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Toward an Adhocism

- An Analysis of the Michelangelo of Kitsch, Bruce Goff

Critic: John McMorrough

Described by Charles Jencks as the “poet of the unredeemable, the rescuer of ersatz, the Michelangelo of Kitsch” (Jencks 169), Bruce Goff was arguably one of the most important architects, artists, educators, and visionaries to come out of the twentieth century. His presence and conceptualization stood out due to his incorporation and fascination with the free-spirited principle of adhocism, turning his architecture “…into a performance, a popular art form that happens and does not just sit there dumbfounded holding onto its reinforcing bars” (Jencks 160). His work is often contemplative as it is visually complicated. The hybridization of found mechanisms, materials, objects, and subject matter in his work diversified the discipline of architecture and brought blue-collar communities together while strengthening their spirit and character, “…because behind Goff and these Mid-Western Yankees is a kind of pride in doing it the hard way, and not paying for it” (Jencks 161). Bruce Goff designed through clarity and transparency – not often literally, but rather in the sense that he did not shy from utilizing abstract materials and forms to appeal to the heart of the public. It is romantic and a manifested representation of substance and emotions, opening the possibilities for a new semantically rich and accepting environment. By using adhocism as a unique device to further his overall organic architecture style, Bruce Goff was able to utilize his sensibility with “discipline in freedom”, origin-ism, and phenomenology and apply it towards various challenges, such as socially conscious design and educational philosophy.

Adhocism can be defined as an aversion to planning, and its playful improvisation may be more relevant and needed now more than ever in the face of McMansions and uninspiring architecture. Goff had no mental blocks or restrictions when it came to forgoing consistency in form and visuals in order to achieve an “organic” style of architecture, which he refined during his experience in World War II when he was often asked to build structures with any materials he had at hand (Jencks and Silver 84-85). Detailed through a multiplicity of significant influencers dubbed Goff’s “path of originality”, Arn Henderson also began laying out the framework and foundations that inspired his vision which predates the war. Two significant figures stood out among the rest as the largest inspirations for Goff’s style, namely architect Frank Lloyd Wright and composer Claude Debussy. From an early age, Goff embraced and enveloped himself in Wright’s organic and geometric expression, wherein each individual element of the building acts as part of a whole. Bruce Goff later developed his own unique organic architecture style, but paid homage to Wright with a section of a prose poem called “About Absolute Art,” where he states:

“One has shown the way for architecture organic with life
Organic with materials
Organic with Nature
Organic with human-divinity
Frank Lloyd Wright
He has shown us how architecture may be absolute” (Hendersen 15).

On a different spectrum of art and expression, Claude Debussy’s distinct use of mysterious layered harmonies that are not fixed to a single tone or mood introduced Goff to the idea of blending a distinct musical vocabulary and emotion into his architecture, including “composition” and “discipline of freedom” into his pedagogy. Through Debussy’s music, Goff began moving towards including human tendencies and feelings into his designs. Goff once stated that he learned more about architecture from music than from other architects (Hendersen 9), showing just how much he believed in the value of absorbing oneself in multiple disciplines.

As a result, Goff’s projects included playfully diffusing gestures and layered spaces made of thick carpets, rocks, or an assortment of junk and metal which on the surface seem irrational and whimsical for the sake of being whimsical, but in reality, there was a deeper level of articulation that orchestrates dreams and fantasies of the lower-middle class. Goff believed that it is the duty of architecture and designers to adequately acknowledge context and respond to it eloquently, which ignited his own design philosophy that, “…invariably reflected the aspirations of the client and attributes of the site” (Henderson 179). Bruce Goff trusted in the “discipline in freedom”, derived from Debussy’s own Symbolist ideals, which is the idea that space is a reflection of the user’s own past experiences, feelings, and intelligence. To Goff, discipline did not mean a strict order in which one must adhere to, but rather, a means of bringing together various aspects that differ from one another (Hendersen 57). Goff strived to be inclusive of the client and site and create a cohesive experience, while bringing into realization the value of originality and innovation represented in adhocism.

Goff’s unique design approach thus managed to break away from typical social norms, traditional typologies, spatial types, and mental constraints of the time period. Bruce Goff danced on the tightrope between the concept of deterritorialization and destabilization that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari introduced, and the way Kenneth  Frampton mentioned that critical regionalism hones in on visual experience by exploring the tactile and haptic scope of human awareness (Frampton 29). Both concepts were intertwined and inseparable in his work, as Goff broke down ties between subjects, culture, place, space, people, ideas, etc., and reterritorialized them as a multiplicitous body through his otherworldly composition of sensory materials and surfaces. “Each of these becomings begins about the deterritorialization of one term and the reterritorialization of the other; the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities pushing the deterritorialization ever further” (Deleuze and Guattari 10). By doing so, Goff achieved originality by going back to origins (nature) with these organic solutions that assemble once individual and singular elements into a dynamic and fluid structure, that adapts itself “…in response to its intensive involvement with both the external forces of its context and the internal forces of its members” (Lynn 45). Thus representing some of the basic principles of organic architecture and adhocism (other principles include self-expression, potential for creativity, perceptions and acceptance of unfamiliar beauty, and so on) that Bruce Goff embraced and carried forward from his professional practice into his teaching philosophy.

Upon returning to the University of Oklahoma to begin his teaching appointment, Goff soon became chairman of the School of Architecture. Goff began assembling a cohesive and supportive cast of both established and promising designers who were understanding and familiar with organic architecture and were prepared to contribute immediately towards diversifying the program. Reflecting Goff’s belief in “discipline in freedom”, the school embraced a cultivating environment in which the students were encouraged and supported to pursue their potential. Goff once wrote to a prospective student explaining his creed further, stating, “In developing our student’s creative ability, we try to give them the necessary means to express themselves [technically]…and, to help them find their own aesthetic direction” (Hendersen 92). As a result of integrating the ideals of adhocism and organic architecture into a means of teaching, the school championed intuitive and rational thoughts, as they were often the purest representation of the student’s design approach as well as the most successful means of achieving creativity. The school always insisted that the students were allowed to design and think in any manner they felt comfortable with, and that they lean into their curiosity no matter where it may lead.

Robert Venturi sums the adhoc values and views that Goff cherished best in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture, in which he states, “I like elements which are hybrid rather than 'pure,’ compromising rather than ‘clean’ distorted rather than ‘straightforward,’ ambiguous rather than ‘articulated,’ perverse as well as impersonal, boring as well as ‘interesting,’ conventional rather than ‘designed,’ accommodating rather than excluding, redundant rather than simple, vestigial as well as innovating, inconsistent and equivocal rather than direct and clear. I am for messy vitality over obvious unity. I include the non sequitur and proclaim the duality” (Venturi 16). Venturi challenges the way in which a technologically changing society should accept complexity and contradiction in architecture, rather than dismiss them or resort to typical limits of Modern architecture. Bruce Goff saw the appeal of working with ignored, misplaced, thrown away objects and created a second life out of them, utilizing them as a means of creatively expressing his idiosyncrasies through materials, embracing the “…difficult unity of inclusion rather than the easy unity of exclusion” (Venturi 16).


Deleuze, Gilles, Félix Guattari, “Introduction: Rhizome” In A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987.
Frampton, Kenneth. “Towards a Critical Regionalism; Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance.” In The Anti-Aesthetic; Essays on Postmodern Culture. New York: New Press, 2002.
Henderson, Arn, and Bruce Goff. Bruce Goff: Architecture of Discipline in Freedom. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2017.
Jencks, Charles. “Bruce Goff – The Michelangelo of Kitsch.” In Late-Modern Architecture. (New York: Rizzoli, 1980): 160-169.
Jencks, Charles A., and Nathan Silver. Adhocism: The Case for Improvisation. London: MIT Press, 2013.
Lynn, Greg. "Multiplicitous and Inorganic Bodies." Assemblage, no. 19 (1992): 32. doi:10.2307/3171175.
Venturi, Robert. Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture: Robert Venturi. Place of Publication Not Identified: Architectural Press/Museum of Modern Art, 1977.

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