Architect Bruce Goff (1904–82), long associated with Oklahoma and the Midwest, built two houses along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, the Emil Gutman House (1958–60) in Gulfport and the W. C. Gryder House (1960) in Ocean Springs. These houses, with their formal oddities, unorthodox colors, and simpler-than-it-appears planning and structure, are not atypical for Goff, although there is no typical Goff house. The designs embodied the peculiar spirit that marked Goff’s modern architecture throughout his career—an individualism and creative freedom that have been compared to the democratic spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright but that elitists of the eastern establishment, as Asa Louise Huxtable observed, dismissed as outré fantasies. Goff remained a maverick, unconstrained by any traditional formalities and creating some of the most unusual building forms of the twentieth century. Rather than conforming to architectural or social theories of the day, Goff focused on client needs, producing a consumer-driven and highly personal architecture. His houses display an idiosyncratic play of ornament and color, the latter contrasting with high modernism’s colorless abstraction and predisposition to avoid ornament. His is an organic architecture in which the natural forms and space of houses are continuous and unified, expressing a quality of space that he called the “continuous present” in an open architecture informed by geometric discipline.
Goff’s use of geometry to generate orderly plans is evidenced in his best-known house, built in 1956–66 for Joe Price in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, as well as in the Gutman House. The Gutman House, built for a site with a high water table on a bayou property that was open to storm and flooding, was raised fifteen feet on three points of support, balancing the house on exposed angular pipe columns. The house appeared to float above its carport and play area. Built on a triangular module, its simple structure of wood frame and light steel shaped geometric interior spaces: enclosed bedrooms, kitchen, and baths surrounded a central conversation pit and modular family living room open to the hexagonal dining area. After surviving several hurricanes, it was destroyed by fire in the mid-1980s.
In contrast to the geometric order of the Gutman House, the Gryder House features unusual organic shapes. Deceptively symmetrical, the ordering axis is marked by an entry bridge crossing a water garden to a foyer that leads past curved stairs and a central fireplace to a double-height reception room and porch beyond. Balconies off upper bedrooms overlook the principal living area, and the central space expands laterally to a lounge on one side and to the dining room and kitchen on the other. Inasmuch as one arrives via a tubular bridge crossing a large pond, one appears now to inhabit a spatial expression of the organic forms in nature that envelop the house. The residence’s muted purple stucco exterior and turquoise interior tiles, together with its organic teardrop windows and soaring rooflines, prompted Jeffrey Cook to describe the Gryder House as “an exotic living orchid.”
However, the organic unorthodox form of the Gryder House is particularly unusual; the house resembles a weird architectonic praying mantis. In his personal play with ornament and color, Goff displayed a unique and at times eccentric expression. The Gryder House’s teardrop windows, conical balconies, and gesturing roof lines are mirrored in water and feature textured tiling accents inside and out. Even Hurricane Katrina caused only minimal damage, and the Gryder House remains one of Goff’s most exotic and fanciful houses.
When nonclassical angularities or sweeping curves join Goff’s unconventional use of materials and his romantic decorative richness of surface and light, the result can move the modern aesthetic from the new to the novel and can transform a rational art to what appears to be irrational fantasy. Critics have called Goff’s houses bizarre, but clients have embraced these unique responses to individual needs.
- Jeffrey Cook, The Architecture of Bruce Goff (1978)
- David Gilson DeLong, “The Architecture of Bruce Goff: Buildings and Projects, 1916–1974,” (PhD dissertation, Columbia University, 1976)
- David Gilson DeLong, Bruce Goff: Toward Absolute Architecture (1988)
- J. François Gabriel, Beyond the Cube: The Architecture of Space Frames and Polyhedra (1997)
- Takenobu Mohri, Bruce Goff, Architect (1970)
- Pauline Saliga and Mary Woolever, eds., The Architecture of Bruce Goff, 1904–1982: Design for the Continuous Present (1995)
- John Sergeant and Stephen Mooring, AD Profiles: Bruce Goff (1978)