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The Place of Houses

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

HOME

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 criticism of 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

G+B+D

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.

bavinger.jpg


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