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“The Last Picture Show”

“The Last Picture Show” is the title of an ARCH 771 architectural studio in the Fall of 2020. Though that title may suggest something else, it is indeed an Agincourt-based studio, yet one more iteration of the project begun in 2006 and possibly its last—which may be a relief to some; they’ll get over it.

For those unfamiliar with Agincourt, it’s a smallish town in northwestern Iowa, about midway between Fort Dodge and Storm Lake. A “purple” town in a very red congressional district, the population is slightly in excess of 17,500 in the last census but holding steady.

Its demographics are typical for Iowa, mostly White and middle class, but tending toward brown due to agriculture and an influx of foreign refugees. We hope the 2020 count will confirm that the population has stabilized, stemming the outflow of youth and the aging experienced by other communities throughout the Midwest and into the Great Plains. If you’ve got any questions about Agincourt, chances are pretty good that they’ve never been asked before. We’ll probably just sit down and work it out together.

In academic terms, Agincourt is an exercise in the relationship between narrative and design, that is, the intimate reciprocal connection between story-telling and place-making. Architects do the latter in each of those pairs as a normal part of their work; those who do a better job tend to incorporate the former. What I mean is that every good story generates mental images of its setting, and every real place worth remembering cries out to tell its tale. I’d like to think that playing in the sandbox of history — designing any building in any period and using it to tell a story, a shard of historical fiction — is an exercise worth engaging. Because there is something to be learned from what we know, what we don’t know, and, perhaps most important, what we shouldn’t know because its future hasn’t happened yet. So much for a brief introduction to Context.

The Challenge

The original intention was a historically based 771 studio, but more abstract, more analytical, taking apart good representative examples of particular styles (and particular architects) during the last 150 years to see what makes them tick. But at the suggestion of others (those in our department who see a picture larger than I do), it will revert to “Agincourt — the town that time forgot and geography misplaced”.

There have been (as some of you will know) three Agincourt-related exhibits, all the Rourke Art Museum in Moorhead, MN, facilitated variously by the Messrs O’Rourke and Rutter, who have believed in the project from its inception. Indeed, they would not have happened without them. Two thousand seven was the first, a celebration of the community’s 150th anniversary. Number two came eight years later, appropriately commemorating the 600th anniversary of the actual Battle of Agincourt. Indeed, Daron Hagen’s “We Few”, Shakespeare’s speech coming from the mouth of Henry V on the eve of battle, was premiered at 2:15 p.m. on 25 October 2015, the very day of the battle that settled the Hundred Years War. Number three happened for no particularly good reason, other than we had some new artifacts to share. And now number four will be something quite different than a physical exhibit on a museum’s walls; rather, it will occur on your computer screen, where it should have been all along, had I but the talent to achieve that technical feat.

The Agincourt website (agincourtiowa.com) is not user-friendly; feel free to visit but don’t expect to maneuver easily. I know that and realized too late that it had been created primarily for me to jot down miscellaneous memories of the early years before they totally evaporated. So the strategy for this upcoming studio is the let the project go digital. What it might look like I can’t say. But the department has an in-house computerological expert, Andrew Yang, with the skills to make it happen. Some things you may eventually find there:

  • an interactive map or maps that will allow you observe community development in ten-year increments
  • a map (the same one) that will permit the study of a particular block as it evolved, with specific references to buildings and historical events
  • genealogical charts to follow families through multiple generations
  • a digital gallery of the Community Collection
  • clippings from The Daily Plantagenet
  • “foot notes” (which takes a lot of explanation)
  • objects, artifacts, and other pieces of material culture (there’s quite a lot in my basement)

Having just published blog entry #1411, you can assume that I enjoy this — even if few others do. So be it.

 

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