Miranda spent the week of June 24th-30th, 2018 with us, back in her home county of Houston, Minnesota. Midway through her Master of Architecture program, she was eager to re-immerse herself in a familiar geographical and rural architectural environment. During her residency, she deeply explored heritage structures related to her Norwegian-American roots. She also sparked conversations with her family, old friends, neighbors and residents of local communities about how they feel and think about local architecture. Since her residency, Miranda has connected with a classroom in Spring Grove, MN and Habitat for Humanity to co-design a Norwegian-inspired home that will serve a new generation of Houston County families.
Whew, what a whirlwind! This is truly all I can think of at the moment. Since my artist residency ended just one month ago, a lot has progressed in my professional and interpersonal life. People from my hometown community have reached out to me to come see their historic homes and cabins wanting advice on restoration and wondering how to preserve what I consider to be artifacts of our rural, Midwestern heritage. I feel very honored to act as a resource for my community and it feels as if they trust me to know how best to tend to their needs because I am from here. The week I spent in my artist residency was a pivotal moment in my professional development and future career as an architect. I have wanted to engage with my community in this way ever since I started college, and the residency program was the perfect opportunity to start creating a new relationship to my hometown.
My week was full of quiet exploration and active discussions about our rural. With every conversation I could feel their veracity for cultural architecture that reflects them and their histories. This is something I resonate with and am so excited to feel it from others in my community.
Thinking back to the start of my week in Houston, Minnesota at the Crystal Creek Canyon Lodge, I was thinking a lot about the history of the common person in my county. I felt a deep urge to represent who we are in my design work. As a result, this became the goal of my exploration during my residency program which consisted of two parts: 1) immersion in nature and our relationship to heritage structures; & 2) connecting with the community about their ideas of rural architecture.
1) Immersion in nature and our relationship to heritage structures
My immersion in nature began as I drove throughout Houston County, primarily northwest of Caledonia--an area that I had rarely explored before this week. It was striking how similar the valley and bluffs were to Freeburg area where I grew up, which lay on the opposite side of the county.
For me, this practice of quietly experiencing the landscape of Houston County was a type of reminiscence of my childhood. Something I used to do without noticing, just thinking this is what everyone did, nothing special. In fact, moving to Minneapolis made me realize how special our area of Minnesota really was. Now this activity is never taken for granted. I have a deep, constant smile on my face as I drive on gravel roads, through dips in the earth before rising up to a ridge with the sun shining all around me. The air changes from crisp to smooth in spring to summer and then fall seasons. This place is so deeply familiar to me, an experience very spiritual in nature at this point in my life. I think this is where I connect architecture with the landscape--good architecture makes you feel something, and in the rural this begins with your surroundings, the landscape, the weather...
My architectural process thrives off of creating and understanding these relationships and because I have a normal 40-hour work week and live away from home, this is an experience I could not have been able to engage in without the time afforded by my residency.
I decided to drive around the area I knew my Norwegian ancestors had first homesteaded--Sheldon, Yucatan, Spring Grove, Riceford. I thought perhaps the land still had remnants of my Norwegian cultural heritage. In fact, my ancestors came to Houston County because they felt the landscape reminded them of their home in Norway.
Driving around County Roads 10, 11, 12, and 22, I began to dream about how my family got here and where they came from. Road signs and last names point to this history--I even see a “Moen Road” near Black Hammer, which I had no idea even existed. In Norway, “Moen” means “meadow” which was named after where the farm was located. When my family immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s, they kept the name of their farm as their last name. Even if they did not live on meadowland in the U.S., the background behind this name is special to me as a hidden cultural remnant of the past just waiting to be uncovered.
I also began seeing remnants of Norwegian-American architecture belonging to other families just sitting in plain sight…
NW Houston County
My scavenger hunt through the valley made me feel as if my architectural hunches were being validated as reality, like I wasn’t just imagining cultural evidence in our landscape, it was really there. These findings were very important to me because they signified that I could go back home and study the landscape and use it as research to start informing my design work in the future.
Oak Ridge Church
How do you see the buildings in your rural community? What do they look like? What should they look like? How do they make you feel? Help Miranda collect more information to inform her future rural architectural design work by participating in this short survey!
Architecture in Rural Places Survey >> https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/6CHRFHB
Is this what happens when you grow up rural? If not when we’re young, does it present as we age? What about these places make us feel this intense relationship to our Midwestern upbringings and how do we physically characterize a sense of place?
This is a question I love to explore in my architectural research and residency was the perfect outlet for this investigation. When I grew up, the hints of my ancestor’s lives were hidden in the details of a barn, the life-cycle of materiality in my surroundings, and was expressed in how weather interacted with everything around me. (Can you tell I grew up surrounded by farmland?)
During my Community Workshop, we were lucky enough to explore an 1878 Norwegian-American home in Houston which belonged to the family of Bryan Forsyth. I am still amazed that this opportunity opened up to us and Bryan was instrumental in the events success, opening his family home up to twenty people to soak up and explore its history. For me, this was such a great invitation to receive: to step into Bryan’s personal history and, through the exploration, begin to weave together the lives of his ancestors that built the home. We studied the architecture, yes, but more importantly we discussed what it meant to him and how it evolved over time.
The architecture, however, is not the significant portion of the home or any historic building, for that matter. When I begin delving into the history behind the architecture everything gets much more interesting. As I research, the story of a home seems to unfold around me, almost a narrative that someone is speaking to me. Hidden aspects of the story is revealed with each detail I explore, whether its the floor plan, materials, or even the people who built the home.
It’s nice to have historic buildings around, to observe and pass by them, but I fear without a deeper understanding of its context people will in time forget why they are truly important. We need to keep this narrative of place alive and resounding because that is how we connection to present and past people. Furthermore, it is equally important to connect to the common man and woman for the rural has always been the common person, and we are damn proud of it.
My eyes light up more when I can find history behind structures that were not owned by the super-rich, ones that my family would have inhabited, to emphasize that the heritage and history of common folk is special. The further I go into the practice of architecture, the more I want to know about the normal, the regular, the non-special... the portion that 99% of us are categorized in.
This understanding is a truer representation of our histories and is important for future generations to learn about so that they see our community as a place to come back to. Rural communities are constantly portrayed by media outlets as insignificant, boring even. But amazement lies in every area of our county, layers of significance waiting to be uncovered… What would make it even better is if a few remaining buildings were still standing for my grandchildren to discover, to go on a Saturday drive and pass by agrarian buildings, to walk amongst nature, and maybe to understand what it would have been like for their immigrant ancestors to come to this country so long ago. Going even further, perhaps they will want to reconnect with their multiple cultural histories, reveling in its complex story and begin pursuing what it truly means to be Norwegian-American, German-American, English-American, etc.--a rural American.
This is my future work.