Born in Alton, Kansas, Goff was a child prodigy whose family moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1915. He was largely self-educated and displayed a great talent for drawing. His father arranged for him to become an apprentice at the age of twelve to the architectural firm of Rush, Endacott and Rush in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Goff’s employers were so impressed with his talent, that they soon gave him responsibility for designing houses and small commercial projects. One of his earliest designs that was actually built was a house at 1732 South Yorktown Avenue in Tulsa’s Yorktown Historical District, another was McGregor House built about 1920 at 1401 South Quaker Street in what is now known as the Cherry Street District. During this period, his work was heavily influenced though his correspondence with Wright and Louis Sullivan. Goff became a partner with the firm in 1930. He is credited, along with his high-school art teacher Adah Robinson, with the design of Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Tulsa, one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the United States.
In 1934, Goff moved to Chicago and began teaching part-time at the Academy of Fine Arts. He designed several Chicago-area residences and went to work for the manufacturer of “Vitrolite”. Goff enlisted in the U.S. Navy, became a Seabee, and designed a number of military structures and residences during his service. Goff accepted a teaching position with the School of Architecture at the University of Oklahoma in 1942. Despite being largely self-taught, Goff became chair of the school in 1943. This was his most productive period. In his private practice, Goff built a large number of residences in the American Midwest, developing his singular style of organic architecture that was client- and site-specific.
In 1955, Goff, who was homosexual, was accused of “endangering the morals of a minor”, as homosexuality was not socially acceptable in Norman, Oklahoma in 1955. As a result of the unproven claims, he was forced to resign from his position at the University of Oklahoma. Historians and writers have expressed their belief that Goff was politically forced from his position specifically for being homosexual.
Goff relocated his studio to the Price Tower in Bartlesville, Oklahoma in 1955. He continued to produce novel designs and spent much of his time traveling and lecturing. Articles about his ideas and designs appeared frequently in professional magazines, such as Progressive Architecture, Art in America and Architectural Forum. From 1960 to 1961, Goff had Arthur Dyson as an apprentice in his office.
Goff’s accumulated design portfolio of 500 projects (about one quarter of them built) demonstrates a restless, sped-up evolution through conventional styles and forms at a young age, through the Prairie Style of his heroes and correspondents Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan, then into original design. Finding inspiration in sources as varied as Antoni Gaudi, Balinese music, Claude Debussy, Japanese ukiyo-e prints, and seashells, Goff’s mature work had no precedent and he has few heirs other than his former assistant, New Mexico architect Bart Prince, and former student, Herb Greene. His contemporaries primarily followed tight functionalistic floorplans with flat roofs and no ornament. Goff’s idiosyncratic floorplans, attention to spatial effect, and use of recycled and/or unconventional materials such as gilded zebrawood, cellophane strips, cake pans, glass cullet, Quonset Hut ribs, ashtrays, and white turkey feathers, challenge conventional distinctions between order and disorder.
A number of Goff’s original designs are on display at the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 2002 director Heinz Emigholz shot the documentary film Goff in the Desert which depicts 62 of Bruce Goff’s buildings. He also used some imagery of this movie for the music video Celtic Ghosts of German band Kreidler.
Taken from the Wikipedia page on Bruce Goff