Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art, University of Oklahoma | Jan. 24, 2020 — April 5, 2020.

NORMAN – “A new school, probably the only indigenous one in the United States” is how the architect Donald MacDonald described Bruce Goff and Herb Greene’s influence on the University of Oklahoma School of Architecture from 1947 through the 1960s. These architects transformed the ways architecture was learned, taught and practiced, creating a uniquely American approach to design now documented in an archive at the University of Oklahoma Libraries and on display in an upcoming exhibition at Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art.

Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture tells the story of this exciting period in architectural history by featuring selections from the American School Archive, as well as virtual tours of several residences designed by Bruce Goff and digitally rendered by Skyline Ink of Oklahoma City. The exhibition opens Friday, Jan. 24.

“The idea for a dedicated exhibition emerged after the College went through a leadership transition and brought in new faculty in 2016,” said Stephanie Pilat, director of architecture at OU. “Together, we immediately recognized the fantastic quality of the student work in our collections and the story of a truly radical pedagogy that had yet to be shared.” 

Under the leadership of Goff, Greene, Mendel Glickman and many others, OU architecture faculty led a pedagogical shift beginning with Goff’s arrival on campus in 1947. These professors developed a curriculum that emphasized individual creativity, organic forms and experimentation. This radical approach to design drew students to Oklahoma from as far away as Japan and South America and later spread the American School influence to professional practices in California, Hawaii, Greece and beyond.

The American School Archive includes items from Frank Lloyd Wright, Fred David Shellabarger, Albert Yanda, Arn Henderson, Donald McDonald, John Hurtig, Norman Froelich, Jim Gardner, Ernest Burden and more. It also includes student drawings and slides, with new donations still arriving.

“The American School archives continues to grow through outreach to Gibbs College of Architecture alumni and associates,” said Bridget Burke, associate dean for special collections of OU Libraries. “We’re eager to make the collection accessible to students, scholars and practitioners as part of our Western History Collection, which is rich in resources for the study of environmental history and the built environment of the southern plains.”

The exhibition also explores the role of archives and documentation as historical evidence. An example is the Barby House, built by Goff for Celestine Barby in Tucson, Arizona. The archive includes letters between Goff and Barby about costs, material and design decisions.

Organized into three sections, the exhibition tells the story of dramatic change in architectural education centered on individual creativity.  From Beaux-Arts to Bauhaus, the first section, highlights the evolution in American architecture schools at the time. The second section, Bruce Goff and the School of Architecture at OU, showcases the curriculum and student work produced at OU as well as the work of faculty at the time. Bruce Goff and His Legacy, the third section, highlights the contextual, resourceful and experimental built works of American School architects around the world.

“Revisiting this history through the lens of a new geography, the mid- west and a new cast of architects, Bruce Goff, Mendel Glickman, Herb Greene and others usually relegated to the periphery, offers a way to re–cast the agency of a design aesthetic particular to the American scene,” said Winifred E. Newman, Professor and Director of the Institute for Intelligent Materials, Systems and Environments at Clemson University.

“As Dr. Pilat and her team demonstrates, this kind of re–framing allows us to better appreciate its significance in a broad context. It is my hope these efforts if given support will enable broad public promotion and foment a larger program of positioning American design as a complex of interactions between the more traditional European influences and uniquely native institutions, ideologies, economies and environments.”

The American School project is led by Stephanie Pilat, Luca Guido and Angela Person. The Renegades exhibition is curated by Luca Guido, with Lynne Rostochil, and designed by Michael Hoffner, with Evan Sack and Kimberly Huff. It will be on display at the Fred Jones through April 5, 2020.

Featured photo: Jim Gardner, Symmetrical Forms in an Asymmetrical Arrangement, Fourth-Year Studio (Architecture 273) assignment, Bruce Goff, instructor, ca. 1955. Norman Froelich, John Hurtig, and James Gardner Collection, American School Archive, University of Oklahoma Libraries.