Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bruce Goff: Architect and Painter

Bavinger House
Bruce Goff (1904-1982) was one of our most important mid-century American architects. He was a follower of Frank Lloyd Wright but a steadfast purveyor of his own unique aesthetic. Goff is perhaps most famous for the nautilus-shaped Bavinger House (Norman, OK) and the crystalline Price House (Bartlesville, OK). Though his architecture is widely published and critically acclaimed, few people know Goff was also an accomplished and prolific painter. Goff created paintings as exercises to free his mind. Usually working with tempera on wet construction paper, he would start with serendipitous runs of random color.  Treating these amorphous shapes as a given from nature, he would bring them under control with mixed media: gold paint, colored pencils, geometric stencils.
Price House.
Recently I was sorting through some of my old slides as the start of a long-delayed project to convert them to digital format. (Who even owns a slide projector anymore?) Tucked in with the thousands of architectural slides in my collection was a treasure trove of Bruce Goff paintings.  These images were given to me years ago by a Goff apprentice, John Bowles.  I hadn't looked at these slides in years, but I am as impressed now as I was when I first saw them. Goff's paintings are abstract, but they span a variety of styles that could stand proudly with the works of the most acclaimed twentieth century artists.  There are even a few rare examples of non-abstract figures (from a series called "The Drunken Boat" inspired by the Arthur Rimbaud poem) which demonstrate Goff's charming illustrative skill.  A couple of paintings contain Goff's squircle invention (a square morphing into a circle). Here are a few of my favourite Goff paintings from this collection.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Architecture in the Movies (E. Fay Jones?)

I love it when great architecture shows up in the movies. A few examples are Wright's Ennis house  in Bladerunner, Lautner's Elrod house in The Big Lebowski, and, more recently, the futuristic architecture of Shanghai in Her.
Usually we experience architecture in the form of still photos, unless we're lucky enough to visit a site in person. Photos are ghosts of the real experience. They are static, lifeless, and often tell lies. Movies come closer to simulating the actual experience of architecture.  As the camera pans we get a three dimensional sense of space. It is still not equivalent to the real thing. It lacks smell, texture, and the volition to explore. Movies are more of a "through the peephole" type of experience: limited in scope and participation. Nevertheless, it's fun to see great spaces spring to life in cinematic scope.
I was recently surprised by a rich sample of architecture in Gone Girl, the new Ben Affleck movie. A secondary, but important character, Desi (played by Neil Patrick Harris) owns a lake house that is central to the plot. The lake house, featured in several extended scenes, is Frank Lloyd Wright on steroids. It is, I think, one of E. Fay Jones' inimitable works. However, I've been wrong about Jones attributions in the past and I can't find pictures of the "lake house" in my library or on the web. If any reader knows E. Fay Jones' work well enough to ID the Gone Girl lake house, please leave a comment.
In the meantime, I will say that by the time the house popped up in the movie I was sufficiently disengaged from the plot to thoroughly enjoy the architectural relief. However, movie critics gave Gone Girl good reviews. So don't be turned away from the movie because I got distracted. And in lieu of pictures of this specific house, here are a few examples of E. Fay Jones' work culled from the internet.

P.S. In the process of doing my internet search for the E. Fay Jones house in question, I ran across a link to my blog and it's misidentification of a church in Nebraska that looks like Jones' work, but is not. Take that as a warning to the wise that you can't trust everything you see on the web... even if it comes from this blog! Read my original Jones comments and reader comments at
A Religious Experience on Interstate 80.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Architectural Hardscape

A bridge over a freeway.
Architecture never exists in a vacuum. Any work of architecture never truly looks great unless the interior design looks great, the landscape architecture is complementary, and the hardscape (developer speak for all hard surfaces: roads, parking lot, lighting, sidewalks) is well designed.
Above is a picture of hardscape in my neighborhood, a bridge over a freeway. This was designed and built as  a unified structure.  It is part of a big freeway expansion project and is repeated many times over the same freeway.  Presumably some time and effort went into the design of these bridges. Yet, it is not a coherent design. 

Q. What is wrong with is picture? 

A. Nothing goes together. 

Contemporary sidewalk lights. More decorative than functional.

The decorative sidewalk lights are designed to shine upward and reflect light off the curved hood down to the sidewalk. Not a bad contemporary design but the light they provide disappears in the surrounding street lights and freeway glare. These little lights provide precious little light. They should be called darks.  
Traditional street lights. 
Perhaps in recognition of the inefficacy of the pedestrian lights, slightly taller street lights are spaced regularly along the bridge. They provide adequate light for cars and pedestrians, but the traditional design of the taller lights has no relationship to the smaller contemporary lights. It is as if the two came from different centuries - the nineteenth and the twenty-first   No one bothered to coordinate the spacing of the tall lights to the smaller ones.  Sometimes they are close together, sometimes far apart. (Nice team effort there.) Furthermore, neither the tall lights nor the short lights have any design relationship to the street lighting in the neighborhoods on either side of the bridge or the more functional freeway lighting elsewhere. Any contextual reference is nonexistent. Doesn't anyone bother to consider these things?
What's wrong with this picture?  

A melange of hardscape design features. 
Photos: MJK

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Architectural Hardscape the Right Way

Continuing the discussion on architectural hardscape: there are good ways to do it. Sometimes outdoor art is part of the hardscape, making pathways, plazas, gardens and buildings more interesting. There is no better example of art mixing with landscaping and the built environment than the current exhibit of Dale Chihuly glass art at the Denver Botanic Gardens. The accompanying iPhone pictures hardly do justice to the spectacular glass installations. For more on the artist and his work (and much better pictures) click on For more information on the Denver exhibit, see link below.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Lantz Architecture Tour

Living room end of Karrer residence by LaVerne Lantz.
The Wright and Like architecture tour in Wisconsin (mentioned in the previous entry) was a huge success in bringing recognition to the architecture of LaVerne Lantz.

About four hundred people toured nine properties: two designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, one by Louis Sullivan, a library by Claude & Starck, and five homes designed by LaVerne Lantz. For many, discovering Lantz's work was a revelation. Repeatedly, people made comments like, "I never heard of him, but his work is wonderful," and "I like Lantz's homes as much or even more than Wright's."

This marks Wright in Wisconsin's 19th annual home tour. Many people participate in the tour year after year. This year they traveled from as far afield as Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa, Colorado and, of course, all parts of Wisconsin. For architectural junkies the event provides many opportunities for fellowship and discovery. The conclusion of the three day event was a Sunday brunch with a panel discussion focusing on Lantz. Several original and/or current owners of Lantz-designed homes were in attendance, meeting each other for the first time.  The idea was put forth of starting a Lantz owners club which would continue to make the public aware of the breadth and quality of his work. This type of recognition of Lantz's work occurs for the first time nearly two decades after his passing.

One of the crowd favorites was the Ron and Eileen Karrer house built in 1996. From the tour brochure:

Although this home is clearly among his later projects, Lantz continued to design with the following concepts/features: integration into the existing terrain; a strong horizontal emphasis; broad, overhanging eaves; the use of natural materials; and continuous expanses of glass.  In order to keep costs down, the Karrers were willing to actively participate in the home's construction, which began in 1993. With guidance from Lantz and actual physical assistance from family members, they were able to occupy the cedar, glass, and limestone clad home three years later. 

Molly Lantz, LaVerne's widow, calls the Karrer residence "the treehouse." It is, indeed, a house that seems to float amongst the trees.  Lantz sited the home on a steep ridge (not the Karrer's original location on their forested property) which makes it feel like it is in the treetops. It has an astonishing connection to the natural environment, especially at this time of year with mature oaks and maples in full leaf.

Three interior views of Karrer residence.
Main entry, Karrer residence. 
Photo credits:  George Hall

Monday, May 12, 2014

LaVerne Lantz Architecture on Tour

The Frank Lloyd Wright Wisconsin Heritage Tourism Program is a not-for-profit organization created with the assistance of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the State of Wisconsin Department of Tourism.  Its mission is to promote, protect, and preserve the heritage of Frank Lloyd Wright in his native state of Wisconsin.  One of the major endeavors of the organization is sponsoring  an annual tour of Wright and "like Wright" homes throughout the state. This year the nineteenth   annual event features nine sites in southeastern Wisconsin, five of which were designed by architectural designer LaVerne Lantz.  
First Lantz residence, Delafield, Wisconsin.
Readers of this blog may remember my articles on LaVerne Lantz from April 2009.  I am pleased to say that the inclusion of Lantz's work on this tour is a direct result of those articles.
Second Lantz residence, Delafield, Wisconsin. 
Wurster resdicence by Laverne Lantz. 
Wurster residence.
The work of LaVerne Lantz has never before been featured in any retrospective.  The tour organizers (in particular, George Hall who scouted the sites) are very excited about these inclusions. The self-guided tour, called "Driving Mr. Wright" will be Saturday June 7th.  Two other events are associated with the architectural tour. On Friday, June 6th An Evening of Architecture and Artisans includes a behind-the-scene visit to the Ephraim Pottery studio for demonstrations and Q&A. On Sunday, June 8th a panel discussion, Working with Mr. Lantz: An Architectural Retrospective, will be held in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin. I will be one of the panelists. 
Morey residence by LaVerne Lantz.
For detailed information on all properties on the tour along with a complete schedule of events please link directly to the sponsor's web site:

Images: George Hall