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.
Read below for upcoming American School Events, and more information about the history of the American School at the University of Oklahoma. For more information, contact Stephanie Pilat (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Luca Guido (email@example.com).
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 American School figures, 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 (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in donating materials to the American School Archive.
Upcoming American School Events
The American School of Architecture in Venice
Palazzo Bembo, Venice Italy
May 26, 2018--November 25, 2018
The American School exhibition at Palazzo Bembo, to be held during the 2018 Venice Biennale, will highlight the radical pedagogy of Bruce Goff and his American School counterparts during the 1950s and 1960s. Led by Dean Hans E. Butzer and architecture faculty Luca Guido and Michael Hoffner, a group of students are participating in a special course which is undertaking the design and production of the exhibition. Magda Schaffernicht, a student in this course, recently commented that, "The American School is a book full of riddles waiting to be presented to the world. As students, we have the rare opportunity to solve those riddles through research and design, becoming a part of the history of our college and possibly architecture itself." For more information, contact Angela Person.
See the videos below for animated walkthroughs of two important American School projects produced by Skyline Ink for the American School Project.
The American School at Bizzell Library
2018--2019 Academic Year
Opens Sept. 22, 2018
The Christopher C. Gibbs College of Architecture is partnering with OU Libraries to develop an exhibition that will highlight pieces of the American School Archive. OU Libraries Dean Rick Luce recently expressed his enthusiasm about this partnership. "When we began discussions about the creation of an American School Archive and exhibition in the Bizzell Memorial Library, Dean Butzer quoted Bruce Goff's phase 'do not try to remember.' Truly innovative, transformative works disrupt tradition to carve their own place in history. Just as Goff inverted the teacher, pupil relationship to emphasize student creativity at OU, the University Libraries has become the intellectual crossroads of the University. Through spaces, technologies, collections and resources, the libraries have similarly adopted a role of enabling students to bring their ideas to life. We are thrilled to welcome this archive into our Western History Collections and to collaborate on an exhibition highlighting this pinnacle moment in American architecture and pedagogy." For more information, contact Angela Person.
The American School Backstory
“A new school, probably the only indigenous one in the United States”
Herb Greene, Prairie House, Norman, Oklahoma. Photo: Luca Guido.
“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.
Bruce Goff, Pollock House, Oklahoma City. Photo: Luca Guido.
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.
Blaine Imel, Osher House, Tulsa. Photo: Luca Guido.
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 spring of 2019. To submit a paper proposal see the Call for Papers on H-Net.
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.
The American School Newsletter
The American School newsletter aims to share updates on our work and offer friends, researchers and alumni opportunities to get involved in this important project. Please expect to find the newsletter in your inbox each month.
American School Project Supporters
The American School Project is grateful for support from the following organizations: