Bruce Goff

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Bruce Goff
Born Bruce Alonzo Goff
(1904-06-08)June 8, 1904
Alton, Kansas, USA
Died August 4, 1982(1982-08-04) (aged 78)
Tyler, Texas, USA
Nationality American
Occupation Architect
Awards AIA Twenty-five Year Award (1987)
Practice Tulsa, Oklahoma
Chicago, Illinois
Norman, Oklahoma
Bartlesville, OK
Buildings Bavinger House
Ruth VanSickle Ford House
Ledbetter House
Pavilion for Japanese Art

Bruce Alonzo Goff (June 8, 1904 – August 4, 1982) was an American architect, distinguished by his organic, eclectic, and often flamboyant designs for houses and other buildings in Oklahoma and elsewhere.

A 1951 Life Magazine article stated that Goff was "one of the few US architects whom Frank Lloyd Wright considers creative...scorns houses that are ‘boxes with little holes."[1]

Early years[edit]

Born in Alton, Kansas, Goff was a child prodigy whose family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1915. He was largely self-educated and displayed a great talent for drawing. His father apprenticed him at age twelve to the Tulsa architectural firm of Rush, Endacott and Rush. Goff's employers were impressed with his talent; they soon gave him responsibility for designing houses and small commercial projects. One of his earliest designs that was actually built was a house at 1732 South Yorktown Avenue in Tulsa's Yorktown Historical District; another was the 1920 McGregor House, at 1401 South Quaker Street in what is now known as the Cherry Street District. This house was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. During this period, his work was heavily influenced through his correspondence with Wright and with Louis Sullivan, both of whom had encouraged him to practice architecture with Rush, Endacott and Rush instead of enrolling in Massachusetts Institute of Technology; they felt the formal education would stifle his creativity. Goff was made a firm partner in 1930.[2] He and his high-school art teacher Adah Robinson are co-credited with the design of Tulsa's Boston Avenue Methodist Church, one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the United States.


In 1934 Goff moved to Chicago and began teaching part-time at the Academy of Fine Arts. He designed several Chicago-area residences and went to work for the manufacturer of "Vitrolite", an architectural sheet glass introduced during the 1930s. At the outbreak of World War II, Goff enlisted in the U.S. Navy, was assigned to the Naval Construction Branch ("Seabees"), and designed a number of military structures and residences during his service.[2] He also obtained a teaching position with the School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma in 1942. Despite being largely self-taught, Goff was named chairman of the school in 1943.[3] This was his most productive period. In his private practice, Goff built a large number of residences in the American Midwest, developing his singular style of organic architecture that was client- and site-specific.

In 1955, Goff, who was homosexual, was accused of "endangering the morals of a minor", as homosexuality was not socially acceptable in Oklahoma in 1955.[4] As a result of the unproven claims, he was forced to resign from his position at the University of Oklahoma.[3] Historians and writers have expressed their belief that Goff was politically forced from his position specifically for being homosexual.[5][6]

In 1955, Goff relocated his studio to the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, which had been designed by his mentor Frank Lloyd Wright. There he continued to produce novel designs, and also spent considerable time traveling and lecturing. Articles about his ideas and designs appeared frequently in professional magazines, such as Progressive Architecture, Art in America and Architectural Forum.[2] In 1960-1961 he had Arthur Dyson as an apprentice in his office.[7]


Bavinger House

Goff's accumulated design portfolio of 500 projects (about one quarter of them built) demonstrates a restless, sped-up evolution through conventional styles and forms at a young age, through the Prairie Style of his heroes and correspondents Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan, then into original design. Finding inspiration in sources as varied as Antoni Gaudi, Balinese music, Claude Debussy, Japanese ukiyo-e prints, and seashells, Goff's mature work had no precedent and he has few heirs other than his former assistant, New Mexico architect Bart Prince, and former student, Herb Greene.[8] His contemporaries primarily followed tight functionalistic floorplans with flat roofs and no ornament. Goff's idiosyncratic floorplans, attention to spatial effect, and use of recycled and/or unconventional materials such as gilded zebrawood, cellophane strips, cake pans, glass cullet, Quonset Hut ribs, ashtrays, and white turkey feathers, challenge conventional distinctions between order and disorder.

A number of Goff's original designs are on display at the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.

In 2002 director Heinz Emigholz produced the documentary film Goff in the Desert which depicts 62 of Bruce Goff's buildings.[9] He also used imagery from this movie for the music video Celtic Ghosts of German band Kreidler.

Ledbetter House

Selected works[edit]

Goff was active from the 1920s until his death, with several posthumous projects completed by associates. A number of his works were considered for listing on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.[10] The following are selected major works:


Goff's contributions to the history of 20th-century architecture are widely praised. His extant archive—including architectural drawings, paintings, musical compositions, photographs, project files, and personal and professional papers—is held by the Ryerson & Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Bruce Goff's headstone, designed by his student Grant Gustafson

His Bavinger House was awarded the Twenty-five Year Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1987,[12] and Boston Avenue Methodist Church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1999.[13]


Goff died in Tyler, Texas, on August 4, 1982.[14] His cremated remains are interred in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois, with a marker designed by Grant Gustafson (one of Goff's students) that incorporates a glass cullet fragment salvaged from the ruins of the Joe D. Price House and Studio.


  • "The Round House". Life Magazine. 1951. 
  • Birkerts, Gunnar (April 1994). Process and Expression in Architectural Form (The Bruce Alonzo Goff Series in Creative Architecture). 1. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-2642-5. 
  • Cook, Jeffrey (1 January 1978). The Architecture of Bruce Goff. Granada Publishing Limited. ISBN 978-0-246-11315-3. 
  • De Long, David G. (19 August 1988). Bruce Goff: Toward Absolute Architecture (1st ed.). The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-04097-6. 
  • Pauline Saliga, ed. (June 1995). The Architecture of Bruce Goff: Design for the Continuous Present. Mary Woolever. Prestel. ISBN 978-3-7913-1453-2. 
  • Welch, Philip B. (November 1996). Goff on Goff: Conversations and Lectures. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-2868-9. 
  1. ^ Elisofon, Eliot (March 19, 1951). "The Round House". Life. Time Inc. Retrieved 16 April 2015. 
  2. ^ a b c "Goff," Price Tower Arts Center. Retrieved October 26, 2014.
  3. ^ a b "No Place Like Home". Frieze Magazine. Jan–Feb 1996. Retrieved 21 May 2013. 
  4. ^ Patricia Leigh Brown, "Built on Oil, Banking on Design", New York Times, 16 October 2003.
  5. ^ Rohan, Timothy M. (11 July 2014). The Architecture of Paul Rudolph. Yale University Press. p. 62. ISBN 0300149395. 
  6. ^ "Bohemian Pioneer". The Architects' Journal. Architectural Press. 188: LXIII. 1988. ISSN 0003-8466. OCLC 4651322. 
  7. ^ Hammons, Mark (1994). The Architecture of Arthur Dyson. Fresno, California: Word Dancer Press. p. 14. ISBN 1-884995-23-3. 
  8. ^ Huxtable, Ada Louise (8 February 1970). "Peacock Feathers and Pink Plastic". The New York Times. Retrieved 23 June 2011. 
  9. ^ Bruce Goff - Architecture as autobiography
  10. ^ Arn Henderson (2000). "National Register of Historic Places Multiple Property documentation: Resources Designed by Bruce Goff in Oklahoma, 1918–1982" (PDF). 
  11. ^ How Utopian Living Looked to Modernist Architects, atlas obscura (16 September 2016)
  12. ^ Webb, Michael (2005). "Saving Bruce Goff". The Architectural Review. 
  13. ^ "Boston Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church, South". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 18 January 2008. 
  14. ^ TX Death Records, Texas, USA.

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