Naegele’s Guide to the Only Good Architecture in Iowa is a deceptive title but it is not a misnomer. Guide is accurate. Iowa is fairly accurate. Naegele’s is there because this is a personal account, one that makes no attempt to be unbiased. Naegele’s qualifies Good, “good” being not absolute but contingent and personal and therefore a very questionable qualifier. Only is the title’s difficult word. “Only Good Architecture in Iowa” suggests that architecture is a scarce commodity in Iowa, a suggestion with which Naegele would agree if by “architecture” one means high architecture.
By Architecture, however, Naegele means “good building,” regardless of whether or not that which is built was designed by an architect or whether, in fact, it is a habitable structure or even a building at all. Most entries in this guide are concerned either with vernacular works that are habitable tools—barns, corncribs, ventilator machines, silos—or with built works that are not really buildings at all: billboards, bridges, murals, graveyards, landscapes, wind turbines and water towers. Only brings irony to the title, rendering questionable the assumption it asserts and initiating debate within an otherwise matter-of-fact description. Its inclusion in the title predicts the book’s mildly contentious, but always utterly practical, nature.