The story goes that doctors started wearing white coats not just because they protected the physician’s clothing, but also because they looked like scientists’ lab coats. They started doing this at a time when it was important to communicate to the general public that their healing powers came from medical science as opposed to superstitious quackery.
Like clothing, architecture exists in the space between utility and perception. At the same time doctors were dressing like scientists, county courthouses were being built across the state of Texas that sought to make the frontier look much more civilized than it actually was. More than mere functional containers, the courthouses built to house county government in Texas expressed the idealized values and ambitions of a rapidly expanding population during times of intense economic, technological and social change.
As built artifacts, the county courthouses of Texas tell a compelling story of a particular part of the country during a specific period of time. They demonstrate how architectural tastes have changed along with society’s view of government. More importantly, they also show how good design can transform a society and make the world a better place.
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