Don’t Move that Cow!

Mark Bacon

During my time living in Pennsylvania I was repeatedly asked a question that would make the hair on my neck stand upright. Instantly I developed a defensive position during my reply. I became accustom to the ensuing belittling or snide comments. What infuriated me the most was the ignorance or preconceived notions.

So where are you from?

I’m from Kansas!

Go ahead; get the Wizard of Oz references out of your system. I have no clue where Toto is. Please relieve yourself of all your misguided observations on the flatness of Kansas. (Incidentally the highest point in Kansas, Mount Sunflower, is at a higher elevation than the highest point in Pennsylvania, Mount Davis.)

You see, when you live in a flyover or a pass-thru State nobody takes the time to understand the uniqueness of the place; to look at the place unencumbered by blinders. The prevailing opinions generated by unfortunate fallacies pervade popular perception to the point where the place is dismissed entirely.

Currently I live in Nebraska, another flyover State, where the same ill-advised conclusions are assumed.

Kansas and Nebraska share many attributes but one will be the focus.

First I must share the impetus for writing on this topic, posted nonetheless on an architecture firm’s website. You are probably thinking, “What yellow brick road is he traveling down”?

I deeply believe for an architect to be a great architect he or she must be wholly observant. I don’t mean noticing the obvious; or focusing on the familiar. Observation must transcend those norms to reach for the unseen, extracting associations rich with intrinsic meaning. From these observations implicit or explicit applications will begin to affect the architect’s projects.

So what immanent observation can you make about Kansas or Nebraska?

Hay bales!

Yep, hay bales.

Stop laughing.


The infamous Frank Lloyd Wright in his autobiography observed a peculiar repeated occurrence of the cow: “Why is any cow, red, black, or white, always in just the right place for a picture in any landscape? Like a cypress tree in Italy, she is never wrongly placed.”

I submit the same can be projected on the hay bale: There is never a wrongly placed hay bale. Stacked, grouped, in rows, in columns, distributed in the field, aligned to the wind row, in the barn, under the barn. Never is it wrongly placed.

Why is this observation important?

Because it is a clear depiction of the place I practice architecture. It communicates the story of the people of Nebraska, a dominate occupation, and interestingly a prevailing philosophy on life.

These observations begin to develop a framework from which a design project can be related to specific constructs of architecture. That, to me, is an electrifying connection.

In the meantime, take a drive. Your trip down I-80 in Nebraska will never be the same. Look at the hay bales; you will observe them from a completely different perspective. Make your own observations: look at the patterns, the placements, the place they inhabit, and the space between. I think you will come to the same realization.

There is never a wrongly placed hay bale.

Image Credits: United Soybean Board [Flickr], Neil Williamson [Flickr]