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Regional clumps, clusters, and constellations

April 1, 2016

Accumulate a sufficiently large number of images — in my case, mostly postcards — a patterns are bound to emerge. During the course of this project, several patterns are evident, especially the likelihood of regional clusters; churches of notably similar design. Part of this is accountable to the nature of architectural practice: commissions for particular building types beget other commissions for that same type.

Imagine: Architect Jones has been asked to design a new Methodist church in his hometown. Twenty miles away, another M.E. congregation has outgrown its current building and sends a delegation to inspect that new church “just down the road” and inquire how it worked out. A favorable report causes formation of an official building committee and, in the interests of economy and efficiency —there being no architect resident in their community — they invite Architect Jones to present himself for Q&A on Tuesday next. And so it goes, like dominoes soldiered on the kitchen table: the success of one project begets others, until Architect Jones finds himself an expert on a building type that, until two years before, he had never done.

It’s safe to say that this pattern resulted in the significant number of churches, mostly Methodist, designed by Dallas architect James E. Flanders. Extending from Dallas-Ft Worth into East Texas, Oklahoma and as far as Missouri, the passenger rail infrastructure allowed Flanders to extend his “market area” far beyond his home base. But unless one or more of his designs were published in a periodical — say the Christian Advocate with national circulation — that reputation is likely to remain regional, as Flanders’ did. I should test this theory: map his multiple commissions and code them in some chronological way, then overlay it with a rail map of the period and a train schedule. [Sounds like a project as soon as the semester is over.]

In the meantime let me share to random churches that showed up in some searching this evening: a Methodist church in Van Alstyne, Texas and a Christian church in Terrell. There has to be something afoot here:

VanAlstyneTxFirstUnitedMethodistChurch0207BG TXterrellXtian

See what I mean? It isn’t the Neo-Classical portico that convinces me there is a common hand behind these two; it’s the arched windows that are practically identical.

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