Client: University of Oklahoma College of Architecture
Location: Norman, OK, United States
Completion date: 2020
Artwork budget: $31,872
University of Oklahoma
University of Oklahoma
“RENEGADES: Bruce Goff and the American School of Architecture” tells the story of a radical pedagogy.
How do you disseminate a wild body of architectural work in a gallery? …And what if you need to tell the story of an openly gay man who led a university architecture department and his wholly original teaching philosophy? Believe it or not, this story is set in midcentury Oklahoma.
The exhibit design transforms the white box gallery – intervening to mitigate with works on display; providing a relevant architectural experience. Along a continuous path, visual cues attract; space is compressed and expanded. Understanding of curatorial shifts is instinctive.
The recyclable materials evoke an architectural model, and exemplify “American School” values: contextual, experimental and resourceful.
From 1947-55, Goff was Chair of the OU College of Architecture. He fostered the students’ individual creativity, rather than forcing conformance to Beaux Arts or Bauhaus formulas, as was typical of other programs. American School work is expressive and organic, in contrast to the rectangularity of mainstream programs. The exhibit tells the story of Goff’s program; the faculty; the students and culture of the school; and concludes by surveying the professional careers of his students.
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.
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.