Goff in the Desert

Al Struckus House, Los Angeles, 1979Goff in the Desert

The film shows 62 buildings – from small petrol stations to representative museums – designed by the American architect Bruce Goff (1904-1982). As such, it is the first comprehensive filmic catalogue of nearly all his surviving creations. Bruce Goff is the great unknown of an original American form of architecture. His constructions and designs run contrary to the ideals of the by contrast well-known Inter-national Style movement. Bruce Goff’s work sparked legendary controversies during his lifetime. Nearly all his buildings stood like a shock in the landscape, paving the way for new, as yet unimaginable avenues in architecture.

Heinz Emigholz’s filmic photographs are an open-minded look at the spaces Bruce Goff created. Shooting took place on 40 days in April and May 2002 during a 9,200-mile journey across the United States.

Abb 1,2: Al Struckus House, Los Angeles, 1979

Al Struckus House, Los Angeles, 1979Goff in the Desert

Architecture as Autobiography - Bruce Goff (1904-1982)
Photography and beyond - Part 7

Germany 2002/3
110 Minute, 3155 m, 35 mm, color, 1:1,37

Director, photography, editor:
Heinz Emigholz
Producer: Irene von Alberti, Frieder Schlaich
Collaboration and sound: Ueli Etter, May Rigler
Sound Design: Martin Langenbach, Bernd Popella
Voice: Christian Reiner
Trick: Thomas Wilk
Assistant to the producer: Robin Mast
Produced by Filmgalerie 451, Stuttgart/Berlin
Coproducer: WDR, Wilfried Reichart
With support by MFG Filmförderung Baden-Württemberg and SWR

Thanx to Ms. Akright, G. C. Becker, Joanne und Dick Bennett, Bob Benson, Jerri Bonebrake, Bill Brown, Libby Bunch, Mack und Renate Caldwell, Susan und Peter Caldwell, Meggie und Ben Cothran, Harry Compton, Charles Conrad, Mary Jane Daniels, Bob und Della Deme, Glen Etzkorn, Donna und Joniece Frank, Elizabeth Gallup, Julia Gee, Jeff Glass, Connie Golden, Bill und Martha Gryder, Arn Henderson, David und Janet Johnson, Joe und Judy Jones, Ty Kortman, Kevin und Ann Marshall, Steve Maturo, David McGee, Anne Marburger, Jaqueline Miller, Glen Mitchell, Charles und Deanna Myers, Susan Nettinga, Jack und Mary Neuschwander, Sheldon Newman, Ransome Oliver, Carol und Leon Price, Phyllis Randolph, Iona Redemer, Brenda Reed, Sidney K. Robinson, Gabriele Röthemeyer, Stefanie Salata, Mark Sappington, Paul und Jody Searing, Bess und Richard Serr, Dan Sostheim, Deborah Stratman, Robert Sword, David und Rosalee Taylor, Thomas Thixton, Rex Thompson, Marjorie Walden, Patricia Walkup, Laura and Joe Warriner, Thomas Weber und Martina Zöllner

Shooting diary: www.bruce-goff-film.com

Worldpremiere: Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin (Forum), 14. Februar 2003


Goff in der Wüste wurde im Dezember 2003 auf der ›6. Biennale für Medien und Architektur‹ in Graz mit dem Preis für die interessanteste Architekturdokumentation ausgezeichnet.

"Photography and beyond" is a series of films about art and design - "projections" that become visible as writings, drawings, photography, architecture and sculpture.

A reverse visual process is analyzed: seeing as expression, not as impression. The eye as the interface between the brain and the outside world, the gaze as a compositional power that projets an idea into the outside world or comprehends it by means of cinematography.

Abb 3: Ledbetter House, Norman, 1947

Ledbetter House, Norman, 1947The following buildings are featured in the order of their creation: George Way House (1922), Adah Robinson Studio (1923), Consolidated Cut Stone Office Building (1925), Day Building (1926), Boston Avenue Methodist Episcopal Church (1926), Skelly Oil Building Addition (1928), Riverside Studio (1928), Guaranty Laundry (1928) und Midwest Equitable Meter Company (1929) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Watts Lyon House (1929) in El Paso, Texas, Latham House (1930) in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Chester Rant House (1938) in Northfield bei Chicago, Paul Colmorgan House (1940) in Glenview bei Chicago, Helen Unseth House (1940) in Park Ridge, Chicago, Irma Bartman House (1941) in Louisville, Kentucky, Camp Parks Entrance Gate (1944) in Dublin, Californien, Camp Parks Chapel (1945) in San Lorenzo, Californien, Myron Bachmann House Alterations (1947) in Chicago, Illinois, Ford House (1947) in Aurora, Illinois, Ledbetter House (1947) in Norman, Oklahoma, Hopewell Baptist Church (1947) in Edmond, Oklahoma, Julius Cox House (1949, Erweiterung 1959) in Boise City, Oklahoma, John Keys House (1950), Magyness House (1951) und Roger Corsaw House (1952) in Norman, Oklahoma, John Garvey House (1954) in Urbana, Illinois, John and Grace Lee Frank House (1956) in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, Eddie Parker House (1956) in Dallas, Texas, Miller Brother’s Service Station (1957) in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, Comer House (1957) in Dewey, Oklahoma, Pollock House (1957, Anbau 1980), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, Freeman House (1958) in Joplin, Missouri, Howard Jones House (1958) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Robert Durst House (1958, Erweiterung 1976) in Houston, Texas, Redeemer Lutheran Education Building (1959), Richard Bennett House (1959) und Akright House Alterations (1959) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Gryder House (1960) in Ocean Springs, Missouri, James Fichette House (1961) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, Celestine Barby House (1962) in Beaver, Oklahoma, Daniels House (1964) in Gower, Missouri, William Dace House (1964) in Beaver, Oklahoma, Rolland Jacquart House (1965) in Sublette, Kansas, Duncan House (1965) in Cobden, Illinois, Fitzgerald Realty Company Offices (1965) in Tyler, Texas, Lawrence Hyde House (1965) in Kansas City, Kansas, James Nicol House (1965) in Kansas City, Missouri, Searing House (1966) in Kansas City, Kansas, Glen Mitchell House (1968) in Dodge City, Kansas, Youngstrom House (1968) in Lake Quivira, Kansas, Bruce Plunkett House (1970), Home for Parade of Homes (1971), Lake Village Entrance Feature, Model Houses A-1, A-2 und 3, B und Double House (alle 1972) in Flint, Texas, Celestine Barby House (1976) in Tucson, Arizona, Al Struckus House (1979) in Woodland Hills, Californien, und Shin’enKan – Pavillion für Japanische Kunst im Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1978-88, mit Bart Prince), Los Angeles, Californien. Dazu ein morgendlicher Highway bei Tulsa, ein Trailerpark bei Study Butte im Big Bend Gebirge, Texas, ein Fetzen aus „La mer“ von Claude Debussy und die Ruinen von Shin’enKan (1956-1998) in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, am 10. Mai 2002. 

 Gryder House, Ocean Springs, 1960Brief biography of Bruce Goff

Bruce Goff was born in Alton, Kansas, on 8 June, 1904. In 1916, he began an apprenticeship in the architectural offices of Rush, Endacott & Rush in Tulsa, Oklahoma. From 1922 to 1929, Goff worked full-time for the company, and from 1929 to 1933 he was a partner. He built his first house in 1918 before he had even graduated from high school. In 1920, he briefly came into contact with Louis Sullivan. After completing many projects on his own and having collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright on one occasion, Goff became a registered architect in 1929, even though he had never had any formal training as an architect. In 1934, he opened his own offices in Chicago, where he built and taught until 1941. In the early 1920s, he also took up painting. He was particularly interested in modern music and the indigenous peoples of North America, Asia, the Pacific islands and Africa. From 1940 onwards, his con-structions were characterised by an incomparable, surprising style based on a radical dedication to the job at hand. From 1941 to 1945, he worked as an architect for the U.S. Navy.

 Gryder House, Ocean Springs, 1960

 In 1945, he opened offices in Berkeley, California. From 1947 onwards, he was the dean of the University of Oklahoma school of architecture, where he became an extremely influential teacher. In 1956, the university’s Bauhaus fraternity hounded him out of office, and some of his preparatory sketches were burnt. From 1956 to 1964, he had offices in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, which then relocated to Kansas City, Missouri from 1964 to 1971. Goff subsequently moved to Tyler, Texas, where he died on 4 August, 1982. From 1969 onwards, he went on extended lecture tours of Japan and Europe. The first monograph of his work, by Takenbu Mohri, appeared in Japan. In all, Bruce Goff completed almost 150 projects and planned many more. About 80 of his buildings still exist. Abb 4,5: Gryder House, Ocean Springs, 1960

Originality and Architecture

Many architects and other artists fear originality, because they don’t have it or suspect it is an easy trick to attract attention. They often believe that anything original lacks substance. Actually nothing in art is strictly and completely original with its creator. He has been inspired by many things, past and present, sometimes imitating them but always eventually assimilating them if he is a real artist. He knews that imitation is a deadend street and that when it comes – beauty goes. Much of what he works with is not of his own invention. He uses geometries, the origin of which are unknown, and also finds inspiration in the “free-forms” of nature. These sources belong to no man until he makes them his own in his individual and original works. The original works of others, the natures of materials, methods, principles, revelations of science, faith and more also gives him roots from which to grow; they are all grist for his mill and if he has inspiration, imagination, initiative, courage and a balance of feeling and reason, all with dedication to his art, he will grow in his own original way. His works show originality naturally because he is naturally original, and they mean much more than being “novel.” Such an architect is in the great tradition of change and revolution. But often what seems to be revolution is, in a larger sense, evolution and part of “the main-stream” of art after all!

Any genuine work of art is necessarily orginal. It is the first and last, of its kind, in the order of its existence. It has not been copied from anything and is produced for the first time with freshness and authority. We soon tire of novelty if it lacks depth and meaning. A truly original work has these and many more qualities; it is the result of a natural growth of ordered ideas. There is no beginning, for no one knows, even its creator, the many sources that natured it, and no one can know its ultimate effect, so it has no ending. It has emerged in the ever-continuous-present as a unique and valuable contribution to all men by man’s own creative spirit; if it has value it will be timely and timeless, and it will also be both personal and impersonal with its creator, if it is a masterpiece, its influence will continue with the histories of man’s achievements and it will be treasured.

A masterpiece must be original, one of a kind. It is the only work, even of its creator’s output, which has grown in its own particular way. It has a new kind of beauty and came about because it had to, full-strength, uncompromising, honest and extending the horizons of the artist’s work, his art, and its benefits to all mankind, moreover, a masterpiece must have the quality of surprise, to engage our attention, and of mystery to hold our interest. It must also be complete in itself with its own character of disciplined order, no matter how “free” it may seem, we desire to enter into and to inhabit any great and original work of art – to possess it and to allow it to possess us, be it lite-ra-ture, painting, music and architecture.

This is why architecture is such a powerful art: we can inhabit it physically as well as spiritually in time and space. Someday perhaps it will, like music, become less earth-bound, more flexible and athletic, more ever-changing, and free. Then architecture will escape the outside-in formalism of the static regimentation of our steel and concrete frames with their monotonous “plug-in-systems” and resulting rhythmic sterility. New materials, methods, needs and increased technological knowledge will enable original architects to produce newly-beautiful design-structures of architecture as directly as the composer of music reaches us, without performance or interpretation by others, via the new medium of electronic music. This will allow the architect to conceive of and to realise his work, through some such process as chrystalization or electro-magnetic attraction which will make obsolete present handicraft, machine methods and “computeritis.” Exit the 3 and 4 letter Big Business boy’s firms in building and enter the creative, artist-science-architect-truly original!

But whatever and whenever the means, the creative architect must beware of subjecting his works to a “personal style“ or “trademark.“ His handwriting will have his own personal characteristics, regardless of what he says with it. But what he’s saying is of much more importance and each of his works deserves to become its own form and style. Therefore each of his works will be original and collectively they will represent their architect’s originality. Such an architect will not fear originality but will thrive on it; he cannot and will not imitate others or himself!

Bruce Goff, 5 September, 1968

Heinz Emigholz talks to Siegfried Zielinski

Siegfried Zielinski: In the mid-16th Century, a strange collection of stories entitled ‘Peregrinaggio di tre giovani, filiuoli del re di Serendippo’ (Three princes of Sarendip) was published in Venice. The collection was based on Persian and Arab tales about three princes whose father gives them an excellent education, tests their acumen in a number of ways and eventually sends them out into the world so that they can learn from other cultures. The undoubtedly clever princes constantly uncover wonderful things no one thought to look for in the deserts between Egypt and Sinai and other areas. They are masters at deciphering clues and symbols, thereby discovering the answers to questions no one has thought to ask. It was for this phenomenon that the poet Horace Walpole invented the word “serendipity.“ I couldn’t find a better way to describe the sensation I felt while watching the first parts of PHOTOGRAPHY AND BEYOND. Serendipity is the opposite of arbitrariness. What is the nature of the motives that produce such undoubtedly successfully finds as we see and marvel at in Sullivan’s Banks, Maillart’s Bridges and now GOFF IN THE DESERT?

Heinz Emigholz: I’m just trying to remember what led me to decide to make these films. It was coming across the picture of a Louis Sullivan bank at an antiquarian bookshop in Santa Monica in early 1993. I can still recall what I felt at the time. I thought, “That’s incredible. I have to go there. I have to experience that space.” Why the sudden excitement? Because I had already reached this point in my mind: the intersection between ornament and modern construction. Although I hadn’t experienced it in reality and couldn’t imagine it, I had postulated it. My mind was therefore receptive, and a bad photo triggered a long journey. I knew nothing whatsoever about Sullivan’s small banks beforehand, nor was I especially knowledgeable about architecture. One wonders whether this building would have proved so meaningful to me if it had been featured in some way in an encyclopaedia. The interesting thing about the story of the princes is that their comprehensive education – and I presume that because they passed the acumen tests they were excellent logicians – led them to open their minds to the world and all its manifestations rather than closing them as semi-educated people in particular do. They “recognised” the world on their journeys, but not in the sense of quotation or rediscovery. No, the world’s riches unveiled themselves because their eyes were receptive to them, just as the hearts of great logicians beat faster at the sight of the outward appearances representing the lively network of entanglement within. That alone is recompense for the effort of appreciation, not the silly outline of ill-considered logic that ignore bodies and their exteriors. At any rate, I approached Sullivan’s buildings without prejudice and with fascination. It was only when we had completed our travels and had the photographic results on film in front of us that I realised that no one had ever done this before. And that surprised me again. It was different with Goff. I didn’t even know his name before the late 1980s, when I discovered the L.A. County Museum Japanese art pavilion, which he had designed together with Bart Prince, a former pupil. The building impressed me so much that I wrote down the architect’s name. But the story wasn’t ready in my mind at the time. This didn’t begin properly until I revisited the building 10 years later. My admiration for his skill at thinking, constructing and shaping space increased from one building to the next. In between – in retrospect it was the perfect link – I was involved with Maillart’s bridges. And these films in turn were preceded by my work on Gaudi’s ‘La sagrada familia,’ the subject of my feature film The Holy Bunch. This included an entire sequence without actors, focussing entirely on the cathedral, with the building carrying the story and the biography.

S.Z.: Your attitude to the built constructs of architects forgotten, suppressed or thrust to the edges of the established perception is one of radical affection. Your viewers and listeners are drawn in as accomplices in a very intimate process of approaching, considering and penetrating your subjects. Perception becomes grasping in a very direct sense of the word, seeing a haptic yet recognitive procedure. The photographic film camera doesn’t dissect. The intensity isn’t created by deconstruction, but loving construction.

H.E.: Within my construct – i.e. that of a technical medium – the eye reverts back to what it always was: an extension and interface to the brain, and one that needs no codes. It thinks and feels at the same time. As such, the film once again bears a genuine relation to the external realities of the world and does not get bogged down in speculation. As “imaginary architectures of time,” films can consciously uphold and analyse the intersections between time and place, in other words, enable what we see and perceive at a given time to reappear. In PHOTOGRAPHY AND BEYOND, I only shot things and constellations I loved, and only cinematographical settings I loved. I present the uniqueness of space, and thereby of course the impossibility of representing them medially. Precisely the effort of working with 35mm film and Dolby Digital Stereo highlights the losses that the media constantly and tacitly sweep under the carpet.

S.Z.: You began the entire project at a time in which the euphoria about the digitisation of images and all forms of exchange had reached dizzying heights. The electronic generation and distribution of images was inflating vehemently. Nearly everything that was produced in the 1990s will probably be forgotten within a decade. As the first two parts opened in the cinemas, the so-called “new economy” was beginning to fall apart. The panacean qualities promised by the missionaries of all things electronic turned out in most cases to be bold quackery.
H.E.: People will complain that it’s not about clinging to constellations or composed phenomena and that only the exchange process itself is interesting, even though I share your belief that this is utter nonsense. Ecstasy is a trap. I’m interested in endurance. The bean-counters present no more than nominally democratic acts on their multimedia exteriors, and most of it is nothing but associative rubbish. At this bandwidth they are in any case utterly ruthless and hopelessly out of reach of mortal individuals. So why bother? Now and again we plunge our hands into the stream and pull something nourishing out. And coincidence is just as refreshing as research. PHOTOGRAPHY AND BEYOND, by contrast, is a plea for decisive, finite formation, and does not represent the “sea of opportunity” in which we can take an abstract swim. Beauty only ever exists at a particular time and in a particular place, not as abstract relational logic. As a logician, I should at least be permitted to say that. Incidentally, in making our production we used the “new” media more intelligently than many companies who pride themselves in doing so. Day after day, Filmgalerie 451 posted an online “making of” of each of the 50 days of shooting. Far in excess of a hundred thousand users a month watched these cinematic ads. That’s never happened before. “Making of” documents are usually only faked up afterwards. As a result, we’re no longer dependent on the film journalistic blancmange that is currently oozing through the “old” media. After GOFF IN THE DESERT has premiered on February 14th, 2003, the film will be flanked by the Web site www.bruce-goff-film.com.

S.Z.: Are we to understand your renewed exploit into so-lemn photographic filmmaking as an act of protest, of resistance by aesthetic means against a culture in which mediatised moments are deemed obscene, and dancing on plateaus has become a social requirement?

H.E.: Everything you do also distinguishes itself by what you don’t do. You set priorities because you only have a limited amount of time at your disposal. I wouldn’t necessarily call that resistance, but a conscious choice. The “dancing on plateaus” does look rather silly from the outside. If the players on the new media stage have voluntarily taken over from very different forces the role of relieving the so-called “little” people from their loose change, they are only following a long tradition. But they have now been cut down to size in a classic way. How can you accuse someone who has never “felt with his eyes” of “neglecting a core business?” The fact that the soul is connected to the body has been completely overlooked out of sheer elation at the new association machines and their almost religious aura of boundlessness. For my work, I was pleased that the sphere of the panacean promises had moved away from film and settled somewhere else. This background noise – namely the act of transposing multimedia efforts onto a new, universal medium – has created new conditions for filmmaking. We can now concentrate again on what is important: representation and linear paths, that is, spatial representation and agents of the dramatic form. Film can free itself from the imposed demands for socio-politically educational, Big Brother-like, associative, essayistic proof in montage form; info-kitsch that shrouds the world in a blanket of understanding as far as the antennas and networks reach. In view of everything the media is now capable of, this is something of a second change of paradigm. Reality ein stocktraditioneller Mechanismus. Sie wurden klassisch vorgeführt. Aber wie soll man jemandem die „Vernachlässigung eines Kerngeschäfts“ vorwerfen, der noch nie „Gefühle in den Augen“ gehabt hat? Vor lauter Freude über neue Assoziationsmaschinen, die einen nahezu religiösen Schein von Unendlichkeit offerieren, sind die Tatsachen der körperlichen Gebundenheit des Geistes glatt übersehen worden. Ich war für meine Arbeit froh, daß die Sphäre der Heilsversprechungen endlich vom Film abgezogen worden und irgendwo anders gelandet sind. Vor diesem Hintergrundgeräusch – nämlich der Verlagerung gesamtkunst-werklicher Anstrengungen auf ein neues, universaleres Medium – hat sich für den Film eine neue Situation ergeben. Er kann sich wieder auf das konzentrieren, was er wesentlich ist: Abbildungs-funktion und lineare Strecke, also Repräis no longer to be covered and interpreted by language, but “only” as perfectly as possible via an intact photographic surface like a “performance,” a motif as old as film itself, but long buried down a collateral line.

S.Z.: PHOTOGRAPHY AND BEYOND has an impact on two levels; as an individual film that you insert into the project and as an item in a cinematographic and audiovisual archive. Bit by bit, you are creating an encyclopaedia of the means by which strong-willed architects have accentuated, altered and transformed spaces and locations.

H.E.: Yes, freed from the chains of meaning, things can speak for themselves again.Films can now simply show things again without being judged for what they portray or how they does so. A word about my choice: the Architektur als Autobiographie (Architecture as Autobiography) group looks at architectural spaces that I believe have been sorely neglected by so-called “architectural history.” In GOFF IN THE DESERT, I show something that has been suppressed by almost criminal means by the International Style and Bauhaus movements. Just like Rudolph Schindler, Bruce Goff was deliberately marginalised and sidelined simply because he wasn’t an ideologist with global aspirations, but felt duty-bound to the sites and particular shapes of his constructions. The film now has the strength to put something centre-stage in such a way that it can’t be talked away again. Here’s a little joke by way of an aside: In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a project – I believe it was initiated by UNESCO – to immortalise the World Cultural Heritage List. A variety of production companies fell over themselves to shoot cheap footage of famous buildings. This rubbish was subsequently shelved in the archives never to be seen again. Someone should turn it into a research project to assess these products. Then the work can start all over again. However, I can only compare the “archive” concept (which is after all an encyclopaedic one) to my own production. In the ‘Basis of make-up’ sub-group, I show all my notebooks, sketchpads and drawings in as sensible a manner as possible. That is both complete and a parody of encyclopaedias. Their objectives are more than any individual can achieve. Personal matters only get in their way, and it is this disruption that I take a close look at.

S.Z.: Is this a task you assign to photographic films after they have been run through the electronic acceleratory and cleansing machines in order to permanently preserve (constructive) aesthetic sensations and the respectful view artists have of them? Is the cinema perhaps a museum in the best sense of the word, a place where (in this case) constructed fantasies are refined?

H.E.: I can’t formulate any tasks. All I can do is offer what I do best: representing space on a flat surface. I consider myself a cameraman held out in the service of Mankind and who makes the fruits of his sight available to others. This is no more and no less than utopia without a dramatic structure. I believe that everyone perceives space differently and that art and structure arise out of the perception of these nuances. The world reveals itself to us, and we show each other the world – not just different facets, but our different views. During peacetime this is an endless process that deserves to be loved.

(Media expert Siegfried Zielinski’s ‘Archäologie der Medien – Zur Tiefenzeit des technischen Hören und Sehens’ [The archaeology of the media: On the nadir of technical seeing and hearing] was recently published by Rowohlt.)