RENEGADES: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture

Submitted by Michael Höffner

4+

Client: University of Oklahoma College of Architecture

Location: Norman, OK, United States

Completion date: 2020

Artwork budget: $31,872

Project Team

Design Team

Evan Sack

University of Oklahoma

Design Team

Kimberly Huff

University of Oklahoma

Overview

Straddling the disciplines of art and architecture, “RENEGADES: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture” is an exhibition project that mediates a plain vanilla gallery space and the contents on display. The work exceeds what fabricators and museum staff thought possible within the time and workforce available – there were only three weeks to install. Yet, through sheer determination, the project was realized.

The exhibit contents, curated by University of Oklahoma College of Architecture faculty, examine the radical pedagogy of Bruce Goff. Chair of the College from 1947-55, Goff and his students created wildly organic projects, in contrast to the rectangularity of mainstream programs. A white box gallery would not be a sympathetic setting for the works.

Instead, the solution captures the “American School” spirit in a choreographed emotional journey for visitors. Visual cues attract and imply direction along a continuous path, the space compressing and releasing to signal distinct curatorial sections. Within the main section, information is parsed among purpose-made “stations.” The recyclable exhibition materials evoke an architectural model, combining with the other strategies to exemplify American School values of being contextual, experimental and resourceful.

Goals

The project site is the University's art museum, so integrating an exhibition design is critically important. RENEGADES is an atypical exhibit design as it aspires to inhabit the realms of art and architecture, while mediating between a large gallery space and the curated works.

The exhibition design walks a line of deference to the exhibited works while putting them in a sympathetic atmosphere. Further, the exhibit design aims to illustrate key characteristics of American School work. For example, the geometry is drawn from two of the best known American School projects - Bruce Goff's Bavinger House and Herb Greene's Prairie House. The "shingled" arrangement of elements in plan and elevation recalls an American School strategy of using off-the-shelf materials arranged in organic shapes. Indeed, the material choices exemplify American School resourcefulness by using readily available, recycled/recyclable products with plans to re-use materials after the exhibit closes.

Project integration at the museum was also critically important because the exhibit design and its contents are the platform for the first "Schools of Thought" conference hosted by the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture. This made the exhibit opening directly accessible from the conference venue.

Process

The cardboard finishes and honeycomb panel exhibits fixtures were detailed in fabrication drawings by the design team. These were fabricated in the College's digital fabrication lab where no one is afraid of an unusual project.

However, it was a different story for the sloped, tilted, shingled plywood spiral that houses an exhibit of American School works lost to fire or demolition. This work required assistance from a professional millwork shop, but the owner initially said the spiral is "too wild" to build. The design team accepted the challenge and clarified the spiral design to illustrate that each of the 21 seemingly unique panels could be built on the same jig. A little persuasion and a digital model proving the geometric rigor convinced the millwork shop that they could in fact build the plywood spiral.

All construction in the gallery had to happen within a three week window. It followed that the project delivery style resembles that of the Bavinger House and Prairie House: the project design team; university faculty and staff; students; friends and family members all participated in the building process.