Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor

GREENE, HERB (b. 1929)

Herb Greene is an architect, painter, and author who developed a highly original interpretation of organic design. Born in Oneonta, New York, on September 13, 1929, Greene studied with the architect Bruce Goff at the University of Oklahoma and practiced architecture in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kentucky. He returned to the University of Oklahoma to teach in 1957 and was later a professor of architecture at the University of Kentucky until 1982. Two Oklahoma houses built in the late 1950s–the Joyce House in Snyder and the Greene House in rural Norman–reflect the synthesis of aesthetic and philosophic ideals of his mature work.

The Joyce House, built on a bluff strewn with large granite boulders and with distant views of flat grasslands, represents a synthesis of both site characteristics and the clients' desire to include their collection of antique furniture in the design. The unrestricted views of the surrounding landscape dictated walls of wood and glass placed upon a pedestal of granite to accommodate the unusual collection of furniture. Moreover, the design strategy suggested a high degree of contrast with multidirectional meanings. The anchoring pedestal of granite contrasts with the floating roof above. The upper walls of wood, modulated to accommodate stained-glass windows, are terminated with a winglike mansard protecting the glass walls on the lower floor. The scaly and articulated form of the asymmetrical exterior, with its animalistic, hornlike roof drain, is further contrasted with the smooth, white, crystalline wall forms of the symmetrical interior. At the very center of the octagonal plan is a fountain and pool of water, placid and in contrast to the arid landscape beyond.

The Greene House, built as a family home, is a more complex design than the Joyce House. The two-story, wood-frame house atop a prairie knoll extended Greene's interest in creating an architecture composed of diverse and ambiguous metaphors. The inclusion of diverse elements is, theoretically, an attempt to express meaning through an organic process of cognition. Central to this concept, which Greene derived from Alfred North Whitehead, is the notion that any object is not a static entity but has multiple aspects that are apparent by various cues that can be measured against our own emotional and intellectual experiences.

In the Greene House, forms that are both barnlike and creaturelike are organized into a synthesis of images. The elliptical shape is a form that presents the least surface to Oklahoma storms approaching from the southwest. The color and texture of the house echo the farm buildings of the region. The animal metaphor is also an apparent attempt to make reference to both the living and the passage of time. The weathered boards and shingles on the exterior sustain the metaphors of both creature and barn and relate to the forms of ravines and windblown grass of the landscape. The design reflects deliberate suggestions of opposites. Even the sheet-metal canopy, with its insectlike legs, suggests contradictions. As the canopy climbs upward to hover over the roof, it is transformed into a machined element like a rocket about to launch.

Both the Joyce House and the Greene House are complex and mysterious images. Philosophically, the images suggest associations with regional history, ecology, the passage of time, and pathos. Certainly, they are profound statements of the traditional elements of architecture (form, space, texture, and color), but the arrangement and juxtaposition of images encourage contemplation. Greene constructed an ensemble of startling metaphors and thereby invites speculation into meaning by drawing upon the past experiences of the beholder.

Arn Henderson University of Oklahoma

Farmer, John. Green Shift: Toward a Green Sensibility in Architecture. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann, 1996.

Greene, Herb. Mind and Image: An Essay on Art and Architecture. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1976.

Greene, Herb, and Nanine Hilliard Greene. Building to Last: Architecture as Ongoing Art. New York: Hastings House, 1981.

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