francis Annesley [1857-1941; London]
  25. WRIGHT, Frank Lloyd [1867-1959; Chicago, Los Angeles]

Several names may be unfamiliar outside the United States [I’m writing this for a potential European audience]: brothers Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene (Southern California), Bernard Maybeck (San Francisco Bay), Louis Singleton Curtiss (Kansas City), Purcell & Elmslie (Minneapolis), George W. Maher (a Chicago contemporary and competitor of Frank Lloyd Wright), and Wilson Eyre (Philadelphia). American readers, on the other hand, may need an introduction to Lars Sonck (Finland), Arthur Beresford Pite (England), and Eliel Saarinen (Finnish father of mid-century Modernist Eero Saarinen). Others in the matrix are mainstays of the canon, prominent in history survey courses for students in both Europe and North America. Each, however, requires investigation and analysis by the student as part of an in-class presentation — another opportunity to learn through discussion of similarities and differences and, indeed, what those two concepts themselves may mean; a difference in appearance may not necessarily reflect a difference in content.

[As if this projects weren’t already driven by personal interest and preference, there are a number of architects who might have made the list, except for the paucity of information available for analysis, though on-line sources may have changed that. Some of these may also be selected by a student, or another name altogether suggested as an alternative. Consider these additional characters, an even more egregiously jaundiced selection than those above: Erik Gunnar ASPLUND [1885-1940; Stockholm]; Ralph Adams CRAM [1863-1942; Boston]; Kirtland CUTTER [1860-1939; Spokane]; Cass GILBERT [1859-1934; NYC]; Walter Burley GRIFFIN [1876-1937; Chicago]; Károly KÓS [1883-1977; Budapest]; Robert MALLET-STEVENS [1886-1945; Paris]; Erich MENDELSOHN [1887-1953; Berlin]; and Clough WILLIAMS-ELLIS [1883-1978; Portmeirion, Wales]. Though some of these are personal favorites, I would also add William Halsey WOOD [1855-1897], an American architect and subject of a long-term research-writing project of mine.

BUILDING TYPES and their rationale: The distribution of building types among the architects mentioned above adds further richness to the matrix. Chicago architect Louis Sullivan, for example — one of the Big Three in the emergence of a truly American architecture distinct from and no longer dependent upon European precedent (but not immune to it) is difficult to classify: an ornamental style linked with the Art Nouveau, but whose plans were Beaux Arts, rational, even Progressive (as many of his clients might also be described). Assigning him the ‘D’ option, the single-family house for a university professor, is an interesting choice for two reasons: Sullivan is known primarily as a designer of commercial and institutional buildings, and his comparatively few houses, especially the late ones, are stiff and formal, more country club than house — they might not be considered very domestic. Matching Sullivan with the bank type (‘F’) establishes the opposite condition: he did many small banks during his late career — they date from 1908 to 1919 — and are uniformly good and instructive of his design method. So, Sullivan offers only peripheral or analogous guidance for designers of houses, but considerable information pertinent to the design of a bank, perhaps too much information.

‘A’— A Market Hall in a Small Town: Before refrigeration, weekly or even daily farmer’s markets were common in towns of large and moderate size, anywhere access to meat and produce was restricted by distance. Mediaeval cities grew organically around such places. And towns of even modest size would have supported construction of a facility of this sort.

‘B’— A Parish Church or Mission Chapel: The small parish church or mission chapel in more urban areas was a common building type, but can also be found in rural communities. [For inspiration I recommend the mission church at Sunderland Point, Morecambe, Lancs., U.K. (1894) by Paley & Austin, or the summer chapel-of-ease St Simon’s-by-the-Sea at Mantoloking, New Jersey (1886) by William Halsey Wood.] This period was dominated by massive urban change through immigration (from Europe as well as rural America) and the Social Gospel as the Christian response.

‘C’— A Small Library (Private, Public, or Institutional): Between 1900 and the 1920, the public library was essentially codified through the influence of industrialist Andrew Carnegie, becoming almost formulaic in the U.S., Canada and Great Britain. Less common on the continent, an institutional, professional  or private library would have been as likely.

‘D’— The single-family house during 1900–1920 hung on the cusp of dramatic change in domestic life. A House for a University Professor: Professorship connoted a different social standing a hundred years ago than it does today. In addition to family members, it is assumed that graduate students and other professors will be regular visitors.

‘E’— A Public Bath House and Comfort Station: Prior to the advent of municipal services for water and sewer, public baths were as common as they were in ancient Rome—and for the same reasons: convenience and public health. In light of the influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the predominance of tuberculosis in a time before wide-spread acceptance of germ theory, design of many types was driven by concerns for public health.

‘F’— A Small or Branch Bank: The nature of banking and its role in any community changed dramatically between the First and Second World Wars. Prior to 1920, there were many more independent banks, home-owned, with boards of directors made up of people from the community they served, rather than large-scale, interstate institutions of the next decades. Before suffrage, special accommodations were often made for women and children, while the “men folk” transacted business.

‘G’— A Transit Station or Hub: The trolley and interurban were a common means of transport before the automobile. Center city became a nexus of transit lines and a logical transfer point among them. It served as a place to meet as well as a gateway. And not incidentally, it was often the only public comfort station in the Central Business District.

‘H’— A World War Memorial: After 1919, an astonishing number of war memorials were constructed in Europe, Britain, the U.S. and Canada — acknowledging a world-wide event through local sacrifice — at a time when Classicism was interpreted more loosely. Yet that style was often preferred, due to its dignified formality and composure. This could be a large, urban stand-alone memorial or a battlefield cemetery in a more rural setting. Sir Edwin Lutyens produced what seems an inexhaustible supply of them, the memorial counterpart to thinking globally, while acting locally.

Sullivan may be the most egregious example of the too-much/too-little phenomenon. Many of the remaining building types were typical of their time but infrequently given the attention of an architect. Some have gone the way of the dodo; others have been recurrent or revived. Several of these architects had extensive careers with considerable output, whereas other produced little or very specialized or focused work and devoted much of their output to writing, rather than design: Loos (apartments and detached houses), Saarinen (homes and apartment buildings), Lutyens (Arts & Crafts=country houses; Neo-Classical=war memorials and buildings for government). Three types are nearly absent from the literature (professional, not socio-historical): the market hall, public bath, and transit depot, though common enough in vernacular design or the oeuvres of other architects not included here, yet they existed in large numbers.

DESIGNS IN SERIES: There are any number of designs ‘in series’ which fascinate. The eight banks of Louis Sullivan are a case in point. As are H. H. Richardson’s depots for the Boston & Albany railroad in the 1880s. But there are others in both architecture and art: 1) the detached single-family houses of Adolf Loos; 2) the six English Baroque churches of Nicholas Hawksmoor; 3) the 1920s “textile block” houses of Frank Lloyd Wright; 4) the Paris Metro stations of Hector Guimard; and in art, 5) the watercolor windmills by Frank Brangwyn which illustrate the 1923 book Windmills by Brangwyn and Hayter Preston. What would the next in any of these series look like? How does repetition avoid the formulaic?¹

ONE-OFF DESIGNS: On the other hand, there are unique structures crying out to be part of a series (in my estimation), such as the 1902 Bülowstraße U-bahn station in Berlin by architect Bruno Möhring. How might Möhring have approached a second? A third? Any architect who has done one of something is fair game for this question to be raised.

THE NULL SET: Multiples and singletons may be a characteristic of a specific architect’s career, but there are also voids: building types completely unrepresented in the designers oeuvre. One example comes to mind (because it happens to be the topic of a current research-writing project) — American architect William Halsey Wood [1855–1897]. Wood’s project list is lopsided in the extreme: of 150+ projects identified, sixty-five were churches, sixty of them for Anglican/Episcopal clients. Institutional and residential clients are represented in much smaller numbers. But Wood never designed a public building, which is odd for a late 19th century American architect. No courthouses; no city halls. How might an architect with an ecclesiastic inclination have dealt with a secular, American county courthouse? [I’ve coped with it and failed modestly enough to not be embarrassed.]


Here, then, is a matrix of building types and styles, with the names of architects linked in situations which (we hope) will elicit design responses that are inspired rather than imitative.

NAME  Historical Progressive Arts & Crafts Modernist Art Nouveau
‘A’ 16 1,3,11,19 4,7,13,14,16,21,23 6,11,18 9,14,21,23
‘B’ 16 9,15 5,13,16  6 21
‘C’ 2,13,16,17 1,3,9,11,25 4,5,7,13,16,21,23 6,12,18 10,14,21
‘D’ 2,13,16 1,11,15,19  5,13,16,23 6,12 10,21,22
‘E’ 13 1,3,9,11,25 4,13,16,21 6,12,18 8,10,21,22,23
‘F’ 2,12,16,17 1,3,9,15  7,13,14,16,23  12 14,21
‘G’ 15,17 1,3,15,19,25 4,16,21 6,12 8,10,21
‘H’ 2,16 11,15,19 16,21 18 14,21,23

CASE STUDIES (some guidance from the seat of my pants):

#01: Consider the case of architect Louis Sullivan and the commission for the home of a university professor. Let’s choose 1910 and the University of Chicago as contributors of the context. Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood had been a separate municipality until annexed in 1889. The World’s Fair of 1893 was staged there and John D Rockefeller established the University of Chicago simultaneous with the fair. Hyde Park was and remains an island of low density and affluence. Lot sizes are generous, especially near the university; a lack of alleys (rear lanes in the U.K.) requires access from the street. Streets east and north of the university are a virtual directory, a Who’s Who of the city’s more prominent architects, including Wright and his contemporary George Maher, among others. Styles ranged from Craftsman and Progressive to ‘Jacobethan’ and Renaissance Revival.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses for the Robies and Hellers are in the Hyde Park neighborhood, more notably the former at 5757 South Woodlawn Avenue. Mrs Robie had been a University of Chicago graduate and wished to maintain her campus connections. For Mr Robie it was a convenient commute to the Loop six miles north on the Illinois Central. The city’s elevated railway (the ‘L’) edged the south and west sides, providing less costly access to and from the city, but more plebeian.

What questions would be useful in approaching this design opportunity?

  • What was the social role of a university professor a hundred-plus years ago? What age might we presume? What aspects of his (he would probably have been a male) teaching might involve the home?
  • What was the role of a woman in that context? As wife, homemaker, mother, and member of the community at large.

#02: Consider the case of Adolf Loos, whose early work consisted largely of interiors, most of them residential and retail. Only late in his career did he design complex free-standing structures. So his designs are both spatial and volumetric. Loos referred to this as the ‘plan of volumes’: plan and section drawings are simply insufficient to understand the enfilade (spatial sequencing) which is integral. [Two visits to the Villa Moller in Vienna convinced me that Loos’s methodology was successful.] How might he have approached a problem differently, whether it was free-standing or adaptive use? For Loos, I’m adding a special case: an entry in the Weissenhof Housing Estate at Stuttgart of 1927, somewhat outside the general bounds of the project, but possible, since Loos was on the original list of architects invited to participate in that exercise.

#03: Consider the case of William Lethaby, known more, perhaps, for his work as an educator. Lethaby’s design philosophy is embedded in his writings and lectures and incidentally in the limited number of works that he produced, so there is limited precedent In this scenario, what he said may be as important as what he did.

  • Lethaby’s clients were few in number. Is it possible to determine anything about them as a group? Qualities they may have shared? Even qualities shared with Lethaby?

#04: Consider the case of Dutch modernist Michel deKlerk, socially-driven and ‘Progressive’ in the best sense of the word. Most of his work is embedded in the context of social uplift and improvement, perhaps to a stronger degree than might be expected in the United States during those same years. Something similar could be said of Horta (whose clients included both industrialists and the Socialist labor movement) and to a lesser degree of Henry Van de Velde.

#05: Auguste Perret, among the youngest of the architects in the matrix, provides an opportunity to explore the newest material of the 20th century for architectural application: reinforced concrete or what the French call beton brut. Both Perret and the slightly older Frank Lloyd Wright investigated concrete at about the same time, chronologically, though drawing somewhat different lessons from the encounter.

#06: Among these names, several are unfamiliar, I’m sure, people like Bernard Maybeck and Louis Singleton Curtiss. Curtiss was a Kansas City architect little mentioned in history surveys, yet his work is interesting — primarily residential but also some commercial work — and in a style one might almost classify as American Secessionist, i.e., Viennese. Look him up. Curtiss might well be considered in the context of ‘buildings in series’, because of the series of railroad depots he designed in Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas.

#07: Also consider the breadth of design media represented here: Horta and Van de Velde were graphic designers; Mackintosh, Voysey, Lutyens, and others designed furniture. Josef Hoffmann founded the Wiener Werkstätte and produced designs for its manufacture. This was an era when the boundaries between various areas of design were blurred, if they existed at all. How might that understanding influence your own thinking?

#OPTIONAL: Appearing at the end of this narrative, the following ‘case study’ might very well become an introduction to the semester; a warm-up exercise to get us in the spirit.

When John J Glessner wrote renowned Boston architect H H Richardson concerning the design of his home, and approached Richardson with hesitance, almost apologetic, Richardson’s reply stands as a paradigm for architects today: He wrote, ‘I’ll plan anything a man wants, from a cathedral to a chicken coop. That’s the way I make a living’. In the spirit of H H Richardson, design a chicken coop in the style of an architect of your choice from the list above. Don’t think of this as ‘extra credit’ but, rather, as one more chance to design.

¿POURQUOI? Why propose an architectural design studio/laboratory which is historically based? First, I would maintain that every architectural design opportunity is (or ought to be) grounded in history: ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’, says George Santayana. But my rationale goes beyond that fundamental position.

When I began my so-called career at NDSU (more years ago than I care to count), the history of architecture was a required course; everyone took it because they had to. Today, I wonder what percentage would if it were merely an elective. As I began this essay (with an observation about the declining centrality of architectural history for professional development, an observation with more than a little cynicism), I ought to have mentioned that historic preservation was a new and often untrod path for architects then, especially in the U.S. Midwest and in smaller communities, where it was seen as snooty and high falutin: The banker’s house was preserved without question; the factory worker’s row house was expendable. One city planner summed up the local opinion: ‘How are we going to support all those “old house” museums?’ Now who’s being cynical?

Since those early days, preservation has become an independent academic discipline. And, though I doubt many of our graduates will be involved with pure restoration in their careers, I suspect that any number of design challenges will come their way which involve adaptive re-use and/or sympathetic addition to buildings of even modest architectural merit. Such work can be accomplished within any number of viewpoints, from literal imitation to outright contrast. But all of them can be fulfilling. And their success depends, I contend, upon the designer’s awareness of and sensitivity to the building at hand and the program to be accommodated. Not all shoes fit every foot.

I’ve crafted these exercises (and I do mean crafted) to take students outside their comfort zone and present a challenge drawn from the perspective that permeates this brief, believing sincerely that we will learn more about who we are and what we know by understanding who we aren’t and what we don’t — or what we shouldn’t. If that doesn’t make sufficient sense, then we need to have coffee or a beer some time and talk it over. Oh, and if it does make sense, that offer of beverage and conversation is still open for a fruitful discussion.

° Those who fault what must seem a Eurocentric point of view raise a valid concern, to which I offer two responses and a mea culpa: 1) the defined period (in this case, 1900-1920) is, indeed, focused on the lineage of European cultures and their styles; 2) different time brackets would invite, even necessitate, other, larger world views — the years 1950-1970, for example, with a growing awareness of vernacular and non-Western traditions reflected in architectural curricula. Ultimately, however, the proposition offered here comes from an eccentric white septuagenarian Eurocentric architectural historian whose students have come predominantly from comparable middle-class backgrounds. I rest my case because it may be that I have none.

¹ Author Peter Ackroyd wrote Hawksmoor based loosely on the British baroque architect Nicholas Hawksmoor — except that the titular character is a 20th century Scotland Yard detective. The 18th century architect Nicholas Dyer is an altogether different sort of character, a mystic involved in the occult. Without revealing plot twists — and contortions! — Dyer designs the six churches created by the actual Hawksmoor, except that he also designs a seventh church which has never existed in either fact or fiction. The story was so compelling that I finished at late one night an dreamed that seventh church, which I then drew the next morning. Would it be mistaken for a real Hawksmoor church? Doubtful.