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Bruce Goff

The older I get, the more I admire what I think is Bruce Goff's best architecure. I still wish I had more of his sensitivity and his knowledge or resources of the world of art and creativity as well as his patience in working through to an architectural solution or his understanding of others. Bruce Goff's take on Gertrude Stein's composition on a continuous present has been an influece on me since I began reading Stein's The selected writings of Gertrude Stein in my late college. His work, inspections and expressions of the conscious and unconscious gradient, parallel with Whitehead's process philosophy, were heavy influences on my work. I don't have the genius or power of expression of any of these masters of history, but whatever I have done in collage painting and architecture looks to them as primary influences.

Herb Greene on the teachings of Bruce Goff


I have several objectives in writing this commentary. The first is to recall my experience with Bruce Goff while a student at the University of Oklahoma during the late forties and early fifties when he was Chair of the School of Architecture, then doing drawings for him during the decade that followed, and mulling over his creative output and its relationship to the art and philosophy of his period.

BG’s genius included his awareness of his clients’ existential qualities, attributes and features as form generating sources for architecture. These sources could include their physiques, favorite colors, collections, hobbies and personalities. In addition to his ingenuity as a planner, his mastery of structure and the expressive use of building materials, BG’s approach parallels the ideas of language and meaning in Gertrude Stein. The role of feelings and emotion in Alfred North Whitehead, the existential continental philosophy of Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and others as well as the pragmatism of William James. BG probably never read a word of any of these philosophers although he constantly referred to the continuous present of Gertrude Stein (as Stein stated in her lecture Composition as Explanation in which in an act of consciousness and creativity everything is simply different). BG did what prescient artists always do; they express the composition of their time and they do this before other members of their society are conscious of this composition. He reflected Whitehead’s theory of events in which aspects of any event can relate to aspects of any other. I believe that BG was clearly responding to this zeitgeist; in the twenties, thirties and forties in which these philosophers parallel or influenced thought and art.

Heidegger emphasized the characteristics of an individual and their influence on their response and interpretation of the events and objects of their perceptions. He emphasized "Dasein", the German term for being and used terms such as throwness and concern as one’s being took up objects of perception. This terminology laid emphasis on the contents of feelings and concerns projected by the individual as he or she responded to a perceived object.

Whitehead emphasized feelings as the dominant response to experience and the appearance of the world. He used the term concern as the closest description of human attention and life history including the bodily experience, as drawing on the necessary background informing and qualifying any creatures’ response to a perceived stimulus. In this own unconsciously Whiteheadean way BG responded to a client who was tall, reticent and who wished for a clean, off-white rectangularly shaped environment such as his design for the Fichette House in which BG set off the rectangular rooms of the entire house by lifting the roof plane and sloping it at a gentle angle. A long continuous skylight traversed the hall that connected individual rooms. Too often BG’s individualism is credited to his personal whims as an architect, rather than to a new sensibility formed by a new world view as expressed in the continuous presence of Gertrude Stein. In this view no fact of experience in nature is physically or mentally exact or repeatable and aspects of any events (Whitehead’s term for any recognition of an aspect, quality, verbal association or other manifestation of human cognition) could be coordinated in a design. The works of many prescient artists of his time reflected this world view. In my opinion, BG was the architect whose work best exemplified this attitude in architecture and thereby extended the concepts of organic architecture.

When I transferred from Syracuse University to Oklahoma after reading about BG in an architectural journal in 1948, Walter Gropius of the Bauhaus and Harvard and Mies Van der Rohe of IIT, were the leaders of the academic modernist establishment. While Mies did go to Aurora, Ill. to visit The Ford House, spectacular photos of which had just been published by Life Magazine, Gropius couldn’t be bothered to attend a Goff lecture at Harvard. Goff’s work was responding to existential concepts that were stirring contemporary European philosophy at the time. Gropius and Mies van der Rohe did not recognize -- as BG did -- that color, bodily sensation, and the life experience of client and architect were all part of the context for doing architecture and should influence structure, materials and architectural form. BG intuitively and consciously believed that client’s physical presence and existential preferences must be recognized and reflected in an organic architecture.


It is late August of 1948. I arrive at the OU School of Architecture in a plain wood story wooden building on an abandoned military base north of Norman, Oklahoma. Accompanying me is a 6 foot+ ex-marine with shrapnel in his leg from Iwo Jima and a car trunk full of G.I. Bill supplies. (On the trip he tells me wistfully that he would like to marry an Indian girl with oil wells. This he does within a few years.) As we enter the inauspicious building I was immediately struck by a long hallway where BG had painted the ceiling and walls black and traversed by white strings spaced about an inch and a half apart, at an angle and extending to dark green exhibition panels that lined the walls. I remember rhythms of the strings as they joined small white circular eyelets normally used to reinforce notebook paper holes. There were hanging clear glass bowls with dangling philodendron. The effect transformed the boring hall into a quiet work of art. Later I would associate certain paintings by the original surrealist, Matta, with the spatial quality and color of BG’s hallway.

BG’s office was at one end of the hall. The doors were open and the office interior, lined with books and long playing records, was visible through a delicate Japanese screen of thin bamboo strips. BG came out to greet us and invited us to sit down. He had the finest eyes I had ever seen. There were delicate wrinkles around his eyes and as he talked he would inflect his eyes and brows. To me this seemed to make his quiet yet affirming and insistent speech take on greater import, as if there was much more potent content in back of his spoken words. He spoke in generalities with humorous asides and pointed comments. I began to realize that BG was the first genius I had ever met. Later I came to believe that BG must have been the best educator on the American scene. He had a natural kindness, patience and sympathy for most everyone and believed that everyone could be creative if they could relax and free themselves from fearing the impositions of others. He emanated kindness and consideration for others that endeared him to students and clients alike. I remember tears in my eyes on receiving word of his death, and I am sure that I was not alone in this response.

What I particularly want to comment on in this essay are my thoughts about his architecture and point out what I believe are parallels between BG’s ideas, design methods and architecture and Whitehead’s process philosophy, European phenomenology, progressive existentialism, the thought and work of Gertrude Stein and the pragmatism of William James. I will choose as examples some of BG’s finest works; the Ford house, Wilson House, Bavinger House, the Crystal Chapel, the Jones house and a few others. I want to show that even with the attention his work has received, the commentaries and books on his work do not find the connection to feelings, sensation and bodily and existential experience that I believe sets his work apart from the leading architects of his time and of the present time.

I also wish to make it clear that when I critique BG I am interested in him as a fascinating study in human behavior, and in doing so I am reacting against stereotypical writings by students about mentors that can be limited to unquestioning praise. I briefly worked for noted Los Angeles architect John Lautner whom I greatly admired. I could never draw him out on his six-year apprenticeship with Frank Lloyd Wright. John never said anything that could be construed as a criticism of Wright. Again, BG was a lovable, kind and gentle person with great energy and resolve. He was also the most productive individual that I have ever known.


The Art Institute of Chicago has on permanent display, a two page letter from Wright to Goff asking Goff to redo the first design for the Joe Price studio. It is a meeching and condescending letter, a revealing example of Wright in his most egocentric assumption that he was architecture and asking Goff to do a quieter and less radical (more Wrightian) “opus for the boy” and this after BG had forcefully suggested the name of Frank Lloyd Wright to Joe Price who had come to him inquiring what architect his dad should employ to do a three story office building in Bartlesville. Wright sold Price on a design he had done twenty-five years earlier, St. Marks Tower. The twenty-three story building was never successful as a functioning building but the Price tower did receive much publicity and both Harold Price and his eldest son built large houses designed by Wright. I met FLW twice when he lectured at OU, was awed by his accomplishments, but did not know him.)


I also believe that Mickey Muennig, practicing in Big Sur, California, has genius. Mickey took some courses at OU after BG had left and spent time with him in Bartlesville. He designed the landmark Foulke house in Joplin when he was twenty six. His superb design for the Post Ranch Inn at Big Sur can be seen on the web.

Then there is John Hurtig who practices in Boulder, Colorado. John studied under BG at OU about 1950-53. His last two years of student work showed genius in structure, form, use of materials and the finest draftsmanship of any of BG’s students. A series of drawings he made after graduation and a stint in the Air Force show to me a Michelangelo-like power (I am not exaggerating) of imagination and technical control, expressing androgynous feelings of power, tenderness, cosmic scale and, in several drawings, what to me was a fourth dimension. These drawings were made spontaneously, without preliminary studies and executed at one sitting. His draftsmanship is, again in my opinion, the finest I have ever seen by any architect of any time including Louis Sullivan. Sullivan’s great drawings of the twenties still showed connections to vegetation, seeds and growth linked to the nineteenth century and Art Nouveau. Hurtig seemed to express sheer energy as the underlying unit of the world. As educator BG attracted and influenced these and other extraordinary talents.


I was entering my third year at OU having just returned from New York after spending half a museum day enthralled by Tchelitchew’s great painting, Hide and Seek. BG had shown me a color reproduction of this painting the previous semester. I immersed myself in this utterly original and irrepressible image which expressed the greatest sense of awe, organic transformation and of body at one with mind that I have ever seen.

Returning to OU BG asked me to do presentation drawings for the Bavinger House, his famous helical spiral house that later would receive a national award from The American Institute of Architects. Influenced by the intricacies of Hide and Seek and probably the paintings of Gustav Klimt (also introduced to me by BG) I turned the scrub oaks and ground cover in the drawings of the site into a labyrinth of ambiguous imagery. A curator at the Art institute of Chicago told me the Bavinger drawings were the most requested items for exhibition in their archives.

The client Gene Bavinger, an ex Navy pilot, was a painter on the OU Art School faculty who did fine oil paintings and striking photograms, abstract expressions of light on black backgrounds. His easel painting showed deep interior spaces formed by curved and sinewy forms suggesting organic and imaginary, perhaps surreal interiors. When I met him he was living with his wife, Nancy in a small tract house. The property lines were thickly planted with tall grasses and reeds to obscure completely the house from neighbors. Gene worked furiously to raise funds to build the new house and produced silk screened posters for the Navy, still located in wooden buildings at south campus. Other students and I helped him with the silk screen tables that he placed in the living room of his tiny tract house.

Gene was also hired to paint, for a paltry sum, a mural eight or nine feet high and perhaps forty feet in length outside a cafeteria at North Campus. Exhausted from silk screening all day and having no idea in mind for the mural, at about 8PM he ran at the wall with a gunny sack loaded with paint. After the initial splat he worked through the night to finish by morning. His client refused to accept the mural as art. BG was called to give his opinion. He pronounced the mural to be art and Gene got paid.

I can barely believe that Gene built this BG house with his own hands and the help of student volunteers because I spent four hours setting four deep-red boulder stones in the spiral wall. It was back-breaking work. But Gene had great energy and the physical strength of a fork lift. The built design proposed a framed insulated roof suspended by surplus stainless steel rods. A continuous skylight about sixteen inches wide separated the opaque roof from the spiral stone wall. A bounty of plants that Gene and his wife Nancy liked to cultivate were grown in garden areas along the wall. A built-in gutter at the base of the wall provided drainage for the garden.

In the initial roof design that I had drawn, BG proposed a translucent plastic roof with discs of one inch thick Styrofoam suspended at two to twelve inch intervals. A copper heating pipe bent to curves and angles was to run continuously amidst the Styrofoam discs. This scheme was deemed too costly and impractical, so BG changed the idea to an insulated roof with plaster soffit made exciting by a continuous skylight separating the opaque roof from the spiral stone wall. The final solution was very effective. This was often a pattern with BG. He would sometimes proposed a complex and fanciful solution to a design problem but willingly revised his idea into a more economic or practical version when necessary.

I heard nothing but words of respect for the Bavinger House, which, in spite of changes in the materials, was a spectacular and original work that Gene and Nancy seemed to live in happily throughout their lives. One professor said that it was socially impractical because there were only curtains to give privacy to the sleeping areas. My only regret was that Gene could not afford a better roof surface than the light grey asphalt shingles he ended up with. Gene occasionally told us that BG had no idea of the amount of work involved in this self-built project and at times was lax with technical assistance. After doing the presentation drawings for the house I became a fringe member of BG’s band of student followers which meant that I would sometimes join them for lunch at two or three of Norman’s very limited restaurant choices, and occasionally for coffee at about midnight. After bussing from North Campus, BG arrived at school at eight in the morning and left at eleven or eleven thirty p.m. BG got along on four hours of sleep telling us he wasn’t going to sleep a third of his life away.


Ruth Ford was the director of a progressive art school in Chicago during the thirties. BG had worked for her, teaching in the school and later she asked him to design a house for her in Aurora, Illinois. I remember BG telling us how he had conceived the design. Ruth was a tall, largish extroverted lady. Her favorite color was Chinese red. She did splashy watercolors and needed a studio. BG’s first scheme was thought too costly and he designed two other versions, but Ruth Ford and her husband opted to build the original. Using Eliot Elisofan’s superlative photography, Life published color photos of this landmark house in about 1949.

One of these photographs shows Ruth standing in the kitchen which opened to the domed ceiling. A section through the house shows BG’s genius. BG, while a Seabee stationed in California, had designed and built a notable chapel employing Quonset ribs. He selected these ribs again for the Ford House to create a dome with all the ribs forming the structure of the house and intersecting a thin conical copper covered cone shape that contained two fireplaces, one in the sunken living area and one in the studio located on the level above. At ground level the ribs were offset with a gap of about fourteen inches by a four to five foot high wall of anthracite coal treated to avoid smudging and enlivened by random inserts of green glass cullet. The offset allowed continuous horizontal screened vents protected from rain. The remaining interior of the dome which became the curved ceiling of the dome was finished with a herringbone pattern of neatly scaled wood siding stained a quiet shade of tan. Thus the interior was both calming and exciting. On the exterior the ribs were covered with deep green shingles to blend with foliage. Where exposed around the perimeter of the dome, the ribs were painted Chinese red, while at the skylight and conical tip of the fire place, the exposed ribs formed a crescendo of light and Ford’s favorite color.

This design shows how BG was sensitive to existential characteristics of the client; her preferred colors, her physical size and her extroverted nature. He could integrate such features with structure, planning and materials to form unique solutions to his different clients sites, interests and other variables.

In the Ford House, BG incorporated many unusual found materials. For example, he used salvage rope on the soffits of the house to create a soft brown natural and directional texture. Another example of his original use of color and texture is his use of waste glass cullets in the Ford and other projects to heighten physical sensation and the use of anthracite coal as interior wall finish. The famous goose-feathered skylight ceiling in the studio for Joe Price is one more striking example.

Mention should be made of the two story screened porch of the Ford house which occupied one quarter of the plan and acted as a light source for the living, studio and kitchen areas. On the flat lot without good views this porch itself became a center of interest from the interior while also completing the dome. Viewed from the exterior, the dome, rather closed in shape, suggested complex metaphors from primitive hut to a landed flying saucer.


In 1983 former clients and students held a three day celebration in Bartlesville Oklahoma. About 50 people made up a bus tour to visit architecture of Goff and Wright in and around Bartlesville. Goff’s clients loved Goff and their houses. One of these homes was a Frank Lloyd Wright house that BG had revamped.

As we stopped at Goff’s Jones House I saw Mrs. Jones, then in her seventies, sweeping her front walk. I left the bus and introduced myself as one of Goff’s former students who had met her before, when I once accompanied BG on a visit to the house. Her first remark was a hearty “Oh, wasn’t he a wonderful man!” and she promptly invited the entire group to look at the interior. Mrs. Jones actively collected miniature pieces of early American glassware and early American hooked rugs. To show off the rugs BG arranged û the plan of the house so that some of the rugs could be fitted into individual hexagonal areas of the living and dining spaces. These hexagonal areas were then integrated with square areas on several floor levels. The kitchen cabinets were laid out along adjoining fourteen foot long sides of a square. About eight inches above the kitchen counters BG designed a continuous horizontal glass shelf about sixteen inches in width. The shelf was met by a sloping glass window (see section drawing.) This crystalline like form gave ample space for Mrs. Jones to arrange her glass figurines. The colors of the house inside and out were quiet shades of sage green and soft brown which seemed to harmonize with the neighborhood as well as with Mrs. Jones’ collections.


During my first term at Oklahoma, fellow student Robert Overstreet, was putting finishing touches on a fine model of BG’s Crystal Chapel project. Even though it was not built it had a significant influence on architecture. I believe the donor was talked out of backing BG’s design by an influential friend who told her that it would be more appropriate to build a traditional building. Later, architect Philip Johnson designed and built a crystalline church in Los Angeles, admitting that he had been influenced by Goff’s design. BG had me do a perspective drawing of the interior. I never quite liked the drawing because of my overly-busy rendering of reflecting pools at the alter. As I remember, the wall system called for specially cast small aluminum I beams forming four-cornered diamond shapes and holding light-pink colored translucent panels shaped into low rising pyramids. The panels were about two inches thick with translucent pink fiberglass insulation between solid plastic sheets. The plan of the chapel showed an extensive water garden surrounding the enclosed space. Retractable windows at water level allowed for natural cooling during hot weather. A tall thin triangle of light-pink granite flanked by two soaring aluminum and pink glass spires were to be visible for miles above the flat prairie and the low rise community of Norman, Oklahoma. Frank Lloyd Wright, on viewing BG’s design, criticized this tall spire as being unnecessary. We students thought it was beautifully scaled with the rather steep rise of the main auditorium and served the function as BG stated it. I always thought that had the chapel been built it would have attracted larger projects for BG to design.


This house, located just a block or two off campus had caused quite a stir. Photos of this house were published in Life in 1947 and subsequently the house had thousands of tourist visits. I used to walk by it often while a student at OU. Sited on a narrow corner lot, BG employed a masonry wall with shallow rippling curves which added stability (see photo). The house had two stories with the lowest bedroom level sunk into the ground about three feet. Which lowered the scale of the house to better relate it to one- and two-story neighboring houses and a large two story brick house on the opposite corner. BG had suspended two aluminum discs from steel pipes with trusses exposed on the undersides. One disc was large enough to act as a carport roof while the smaller disc provided shade over patio seating. BG characteristically used unconventional materials, or materials in unconventional ways; in the Ledbetter House he used small square glass ashtrays for the sparkle they lent to vertical wood vent panels that divided the four foot wide repeating plate glass windows. The long carport elevation of the house provided views of masonry walls that diminish in height with irregular horizontal stone courses as they extend out beyond the enclosed house. The extended roof eaves extended steel fascias and thin, extending carport and patio aluminum structures provided an excellent example of BG’s gifts as orchestrator of a diversity of materials and forms. I believe BG told me he was influenced by traditional Japanese architecture where overhanging roofs, projecting decks, railings and wood columns at corners intersected the sky and landscape to merge and interlock the building with nature.


My friend, John Andrus, who with his wife, Teresa, has been living in my design for the Cunninghams in 1963, took me to see the Hopewell Church in 2007. It is on the historic national register but needs a major restoration. I remember BG going through dime stores in search of shiny trinkets that he hung on rods in that church and other of his designs as ornaments.


In this design project of 1946 in Hayward, California, BG absorbed his many influences to produce what is for me, essential Goff. Looking at photos of this house model the first thing I noticed was a dramatic suspended roof with a unique fascia of closely spaced circular openings. Cables attached to this fascia located at about 5 or 6 foot spacing rose to a single concrete beam which in turn rose incrementally to an outward and upward pointing gesture. The beam deepened at column points as the roof span widened, thus increasing the load of the deepening segments. Subtly undulating stone walls, reminiscent of the Ledbetter House, made windowless boundaries facing neighboring lots. These walls contained a water garden that ran inside and outside the glass walls. The interior looked out to the rear and front gardens. Three large circular lily pads or floors for living over the water garden were connected by a wood deck whose irregular edges repeated the undulating stone wall with its irregular ends. The design was a masterfully composed environment suitable to both primordial and civilized human needs: sun, shelter, water and garden. I was impressed by this design and wished it could have been built.


Bill Murphy, an architect who had graduated from OU about 1962, and his partner, Lou Muller and Don Bernshouse, a classmate of Bill’s, had arranged for an exhibit of BG’s work at the gallery of the Architectural League in New York City. I came to see them and BG, who was to attend the opening. Bill, Lou and Don had taken two days to hang the exhibit and I thought they had done a beautiful job. BG showed up after Bill and Lou had finished, about midnight. Even though BG had approved the layout forwarded to him by Bill, the first thing BG said was that certain of his projects had not been hung. He then proceeded to take down most of the show and with us helping; he put up the missing projects. He had to crowd the projects onto the walls so that there was no space between them -- thus, in my opinion, ruining Bill and Lou’s professional and handsome design. We worked until after four in the morning when, exhausted, we all went for coffee. At five AM, with Bill and Lou dozing off after having spent several consecutive late nights, I said maybe we should turn in. But BG had been going strong in conversation and hadn’t seemed to notice; he always said that he wasn’t going to sleep a third of his life away.


One Goff attribute that I wish to emphasize is his approach to design projects -- and to life in general -- with optimism and gaiety in Gertrude Stein’s sense of play and gaiety. She believed that for free association to be productive and to plumb the backwards and forwards of consciousness one had to relax and not force ideas into pre-determined forms. Decisions in art or the formation of ideas were not to be taken approached with super-serious pessimism -- as exemplified particularly, in my opinion, by Heidegger (negativity), Wagner (ponderous and racist themes), Sartre (writing on nausea as an existential platform ) or Mies van der Rohe (ultimate rectangles and boxes.) While mulling over a house design for clients with the name of Swombat, BG asked what would it be like to carry the name of Swombat all one’s life. Gertrude Stein proposed that people become like their names. Her own name (Stein = stone) along with her stout, compact body could provide the illustration. The human imagination can not help itself in making such associations. Think of Dickens penchnt for suggestive names, for instance, the miserly and brutal schoolmaster, Wackford Squeers. In BG’s scheme for the Swombats he proposed a two story mass with a hipped roof shingled and stained to harmonize with the site on the Indiana dunes and incorporating a skylight and fireplace vent at the peak. (see sketch of the entrance elevation, fig. 1.) Small continuous vertical windows accent the corners of the house. The pattern of each trellis at these windows hints of insect or animal wings. The house sits on an ivy covered berm. Large two story windows overlook the wind swept dunes. Symmetrically positioned and opposite the elevation with windows facing the dunes, a circular opening is placed dead center of the otherwise unbroken shingled mass. Clear plastic sheets cover a structure of circular metal rings providing shelter for a ramp attached to a cantilevered carport. The whole image is reminiscent of a swooping tail, animal or insectile. This image is not a cartoon. It utilizes evocative forms as buildable solutions to environmental and planning considerations: privacy, protection from wind and the orchestration of materials and forms.

The role of the body as a qualification of human experience needs further discussion. The low ceilings found in much of Wright’s work reflects his short stature. The large dimensions of Mies Van der Rohe’s famous Barcelona chair reflects his large physical stature. Both Heidegger and Whitehead stressed how the body informs all of our judgments and responses. We build a lifetime of bodily experience that underlies our belief that we can not touch the moon (a baby will reach for the moon), how to play tennis, dance, make art and mathematics. The notion that one plus one equals two and the notion of infinity depend on bodily experience. Think of the phenomenological approach of Gertrude Stein in her first sentence as she makes a verbal portrait of a carafe. A blind glass that is a carafe and her second sentence which includes a hurt color. This suggests a glass that is heavily clouded or opaque and dark purple or red in color. The tactile sense informed by the body is, according to the Renaissance philosopher, Telesio, the most important sense underlying and qualifying the entire world of appearance. Thus the composed contrasts of materials in BG’s work are directed to heighten tactile and bodily sensation just as Stein does in her portrait of a carafe.

Again I see in BG’s work the analogy to the ideas of Husserl, Heidegger and Stein. When considering what a tree is in reality we should examine only the different ways in which, and as what, the tree presents itself to consciousness, or more accurately, how consciousness stays with it. Reality should be given opportunity to show itself without the percipients covering up the tree with what the percipients already knew and without unfelt preconceptions. In actual perception the differences in how consciousness responds to or takes up aspects of the object tree is what Heidegger, Stein and in my opinion, BG were trying to deal with during the events, moments or situations of their concern. BG’s musing about expressing something of the client’s name in the design of the Swombat house provides an illustration.

BG collected and played modern music beginning with Debussy whom he spoke of as the greatest composer. He once told me that Ravel was his next favorite. Normally he avoided ranking artists, saying it was like comparing apples and oranges, each different and enjoyable. Music was a passion to BG, and he encouraged Jim Gresham and myself to take a course in modern music given by Harrison Kerr, a composer who had joined the OU music faculty.

BG often used musical terminology in discussing architectural design. Orchestration, theme development, rhythm, counterpoint and dissonance were commonly illustrated as BG would analyze complex designs like the front of Louis Sullivan’s bank in Grinell, Iowa. No one living could hold one’s attention as BG did when describing design as a pattern of abstract shapes using musical terms including incident, terminal and climax. He would deal with a painting by Kandinsky or Klimt in similar manner with fascinating explanations.

There were BG’s Saturday night music events at the School of Architecture. Anyone could attend. BG played favorite modern composers with occasional Balinese or radical modern selections; for example Edgar Varese, whom he became acquainted with. The avant guarde composer, Harry Partch, Duke Ellington, Stravinsky’s son Serge and Edgar Varese were also friends of BG’s. I missed one Saturday session during the McCarthy era when uniformed watchmen and police broke into the room demanding to know what was going on. Students present gave their names as Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Bartok and other notable favorite composers of BG.

For BG, sound and music formed the most important connection between the human being and the world. I remember Whitehead writing to the effect that sound was the most important sense because it was the most visceral.

He disliked dentistry and put off going for years. Consequently he had a habit of keeping his lip in position to obscure a missing tooth and this affected his smile, but his sparkling eyes more than made up for it.

In teaching or in conversation BG’s anti-establishment humor would come out in his terminology. He accused architects who were copying Ed Stone’s grills of being stuck in the Stone Age. He accused other architects of having “modelitis”, which meant they expected their finished work to have the interest of their small scale design models.

When I was drawing for BG at a table back of a light bamboo screen in his office I noticed how when he had an amusing story to tell that he would bring individuals into the office sit them down and tell the story. Then he would find other students or faculty, bring them in and tell the same story. This could happen three or four times during one of my working sessions.

I remember attending movies with him and other students. BG would go to see any B movie set in Africa on the chance of seeing a native hut. Once I was watching a movie with him when a baby in the audience got out of control with crying. I said it’s time to bring out the baby crusher. This made him giggle and he would occasionally repeat the phrase whenever other babies cried.

Reading David Delong’s biography of BG’s architecture, I learned that BG designed the Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Tulsa when he was about 22. I have several memories that he told us he had had designed it when 16 years old. Whichever is the truth, Delong’s book is very informative on BG’s chronology of works and on the influences of other architects and previous architectural movements. Delong is sympathetic but strives for accuracy in his book.

Jack Golden who was a talented student from Chicago. After graduating, Jack started a news letter called Friends of Kebyar named after BG’s land in Kentucky, which BG described as exceptionally beautiful and where he hoped one day to start a private school of architecture. Jack’s newsletter is still being issued and publishes BG’s work, work of OU grads and the work of others who supposedly practice in the organic tradition.


I do not remember the fact that BG was gay ever influencing our dealings with him. He commanded a deep and special respect. It didn’t enter my mind. Only in later years did I hear stories about BG and gay activities with other students they had obviously kept quiet at the time. It had been suspected, however, because In 1955 BG resigned his chairmanship after being obviously set up for inappropriately touching a minor in the public exhibition area of the school with a policeman, just by chance, on hand to catch him. President Cross and most students and faculty encouraged him to fight the charge, but he decided to leave instead. In BG’s time homosexuality was not accepted either legally or socially. Gay people risked being fired from their jobs if found out. We know much more about sexuality than we did in 1955, and thankfully institutions and individuals are much more accepting.

I remember Kinsey reporting that about 80 per cent of males had bi-sexual experience. I have personally met and known males and females to have twenty or thirty-five year marriages with two or three children and then switch gender partners. The noted Harvard biologist, Edward O. Wilson in his masterful book, “Consilence”, tells us that homosexuality was an important influence as culture evolved the notion of altruism. Homosexuality is also present in other higher species. Personally I believe that androgynous feelings and ideas have been expressed in much of the highest art that humankind has produced. Michelangelo’s Sybils on the Sistine ceiling and some of his figures on the Medici tombs are examples. It is said that many artists and especially creative people have both left and right brain functions well developed.

I later fond out that when John Hurtig, the big blonde Swede, first transferred from Kansas State and sat down with BG in his office that BG made a pass at him. Being about six feet two inches tall with large darting and expressive hands and a quick expressive voice, John had perhaps seemed somewhat androgynous to BG. Hurtig got up and left BG’s office, then came back and things went on as if nothing happened. Hurtig, who in his fourth year did some student projects and drawings more creative than any I had ever seen, seemed to think that BG failed to show his student work in the prominent exhibition spaces in school and wondered if this was related to his earlier rebuff of BG’s advances. Not to gossip but to try to bring in some of the complexities of body, mind and human nature.

In the first addition to the Joe Price studio, BG designed a large shower room, triangular in plan, directly below the open gallery space above. The glassed view into the shower was partially obscured by a strong forms made of symmetrical angles in black painted steel. One really couldn’t see much through this pool design but I thought there was something a bit hidden and furtive about the arrangement that can suggest BG’s attitude. Others are unlikely to see the arrangement this way but I connect it to some of the in-turning symmetrical floor plans that BG produced for houses and perhaps to his personal sexual outlook conditioned by his time.

In 1955 or 6 BG stopped by my Houston apartment and met a math whiz with a large IQ about to enter Rice Institute who had been talking with me about Whitehead, although I was just beginning to read his books. BG invited him to postpone his entry to college and come to Bartlesville and apprentice to him. BG thought he looked like Nijinsky. The young man was with BG for a number of years. In addition to helping BG around the office BG tutored him in music and painting. I visited them while they were in the Price Tower. Later BG set, him up with about $10,000 (a lot of money for the time) worth of sound equipment so that he could work on electronic music. After a few years the young man married a woman and eventually left to finish his doctorate in math in record time and go on to a long successful math career. I do remember that the man cautioned BG about doing several symmetrical in-turning house designs in a row. I thought of this as being an example of wanting privacy, not being looked in on. BG’s next scheme for the Durst house in Houston was pointedly asymmetrical. It was built, a very interesting design with a gently sloping roof and large windows looking into a grove of trees. To me, the episode is a good example of BG’s belief in the creative potential of every individual, his kindness and his vulnerability.

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