The American School – Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture

The American School

Prairie House. Herb Greene.
Photo: Daniel Kleypas

THE AMERICAN SCHOOL

Bavinger House by Bruce Goff (1955)

Crystal Chapel by Bruce Goff (1949)

About The American School Project

The American School refers to the school of design and practice that developed under the guidance of Bruce Goff, Herb Greene and others at the University of Oklahoma in the 1950s and ’60s. The American School Project is an effort to document and share the influence of the pedagogy and creative practices resulting from this original experiment. Our current initiatives are centered around a major exhibition opening at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art in Spring 2020; an exhibition of work from the American School Archive, produced with OU Libraries, opening in Fall 2018; an exhibition during the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale; and an accompanying scholarly catalog and symposium.

For more information, contact project leaders, Dr. Stephanie Pilat (spilat@ou.edu) or Dr. Luca Guido (luca.guido@ou.edu).

The American School Archive

The American School team is working with the University of Oklahoma Libraries to develop The American School archive as part of the OU Western History Collection. The American School Archive will include drawings, models, and historical documentation related to American School architecture, design, and pedagogy. Key figures of The American School, including Donald MacDonald, Arn Henderson, Vince Mancini, John Hurtig, Don Olsen, and Jim Gardner, have already donated materials to The American School archive, and the collection continues to grow.

The Associate Dean for Special Collections at OU Libraries, Bridget Burke, will play a critical role in ensuring that these materials are properly preserved for future generations. According to Burke, “The drawings, plans, and project files that make up the archives of The American School are especially significant because so few of the designs represent projects that were built; the archives document the ‘un-built’ environment, a place of boundless imagination. We often think of archives as documenting what really happened, but often the most compelling stories in archives are about roads not taken, or, in this case, built environments that exist only as drawings in the archive. Finally, The American School archives demonstrate a key role of the University Libraries’ Special Collections in documenting the creative and innovative activities of University of Oklahoma faculty. We’re excited to be involved in the preservation of these distinctive materials.”

Contact Erik Baker (ebake@ou.edu) if you are interested in donating materials to The American School archive.

Events

Bizzell Exhibit: Renegades

Join us for an exhibition highlighting pieces from the American School Archive, including works of Bruce Goff and his students!

When: Sept. 22, 2018 – July 29, 2019

Where: Bizzell Library, Main Level

American School in Venice Graphic

The American School travels to Venice! Our exhibition at the 2018 Venice Biennale highlights the radical pedagogy developed by Bruce Goff and his counterparts at the University of Oklahoma in the 1950s and 1960s.

When: May 26, 2018 – Nov. 25, 2018

Where: Palazzo Bembo, Venice, Italy

Herb Greene's Prairie House

Herb Greene, Prairie House, Norman, Oklahoma.
Photo: Luca Guido

Blaine Imel's Osher House

Blaine Imel, Osher House, Tulsa.
Photo: Luca Guido

Bruce Goff's Pollock House

Bruce Goff, Pollock House, Oklahoma City.
Photo: Luca Guido

The American School Backstory

“A new school, probably the only indigenous one in the United States” is how the architect Donald MacDonald once characterized the school of architecture that developed under the guidance of Bruce Goff and Herb Greene at the University of Oklahoma in the 1950s and ‘60s (1). At the time, architecture schools in the United States followed a curriculum inspired by either the French Beaux Arts school or the German Bauhaus school. On one hand, the French model centered on studies of classical principles of design and entailed meticulous copying of the great classical architecture of Greece and Rome. On the other hand, schools such as the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Harvard Graduate School of Design adapted the Bauhaus curriculum model—known for embracing industry and abstraction in art, architecture and design—to the American context. Only the curricular experiment started by Goff at the University of Oklahoma stood apart from these two trends: it was an original and authentically American approach to architecture and pedagogy.

Under the leadership of Bruce Goff (1904-82), Herb Greene (b. 1929), Mendel Glickman (1895-1967), and many others, OU faculty developed a curriculum that emphasized individual creativity, organic forms, and experimentation. As MacDonald described, there emerged “a truly American ethic, which is being formulated without the usual influence of the European or Asian architectural forms and methodologies common on the East and West coasts of the United States.” Indeed, the faculty rejected the rote copying of historical styles as well as the abstract minimalist approach popular elsewhere. Students were taught to look to sources beyond the accepted canon of western architecture and to find inspiration in everyday objects, the natural landscape, and non-western cultures such as the designs of Native American tribes of Oklahoma and the Western plains. This rejection of existing pedagogical models in favor of experimentation reflected Goff’s own training. He was never formally educated in architecture; rather he learned architecture by doing it, having started in practice at the age of 12. As Frank Gehry describes, “Bruce Goff suffered the shadow of Uncle Frank [Lloyd Wright], but pushed the frontier forward and extended Wright’s legacy (2). He was an American. Like Wright he was the model iconoclast, the paradigm of America. He was of the American conscience, the antidote to Gropius’s pontifical European presence; one of the roads to an American architecture…” 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 their practices in California, Hawaii, Japan, and beyond.

The work of The American School architects is contextual in its relationship to site and climate, resourceful in terms of both typical and unusual materials, and always experimental. The work of architects associated with The American School has been recognized around the world for its originality, organic forms and poetic connection to landscape. The Bavinger House designed by Bruce Goff, for example, was a spiraling form built from local stone, slack glass, and industrial cables. Inside, hanging pods encased in netting formed rooms and water features and planters eroded the distinction between inside and out. It was a home without precedent either in the history books or among Goff’s contemporaries.Today, the School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma continues to foster individual creativity rather than copying the latest styles imported from the coasts or abroad. We do not preach a style no matter how trendy. In order to maintain a creative and open-minded culture, we recruit a diverse body of faculty with individual approaches of their own to OU.  Most importantly the work of our faculty and students alike remains grounded in experimentation, resourcefulness, and context.The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma will host an exhibition on The American School of Architecture in the 2020.

 

For more information contact: Stephanie Pilat, Ph.D., Director of the Division of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma.

(1) Donald MacDonald, “Preface,” Architecture + Urbanism 81:11 (Nov. 1981) :18.

(2) Frank Gehry, “Foreword” in David De Long, Towards Absolute Architecture (Architectural History Foundation, 1988): x.

Read more

Contributors and Supporters

We would like to thank the following individuals and organizations for their support.

The American School Team: OU Faculty and Staff Contributors

Stephanie Pilat (Project Director, Gibbs College of Architecture)
Luca Guido (Project Co-Lead, GCA)
Angela Person (Project Co-Lead, GCA)
Hans Butzer (Dean, GCA)
Erik Baker (GCA)
Michael Hoffner (GCA)
Elizabeth Pober (GCA)
Ken Marold (GCA)
Garrett Stowe (GCA)
Tom Woodfin (GCA)
Mark White (Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art)
Rick Luce (Dean Emeritus, OU Libraries)
Carl Grant (Dean, OU Libraries)
Bridget Burke (Associate Dean, OU Libraries)
David Davis (OU Libraries)
James Burnes (OU Libraries)
Matt Stock (OU Libraries)
Jared Nixon (OU Libraries)
Sarah Robbins (OU Libraries)
Twila Camp (OU Libraries)
Chelsea Julian (OU Libraries)
Matt Cook (OU Libraries)

The American School Team: Student Contributors

Jillane Tatarian
Kelsee Smith
Avery Smith
Magdalena Schaffernicht
Alex Quinn
Cody Poage
Behrooz Dehghan Parchini
John B. Decuyper
Jamie Leake
Tayana Ghosh
Daniel Kleypas
Farzan Mahmoudzadeh
Corbin Taggart
Kyle Berger
Mansoor Eqrar
Vivek Vijay

Generous Supporters

Ross Group Charitable Foundation of Tulsa, Oklahoma
The OU Office of the Provost
Skyline Ink
The University of Oklahoma Libraries
The OU Office of the Vice President of Research
Allford Hall Monaghan Morris
Hornbeek Blatt Architects
W Design
Home Creations
OU Libraries Digitization Lab
The Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art
The Division of Architecture Professional Advisory Board
Donald MacDonald
Fred and Kathleen Schmidt
David and Brenda Hornbeek
Herb Greene
Ted and Lindsay Reeds
Jaqueline Rose
Eddy Jones
Roger Fincher

Top