A very important observation in understanding Goff is one that he made repeatedly when we were discussing design, while he was working on his book, and many times later when working on actual projects. He of course was always interested in absolute architecture, which he viewed as pure construction (he did distinguish what could be constructed from pure fantasy which he showed in his painting) with no other purpose. He said that would be the most difficult to design because the other purposes provided a crutch for the imagination and led to many ideas. He felt that this was a difference between himself and some other architects, that he did not see those purposes as an impediment. This to me showed how seriously he felt when he described his role as a practicing architect as trying to solve the client's problem as well as that of producing beauty and form.
A story some have heard is one that I myself observed. We did a house in a small town in Oklahoma, and the client was a well-respected local insurance man to whom Mr. Goff had been recommended by a local builder. As the elevator opened into our apartment in the Price Tower, the client observed the surroundings, including the wonderful Siamese peacock that eventually ended up as part of the late Shinen'Kan. He immediately said "Mr. Goff, you have been recommended to me as an architect, but I don't like Modern Architecture" rather defiantly. Never one to be deterred by labels, and without missing a beat BG said "I don't like a lot of it either" (and truer words were never spoken). He continued with "Lets don't worry about what you don't like, lets just figure out what you need and want". The client then said "But what style would it be?" BG then said "what's your name?" and when he heard the answer said "Then that's the style it would be".
To my knowledge he never engaged in "pseudo-psycho analysis" or anything of the sort, and he certainly never showed them styles to "let them pick". He seemed almost always after learning a bit about the family (or the church or the business, although the bulk of his built practice was residential during my time with him) to then go into the location, and into their life-style, mainly related to "do you like to eat together, do you like privacy or openness", things that I have always described as the "circulation" desired. Later on he would show them things almost casually, just to get a sense of how they reacted to colors and textures and things of that sort, very seldom specifically to ask them to choose. He thought of this phase as just developing what I guess I will call an empathetic relation with them, seeing himself as someone who would gather their desires and sort out some priorities for their needs (the budget after the first bids came in usually did most of that).
Never in any way did he "pander" to them, on the other hand it appeared almost a crime to try to "dictate" his wishes: he really believed the building should be theirs, not his, and spoke very negatively about architects who did (not about their designs, but about their attitude).
Being an "outsider" in terms of my profession it all seemed so natural that it was perhaps quite a while before I realized how truly remarkable his approach was. And began to realize how few people really caught on to the fact that he really did operate in this way.
It was always quite surprising (and exhiliarating) to see BG begin the design. Of course he seldom talked about it before it was done in his mind, although at least with me we later did discuss things a bit in advance just to make sure the client needs and site conditions were all in order. I cannot really say what went through his mind that was unexpressed and done before anyone else had heard or seen anything, but I am rather sure that it was never "lets figure out how to stuff all this into a spiral".
From my observations, and later from very specific discussions, he always started with the "circulation" (my term, but he used it as well) and it is something that to this day I talk with students about in designing software, and do myself when engaged in that task. We would discuss the various spaces needed, the relationships that would make sense given the problem, and from that a floor plan would grow. I saw this as literally organic and literally growing right in front of me. Undoubtedly he either was forming or had formed much of a three-dimensional picture, but that sure appeared very much to be a result of the needed circulation. At any rate his circulation of course included moving between levels, and after this was thoroughly understood the elevations would begin to form, sometimes internal and sometimes external probably depending upon the complexity of the interior. After going through much of this materials and that sort of thing would come up (of course materials had already come up in terms of the structural requirements).
As I learned more about engineering (thanks very much to the patience of J. Palmer Boggs) I became able to discuss this more with him, and help out with feasability checks and that sort of thing, at this early stage. Along the way especially in considering the structure the full three-dimensional form would begin to emerge (and was always so beautiful that it was easy to suspect he knew it all along, although to me that was a mastery that stemmed from his deep understanding of the possibilities of creating form, not his ability to cram things into a predetermined form).
from the bar to the grille. Herb Greene in some of his notes mentioned how funny BG could be, and tells of BG's comment we all passed around relating to "the Stone Age". An even more fond memory is of Harvey Ferrerro, who was a master at these things, when some magazine had a flattery story on how Ed Stone had overcome his alchoholism and Harvey sent us all to the floor rolling with laughter in a local restaurant by saying "so Ed finally made it from the bar to the grill". (inside joke but if you know Ed's work you understand).
honestly expressing the structure. During my second year at Rice I had an apartment on Main Street and every day walked by the Art Museum in Houston designed by Mies van der Rohe that was then under construction. I had heard a bit about "honesty" and "expressing the structure" and "Less is More" (BG always added "nore or less") so I very carefully observed the beams that were "honestly" carrying the construction, and was shocked beyond words when I slowly realized they were being covered up (I guess fireproofing reared its head) and then little strips of steel were being pasted on to "express" them. I had been a cynic before but that took the cake for me: worthy of a Chicago politician I always thought).
what people think. A comment I have wanted to make ever since I read David DeLong's great and very accurate book on BG relates to some comments from Harold Price and perhaps others regarding the reaction of "the townspeople" when I arrived at a fairly young age and lived in the Price Tower along with BG (and others from time to time). It was apparently shocking to some, but I suspect the whole thing even without my youth might have been shocking: a bunch of young guys and one older guy, often engaged in laughter over things they might not have understood if they heard them. As it turns out I am familiar with what might have been an equally shocking situation: my wonderful wife Mei-Lie showed up in Bartlesville to attend a small college (and had her life ruined by me and the two children and two grandchildren that have consumed much of our time together:-) and she was totally shocked when people told her that she should not "hold hands" when she went out with an older female friend to shop lest people "not understand". Something that to her in China was totally natural and a mark of respect was apparently something you should not do over here. What a world!
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of observing and eventually discussing BGs presentations to the clients was how masterful they were, and how remarkable was their organization. Again being an "outsider" it was a while before I realized how unusual and how effective his approach was. I have sometimes wondered if he might have learned some of this when very young and apprenticed to Rush, Endicott, and Rush, which was apparently a well-run place, or if he came up with the idea all on his own.
He always followed a set pattern, and advised others to do the same. There is a famous story (not all believe it to be true - although the letter that resulted is apparently on display at the Art Institute in Chicago) that he claimed proved his point, that a design for one of his greatest works was turned down by FLLW because the client presented it to Wright without explaining the problem first. BG could really go into detail how it showed that even a great person who knew everything about architecture needed to be led to understand a design.
BG would begin with a light overview of the desires the client(s) had expressed, and slowly bring out a plot plan, leading up to the building by road and by walks, noting how the building (which they had no visual notion of) would fit and be approached in various ways. He would then slowly bring out the plans of each floor, literally always starting with the main entryway and explaining the disposition of the space along the path. Often he would mention things that had become of particular importance to the client(s): "through here you can see the tree you particularly wanted to save" or "as you asked the kids are on one side and the adults on the other with the kitchen in the middle" or "as you asked there is very little division between family spaces". He adamantly never told them what he wanted, only showed how he had tried to incorporate their preferences. To me watching him prepare preliminary sketches and later plans these were the inspirations that told him where things should go, and of course he had in his own mind something he would seldom discuss in advance, the actual three-dimensional forms that would result.
After the circulation in plan had been fully explained, of course moving upward and downward but only through stairways and the like, he would slowly bring out the elevations, exterior first, and later when required to explain interior arrangments or windows and views the interior elevations. He always insisted never to show a perspective rendering or anything of the sort until at least the exterior elevations had been explained (sometimes interiors waited until later depending on how they were need to help to understand the perspective). All this being done, a main perspective was brought out, frequently followed by other views more or less in order of their importance. The goal was always and explicitly to have the perspective seem inevitable when it finally appeared, and his amazing ability to have astoundingly inventive forms and arrangments accepted by even the most seemingly conservative client(s) to him stemmed from always following this approach.
I also became aware that he often tried to specifically choose who would "render" a perspective, based upon their presentation, and became much aware later as a bit of a "manager" of how upset he became at renderings that had "too much sky" or something of the sort.
In my mind his renderings were the best, and I laid out many for him after sorting out how to efficiently do "no-point" perspective (I of course as an outsider had never known of any other sort, and had done only isometries in engineering drawing myself, so I thought it was just simple geometry). He of course greatly admired Louis Sullivan as we all do as a draftsman, both for the beauty and for the precision, and often told stories of how Sullivan entered a community, holed up in a hotel room designed a building, did the working drawings, and accurate cost estimates, all while on occasion in a state that would leave most of us unable to draw at all!
Since stories are part of "the legend" I suspect everyone knows how much he admired the renderings of Jack Golden, and also of Herb Greene. I remember a funny time when BG designed an entry for the "Cowboy Hall of Fame", which created great consternation among his students (no problem since it did not win) who apparently thought it "lacked dignity". To me BG created his own dignity but what do I know. There was an extremely tight deadline so he prevailed upon Herb Green to render it since he knew it would get done well and on time. And I recall distinctly (Herb can tell me it was not true) that Herb hated it, but boy did he produce exactly the drawing that BG felt was needed!
I guess I should add my own "story" about rendering. I tried a few, since BG said after laying them out (which I was very good at doing) I should get the chance to fill them in, and he patiently coached me on the topics: shading things, trees, plants (I did an interior of the "Dewlen aparture" but never got the hand of doing the yucca plants inside). While in my second year at Rice he was trying to provide some financial support and contracted with me to do the "final rendering" just before construction of the original Joe Price bachelor pad. Having finally proudly delivered it I was then informed by him that ("because of your influence" as he said, I suspect to help calm me) he had decided to "slope the walls out" and do something a bit wilder (and much better, clearly), so I became the person who did "the last Price House with straight walls" I guess.