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Material Culture 1.1


“Ed’s Easy Diner” by Stephen Brook / 2020 / oil on canvas / 12″ by 12″

This has been a phenomenal afternoon, almost two hours with students in ARCH 771 and a great deal of discussion [most of it one-way, sadly, coming from me to them] about Agincourt and how it came to be. Did I, in fact, lay a foundation. Or — as may be far more typical of my m.o. — did I erode one that was already there. The Agincourt Project is a weird idea. But, hell, deciding to go to architecture school might be just as weird, so I have my hopes for the semester.

Aside from the general framework of the project — the intimate relationship between narrative and design, between story-telling and place-making, the very thing that architects do — there are some other caveats worth mentioning:

  • The enormous difference between fantasy and imagination, for example. Willy Wonka is fantasy; Agincourt should be so real that you wonder if your mom and dad didn’t stop there for gas that summer you visited great aunt Helen. Agincourt should, insofar as possible, by hyperreal.
  • Material culture, stuff, is more often than not how we will be remembered. For the first Agincourt-based studio in 2007, I as the students, What from Agincourt is being auctioned on Ebay right now? Ebay, the online auction site that has been both bane and benefit to the project, is America’s “garage sale”. Frank Lloyd Wright once said that, if America were turned on its side, everything loose would roll to Los Angeles. My guess is that discarded objects of every sort eventually find their way onto Ebay. Postcards, for example, have provided valuable period imagery for the period 1885-1930; I know because I’ve acquired a bunch of them. Go to Ebay today and you’ll find more that six million postings at this very moment. Now compound that with the wide range of detritus connected to our communities and ourselves: ash trays, calendars, high school yearbooks and letterman’s sweaters, ladies auxiliary church cookbooks, antique license plates, church windows, hardware. Its variety is endless. And there’s someone out there who’ll bid on it.
  • Newspapers are a time capsule of small town life. They tell us who’s sick, who died, whose cousin cam to visit from Keokuk. The record the events of our lives: weddings and funerals, school graduations, crime and punishment. Advertisement illustrate varying tastes and trends; they record inflation. “Going Out of Business” sales and bankruptcies define the spectrum of business life. Likewise the restaurant menu: We are what we eat.

So their task for the next two days is to write a page about their presumptions about the semester. Looking into this strange short-term future, what do they anticipate? Hope for? What form might their semester’s work take on? Time will tell. And this blog may be the place to tell it.

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