Bruce Goff’s Bavinger House feared lost

Tom Harper of Lawrence Modern and Scott Lane of KC Modern converse with a visitor in the “living room” of the Bavinger House in Norman, Oklahoma, October 2010.

Lawrence Modern is by nature a provincial enterprise but we do patrol the architecture news front. And we have some sad news to report. We recently learned that architect Bruce Goff’s Bavinger House, located in Norman, Oklahoma, was severely damaged in June and is feared to be lost. Although it is still unclear what exactly happened — storm damage or sabotage — it is evident from local news reports that the house’s spire and roof structure has collapsed. Those knowledgeable about the house and its deteriorating condition know what this means. It is a tragedy.

Tom Harper and I had the great fortune (in hindsight) of visiting the Bavinger House in October, 2010 as part of an exhibition and symposium on Goff’s works at Oklahoma University. Scott Lane and Rod Parks of the KC Modern group joined us. We were planning to do a Full Monty post about our excursion, which included visits to many other Bruce Goff houses in the area, but the current plight of the Bavinger House supersedes that. In time we will learn the true fate of the house, which may warrant a full-blown retrospective somewhere on these pages, but for now we can only hope that the news isn’t as bad as we’ve heard and the house somehow can be resurrected, dim as that prospect appears. It would be a miracle.

Driveway entrance

Driveway entrance

The Bavinger House is miraculous. A stone spiral heaved up out of the earth and twisting up into the sky, it is an incredibly transcendental vision of the natural world. Set in a rural, heavily wooded lot, the house was completed in 1955 and seems to exist outside of time, as if thundered in by some alien force. Yet it is very much rooted in our culture. The house is a work of art built mostly out of found objects and junk — the mast is a used oil rig drilling pipe — and a reminder of the vitality of our surreal, American experience. It deserved ardent preservation, but sadly, it just didn’t work out that way.

Close-up of spire

Close-up of spire

According to reports, the house was knocked down by storm damage, but there is also speculation that the owner, Bob Bavinger, intentionally destroyed it. So far no one really knows since Bavinger, son of the original owners, hasn’t let anyone on the property to inspect.

Logarithmic spiral roof suspended by airplane cables

Logarithmic spiral roof suspended by airplane cables

Before it was toppled, the roof of the house was supported by cables projecting from the central steel mast, as seen in the photos above. (The original roof was made of wood shingles.) The rods, made of WWI-era airplane wire, also supported the interior floating pods, which functioned as the “rooms” of the house. The exterior wall of the house — and there is only one wall — is made of locally quarried ironstone. Discarded aqua-green glass cullets are imbedded into the stone, and when the sun shines on them they glow like kyrptonite. Goff liked to use recycled objects because he believed that architecture should be organically tied to a particular place, but he also recycled to keep costs down. (The Bavinger House reportedly cost only $2,150 to build.) In this sense, the Bavinger House is one of the most elaborate, yet cost-effective examples of folk art ever made.

House entrance

House entrance

Photography cannot possibly convey the essence of things, but as is often the case, it’s all that remains when things are gone. As Susan Sontag once said, eventually all photographs become precious relics of an irretrievable past.

Like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, so much has been written about the Bavinger House, Goff’s masterpiece, that it feels redundant to add much more. Suffice to say that visiting the house had a profound effect on both of us. It pushed me to stop and think, not only about architecture, but the world around me. This is what great art does.

Any youth of today who wishes to expand his or her sense of what is possible in art and architecture should study Bruce Goff, and given the opportunity, visit his incredibly diverse creations. The Bavinger House may no longer be on the itinerary, but there are many other worthy houses to see. Seek them out and be prepared to enter a universe solely of the architect’s imagination, one unlike any other in the history of American architecture.

—Bill

Postscript: The November 15, 2012 issue of This Land reports that in an act of apparent self-destruction on the part of the owner, the Bavinger House was dismantled and its pieces are for sale.

Dining room with koi pond in foreground

Dining room with koi pond in foreground

Kitchen

Kitchen

Looking out onto front patio from living room pod

Looking out onto front patio from living room pod

[Click here to see more photos.]

Advertisements

9 Comments

  1. Jennifer Taylor
    Posted July 11, 2011 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    So upset about this news! I studied at OU and knew this house as well as many other BG pieces in the area. Gene Bavinger was a great printmaker/painter on faculty at OU that passed away soon after I moved back to Oklahoma from California. Here is a very interesting link by Herb Greene who actually worked with Bavinger building this house. Thanks for a great website you guys! Jen Taylor

    http://www.herbgreene.org

    • Lawrence Modern
      Posted December 13, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      Thank you for your comments Jennifer and thanks for the link. It is sad to hear about what’s happened to this unique house. A reminder that nothing lasts forever.

  2. Posted April 25, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    Any update on the Bavinger House? I had the great pleasure of being able to photograph the house in 1996 at the invitation of the Bavingers. If anyone is interested, these 3D pictures are available at the website above.

    • Lawrence Modern
      Posted April 26, 2012 at 12:22 am | Permalink

      Mr. Kaplan,

      Since we’re up here in Lawrence we’re not sure what the status of the Bavinger House is at the moment, but the last we heard it was being dismantled and sold off piece by piece. A real tragedy.

      I checked out your website. Very interesting that you are doing 3D photography of these houses. I didn’t know anyone was doing that. Will surely have to check out one of your books in the future. Can’t wait to see!

      Thanks for commenting.

      Bill Steele

    • Lawrence Modern
      Posted May 18, 2012 at 5:41 am | Permalink

      Thank you Michael.

  3. your homes newcastle
    Posted April 19, 2013 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    I became studying lots of your content within this website and i think this site
    is rattling instructive! Carry on posting.

  4. Posted April 27, 2013 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    I believe other website proprietors should take this site just as one model,
    very and also magnificent user friendly layout, in addition to the information.
    You’re an expert during this topic!

  5. Posted June 7, 2013 at 5:29 pm | Permalink

    I appreciate this blog a great deal much fantastic info.


Post a Comment

Required fields are marked *

*
*

%d bloggers like this: