Bruce Goff is regarded as one of the 20th century’s most iconoclastic architects. He was an early enactor of the Prairie School style but quickly developed a bombastic flair, unbound in its creativity—“designs for the continuous present” as he called them. Goff created outside the confines of history, taste and propriety to create some of the first truly postmodern structures.
Born in Alton, Kansas in 1904, Goff grew up in Denver and Tulsa. He showed artistic talent early on, drawing elaborate castles and cathedrals. At twelve years old, he was apprenticed to the Tulsa architectural firm Rush, Endacott and Rush. By the time he was a teenager, he was designing homes; his first “mature” project, at just twenty-two-years-old, was the towering Boston Avenue Methodist Church in 1926 in Tulsa. A few years previous, he began a correspondence with his idol, Frank Lloyd Wright, who dissuaded Goff from pursuing a formal education and instead encouraged him to develop a unique voice outside of the stifling atmosphere of academia.
In 1934 Goff moved to Chicago to teach at the Academy of Fine Arts and began designing eclectic residences for middle-class families in and around the city. In 1936 he also started working for Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Company, heading their design department. In this time, he began experimenting with integrating unexpected forms and materials such as domed roofs, triangular floorplans and cullets (irregularly-shaped by-products from the glass-firing process) as decorative elements. From 1942 to 1945 he served in the U.S. Navy, mostly remodeling buildings for military use in Alaska and California. In 1947 he became a professor at University of Oklahoma and became chairman of the School of Architecture the following year.
This began a highly productive era for Goff and he produced some of his most well-known and imaginative works, such as the Ford House in Aurora, Illinois, the Bavinger House in Norman, Oklahoma and Shin’en Kan (The Price House) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. In 1955, he was dismissed from his position at the university due to being gay; that same year he established his studio in Price Tower in Bartlesville and continued to actively lecture and mentor young architects.
Of the five-hundred works Goff designed in his nearly six decade career, about one-hundred-and-fifty were realized; many of them have fallen into disrepair or, in some cases, were destroyed. Though celebrated by members of the design community, Goff was ahead of his time in his proclivities for pastiche and his refusal to be wedded to a recognizable, succinct, and thus, profitable style that would promise him a place in the cannon. Though his work was dismissed by tastemakers for many years, it endures today as a postmodernism free from the trappings of cliché, irony or self-consciousness—pure in its intent to bring inventive and eccentric structures to the flat plains of the Midwest.