Organic Modernism

Bruce Goff’s spiralling Bavinger House in Oklahoma demolished

Architecture Newsletter Preservation Southwest
(Courtesy Wikipedia)
(Courtesy Wikipedia)

In 1987, the Bavinger House, designed by Kansas architect Bruce Goff was awarded the Twenty Five Year Award by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Nearly 30 years on from receiving the award, Bavinger House, once lauded as a quintessential icon of organic modernist architecture, has been demolished.

Originally built in 1955 in Norman, Oklahoma, Goff collaborated with artists Eugene and Nancy Bavinger as well as students from the University of Oklahoma to create a spiraling fan-like building whose core is shielded behind clumps of sandstone.

(Rex Brown / Flickr)

(Courtesy Rex Brown / Flickr)

The house’s signature 96-foot-long spiral, which curved downwards in logarithmic fashion, mimicked that of a sail unfurling in the wind. Trapped in suspense, Goff showcased the tensile trends that were emerging in architecture at the time, with Frei Otto, a notable ambassador of this technique, earning his doctorate in tensioned constructions only a year prior.

Among it’s woodland surroundings, Bavinger House was pinned to the ground through a recycled oil field drill stem which was also used to elevate the central mast above 55 feet. With no interior walls, an array of multi-height platforms created space within the house while the ground floor was covered with pools and planting.

(Rex Brown / Flickr)

(Rex Brown / Flickr)

For the House, Goff told the Chicago Tribune in 1995 that he “wanted to do something that had no beginning and no ending.”

“This house begins again and again,” he continued. “Gertrude Stein talks about the sense of not being in the past, present or future tense, but in the ‘continuous present.’ I was thinking in those terms.” In the decade leading up to 2008, however, reports filtered through of vacancy and the house’s deterioration.

(Rex Brown / Flickr)

(Rex Brown / Flickr)

Writing for the Architectural Review, Michael Webb said in 2005 that the house had “become as choked with vegetation as a lost temple in the jungle. It received the 25-Year Award from the American Institute of Architects in 1987, but today only the ‘no trespassing’ signs denote its presence—as a creeper-clad spiral of stone that can barely be glimpsed through the trees.”

(Rex Brown / Flickr)

(Rex Brown / Flickr)

After funding to restore the building ran into problems, the Bavinger House suffered more woes with heavy damage being inflicted after a storm in 2011. With the central spire being one of the more notable features in need of repair, the house’s official website stated that the building would not be able to reopen. This statement was later amended to “Closed Permanently”.

(Rex Brown / Flickr)

(Rex Brown / Flickr)

That same year, the Oklahoma Office of Historical Preservation received an anonymous phone call from a man threatening to bulldoze the building. Local news station “News 9” suspected this to be Bob Bavinger, the now owner of the house and son of Eugene and Nancy and went to investigate. Upon arrival however, they were welcomed with gunfire.

Speaking of the building’s fate, the younger Bavinger told the Norman Transcript in 2011 that there was an ongoing conflict with the University of Oklahoma over the home’s ownership and restoration. He said that demolition “was the only solution that we had, we got backed into a corner.”

(Rex Brown / Flickr)

(Rex Brown / Flickr)

Come August 2012 though, the website of Bavinger House issued a statement saying: “The House will never return under its current political situation.” Four years further on April 28 2016, Caleb Slinkard in the Norman Transcript reported “all that is left of the Bavinger House is an empty clearing.” For those who never had a chance to visit the building, a video walkthrough is available here courtesy of Skyline Ink.




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