Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

GOFF, BRUCE (1904-1982)

Bruce Goff is regarded as a major visionary architect. His imaginative designs are an extension of precepts of organic architecture developed by Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Born in Alton, Kansas, on June 8, 1904, Gott was raised mainly in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He began his career in architecture at age twelve with a part-time drafting job. He established himself as an imaginative designer and was responsible for several notable buildings in Tulsa during the 1920s. His Boston Avenue Methodist Church (1926-28) is regarded as one of the most significant twentiethcentury churches.

Goff practiced and taught in Chicago during the 1930s and served in a construction battalion in Alaska with the U.S. Navy during World War II. He practiced briefly in San Francisco before returning to Oklahoma in 1946 as a professor of architecture at the University of Oklahoma. Later that year he was appointed chairman of the school, a position he held until 1955. Beginning in the 1940s Goff's architectural expression became increasingly diverse. Central to his philosophy was the uniqueness of both clients and building sites as primary determinants of design. Yet despite the visual diversity of his buildings, there are common characteristics that establish a sense of continuity and inform us of his ideals.

The most prominent characteristic of his residential work is a reliance on several alternative modes of geometry to organize floor plans. Goff would frequently develop a plan derived from a primary geometric form, such as a circle, triangle, or hexagon, with the interior volume defining a vertical axis. Other characteristics include an open plan with visual extensions into adjacent spaces and a concern for spatial modulation. The concept of interior furnishings as an integral and built-in part of the architecture is another characteristic. Natural light in Goff's buildings is often introduced by skylights or clerestories, and views from the interior to the exterior, especially on the front facade, are often restricted. Many of his houses have exaggerated eaves with a thin edge that evokes a feeling of lightness. Facades are highly articulated, and materials are rich in pattern, texture, and color. Water, in the form of interior or exterior pools, is another element of many designs, for Goff had a particular fascination with reflectivity.

The Bavinger House, completed in 1955 on a rural site in Norman, Oklahoma, is regarded as one of Goff's premier designs. The plan of the house is a logarithmic spiral built of rubble sandstone inset with blue-green cullets. The spiral wall appears to emerge from the earth and wrap around a central mast more than fifty feet in the air. The roof of the house is a warped plane suspended from the central mast. Interior "rooms" are defined as a series of platforms suspended within the spiraling space. Each of these platforms is accessible by stairs that wrap around an interior wall of the spiral as it converges on the central mast. The lowest platform, located at the wide part of the spiral, is a conversation area raised slightly above the floor. Above are platforms that function as sleeping areas and an uppermost platform that is a glass-enclosed studio. Each of these platforms also contains a coppercovered storage cylinder. Collectively, this ensemble of elements–platform and cylinder– establish a dominant rhythm that, like the enclosing spiraling space, ascends upward. Contrasting with these repetitive geometric elements, the floor below is a collage of fieldstone, irregular planter beds, and pools of water with goldfish.

Goff left the university in 1955 and relocated his practice in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. He later established his office in Kansas City for several years before moving to Tyler, Texas, where he continued to work until his death on August 4, 1982. During the last quartercentury of his career he continued to develop much impressive work, including the Japanese Pavilion of the Los Angeles County Art Museum.

Arn Henderson University of Oklahoma

DeLong, David G. Bruce Goff: Toward Absolute Architecture. New York: Architectural History Foundation and mit Press, 1988.

Saliga, Pauline, and Mary Woolever, eds. The Architecture of Bruce Goff, 1904-1982: Design for the Continuous Present. Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago and Prestel-Verlag, 1995.

Welch, Philip B. Goff on Goff: Lectures and Conversations. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1996.

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