The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972 Page: 339
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Notes and Documents
The Public Square as a Determinant of
Courthouse Form in Texas
WILLARD B. ROBINSON*
IN PRESUPERHIGHWAY DAYS, WHEN ALL MAIN ROADS PASSED THROUGH
the hearts of towns-and even today in some small communities-
no Texas traveler could pass through a county seat without becoming
quite aware of a prominent public square and a usually dominant
temple of justice. From the surrounding country, the courthouse tow-
er, looming above treetops and piercing the skyline, announced the
county seat. Within the town, the authority of the main public build-
ing was very much in evidence when one passed the public square-
as in Dallas-or, in some cases, when one was forced to detour around
it-as in Fort Worth. But what is the significance of this prominence
of the square, and what, if any, influence did it have in determin-
ing the form of the building that it contained?
Several concepts about these questions will be examined in this
article, but first it is necessary to consider one method of illustrating
the response of form to function in buildings. As is well known,
architecture is an outward expression of the life and times of a people;
and, conversely, modes of life and methods of construction are form-
givers to architecture. They influence what will be built, the magni-
tude of the work, and the configuration of the masses and openings.
Throughout history, architectural form has honestly responded to
forces exerted by various objective and subjective conditions.
These forces may be expressed as "tensions"; or they may be ex-
pressed as "pressures." They may have been physical and finite, as in
a medieval fortification, where the need to build enclosures that were
secure against escalade and defensible against an attacking enemy,
induced military architects to build high walls with projecting bat-
tlements and machicolations. Or these forces may have been spir-
itual and infinite, as in a Gothic cathedral, where a tremendous heav-
*Willard B. Robinson is associate professor of architecture at Texas Tech University.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972, periodical, 1972; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101201/m1/351/?rotate=270: accessed January 19, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.