BRUCE A. GOFF
Bruce Alonzo Goff was born in Alton, Kansas in 1904. Goff was to become a prolific architect, artist, composer, and educator. He spent most of his childhood traveling the Midwest, then at age eleven his family settled in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His father recognized his son’s immense talent for drawing, and arranged for him to apprentice with the firm of Rush, Endacott and Rush of Tulsa. In 1929 Goff was made a partner.
Goff was largely self-educated, and he employed a free-association technique, often fantastical, in creating his designs. Goff lacked the usual academic credentials but was made a full professor in the University of Oklahoma architecture program, where his classes placed a high value on techniques to stimulate creativity. Goff’s private practice offered clients an organic architecture, a further development of concepts laid down by his kindred spirit, Frank Lloyd Wright. His strong individualism is evident, as it is in Wright’s work, in the improbable but surprisingly functional homes he built in the plains states.
Exposed structure and spatial complexity characterize a Bruce Goff design, further complicated by a degree of decorative detailing that set his work apart from the minimalist tendencies of his contemporaries’ buildings. The home built for Joe Price in Bartlesville, Oklahoma known as Shin’en Kan, exemplified Goff’s imaginative approach.
Goff maintained his studio in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. The Price Tower is now an arts center featuring collections of the works of Bruce Goff and Frank Lloyd Wright, as well as fine examples of John DeKoven Hill, Wendy Evans Joseph, and soon a new museum facility designed by Zaha Hadid.
Quite the prodigy, Goff had completed almost thirty projects by age 22—the massive Boston Avenue Methodist-Episcopal Church in Tulsa being one of the most striking. Goff became aware of the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan (Wright’s early employer) while at Rush, Endacott & Rush. Goff corresponded extensively with both men, their influence strongly in evidence in Goff’s early work. He drew inspiration also from the artists Maxfield Parrish, Erte, and Gustav Klimt.
In 1934 Goff found himself in Chicago, Illinois, employed by Alfonso Iannelli —a brief association that the 30-year-old architect found stifling. Supporting himself with freelance work, he was offered a part-time teaching post at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts where he explored theories on “free architecture” as a consequence of his proximity to artists working in abstraction. Just because buildings were meant to serve practical ends, he told his students, this did not mean that architecture was by any means exempt from the need to break new artistic ground as objects of beauty.
While in Chicago, the composer Goff saw his “piano music of a radically different order” begin to find an audience. There he designed several residences and worked for the manufacturer of Vitrolite, a patented form of architectural sheet glass introduced during the 1930's. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II, eventually to design numerous military structures as well as residences for colleagues.
After his stint in the Navy, Goff returned to architectural practice briefly in Berkeley, California, then accepted a teaching position with the School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma in 1942. By 1943 he was chairman of the school. In his nine years at OU Goff’s private practice soared, garnering important critical attention. Two of his most famous residence projects, the Ruth Ford house in Illinois, and the Eugene Bavinger house near the OU campus in Norman, Oklahoma, were built during this period.
In 1955 Goff left Oklahoma University to relocate his practice in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. He set up his studio in the Price Tower, Frank Lloyd Wright’s tallest building. He was the ideal artist of the 1960s, expressing a freedom from convention and intellectual abandon much in vogue in the popular media. To international tastes, Goff typified the American artistic free spirit of the ‘sixties, and his work entered the international arena. Goff’s designs and ideas were featured in publications including Progressive Architecture, Art in America, and Architectural Forum.
Goff traveled and lectured extensively during this golden period of through the 1970s. His hyper-receptive sensibilities immediately became enchanted by the delicate materials and balances of the art and architecture of Southeast Asia and Japan. Earlier chords, struck by his nippophillic mentor Wright’s obsession with disciplined simplicity, began to ring out full voice in Goff’s imagination. A series of paintings on exhibit at the Price Tower Arts Center in Bartlesville, Oklahoma portrays the 1960s/70s Goff supremely well: mystical Asian imagery composed of quaintly American elements painted on psychedelically iridescent plastic sheeting. His travels to Germany, Belgium, France, Spain and colleges and universities throughout the U.S. revealed a growing cult-like following.
Goff’s last project, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Pavilion for Japanese Art, was built to house Joe Price’s Shin’en Kan collection. Bruce Goff died in Tyler, Texas on August 4, 1982.
> For more information about Bruce Goff, visit www.pricetower.org