Exhibit Highlights American School of Architecture

“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 in the 1950s and ’60s. The famous architects transformed the ways architecture was learned, taught and practiced, creating a uniquely American architectural style now represented in an archive at the University of Oklahoma Libraries and displayed in an exhibition in Bizzell Memorial Library, 401 W. Brooks St.

Renegades: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture—on view through July 29—features selections from the American School Archive, including drawings and virtual tours of three residences designed by Goff, rendered by Skyline Ink of Oklahoma City.

“The Renegades exhibition at Bizzell gives the public a first peek at the fantastic and experimental work of our American School alumni,” says Stephanie Pilat, director of the Division of Architecture in the OU Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture. “The exhibition will illustrate why the OU School of Architecture has long been known as one of the most original and innovative design schools in the world.”

Under the leadership of Bruce Goff, Herb 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 astonishing drawings included in the exhibition highlight how Bruce Goff promoted creative freedom and the extraordinary skills developed by the students under a new pedagogy,” says Luca Guido, visiting associate professor in the Gibbs College of Architecture and curator of the exhibition.

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

“While Goff challenged his students with the phrase ‘do not try to remember,’ archives are sites of memory,” notes Bridget Burke, OU Libraries associate dean for special collections. “It is a gateway into the creative process and practices of architecture in post-war era America. Building the American School Archive is an act of recovery; the documents and drawings created by OU architecture faculty and students are scattered across campus and in the offices and homes of alumni.”

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

“Buildings are made of materials that last, but architectural records, drawings, plans, glass slides and models are fragile, with specific preservation needs,” says Burke. “Architectural records appear in vastly different settings with vastly different purposes, including as building records, as documents of artistic process, as records of built environments and as the records of regulatory history. These records serve many constituents, from scholars, practicing architects and builders, people doing historic preservation and even legal and regulatory interests. For projects that were never built, they are evidence of what might have been.”

For more information, or to learn more about the exhibition, visit Renegades.libraries.ou.edu.