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Bertram Goodhue: His Life and Residential Architecture

Covered in this illustrated book are twenty built and six unbuilt houses that provide new insight into the evolution of Goodhue’s architecture during the thirty-three-year period of his remarkable career. Although these projects made up only a small portion of his total work, they are rich in architectural expression. Goodhue’s residential clients provided him with the opportunity to experiment with various interpretations of historical styles, to realize some of his romantic dreams, to put into practice the goals of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and to advance his search for stylistic freedom. By examining his domestic work, we see that many of his experiments found fuller expression in his secular commissions: for example, Waldron Gillespie’s California estate was the proving ground for a Persian landscaping scheme that became Goodhue’s signature in several civic and educational projects. Goodhue’s residential portfolio also provides a unique glimpse of life in the early twentieth century, the era of the great industrialists and their grand estates. Though time has brought unavoidable changes to his buildings, Goodhue’s legacy lives on. Philip Johnson has called Goodhue "America's leading architect of his day," and this book demonstrates clearly Goodhue's role in the modern movement and the place he merits in the history of architecture.

Beautifully produced, superbly illustrated, carefully researched, convincingly argued, and gracefully written, this book by Wyllie, historian, teacher, and practitioner of design has considerably extended an understanding of both American architectural culture during the transition from academic to modernist paradigms and Bertram Goodhue's accomplishment, especially in residential commissions. Wyllie adopts a traditional historical method to compile a highly readable and informative account of Goodhue's life in architecture. She is especially adept at discussing his various iconographic and theoretical sources while defining the distinct qualities of his formal and spatial articulation. A particularly commendable feature of the text is the excellent choice of Goodhue's fine drawings, historical and contemporary, color photographs, and the effective positioning of plans in relation to elevation or views. The reader is additionally equipped with a concise bibliography, endnotes, list of buildings and projects, and index. Thus, Wyllie enhances the main literature exemplified by Richard Oliver's 1983 Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue.
–R. W. Liscombe, Professor of Art History, University of British Columbia. CHOICE, September 1, 2007

This splendid book is both a sympathetic biography of one of America’s greatest architects and a very thorough account of all Goodhue’s non-ecclesiastical buildings. The “Residential Architecture” of the title in fact embraces not only houses, but a variety of other secular buildings including, for example, the headquarters of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. and the Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln.

As Romy Wyllie points out, Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue (1869-1924) belongs to that “transitional” generation of architects whose work evolves from the Arts & Crafts Movement and its reaction to 19th-century historicism, and gradually moves into a form of proto-Modernism. Goodhue, however, never renounced his Arts & Crafts roots, remaining committed to a collaborative ideal of architecture in which crafts and materials played a central role. He himself was a superb designer of furniture, carving, tiles, stained glass, and other decorative media – well illustrated in the book – and he worked with some of the leading American craftworkers of his day. . . .

Goodhue is probably best known for his church work in partnership with Ralph Adams Cram, and Wyllie rightly argues that his outstanding success in this field has contributed to the unjust neglect of his domestic and other buildings. But as she demonstrates, the co-architect of St. Thomas’s, New York, as well as designing many superb churches independently (such as West Point’s Cadet Chapel and Pittsburgh’s First Baptist Church), was also a masterly designer of houses that have a vitally organic relationship to their location.

Whilst the immense geographical diversity of the U.S.A. convinced Goodhue that there could be no single “national style,” he was acutely sensitive to regional traditions and use of materials. In particular, he recognized the potential for creative development of the Hispanic idiom, whether the encrusted “Churrigueresque” he encountered on his travels in Mexico, used to good effect in his buildings for San Diego’s Panama-California Exposition of 1915, or the much simpler vernacular idiom that inspired his campus for the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, or the Honolulu Academy of Arts, Hawaii. By contrast, the Philip Henry house at Scarborough, New York State, with its local rough-cut schist stone and elemental forms, echoes the character of its woodland setting overlooking the Hudson River . . . The publishers have done a first-class job both in the new illustrations and in reproducing many of Goodhue’s beautiful drawings.

Wyllie stresses the importance of Goodhue’s travels abroad, especially his 1901 visit to Persia where building reflected in beautifully arranged water-gardens made a profound impression on him. However, as the book’s illustrations eloquently show, Gooodhue’s genius happily enabled him to absorb a wide range of exotic influences and then re-interpret them in a wholly new and original way. Two late masterpieces, the Los Angeles Public Library and the Nebraska State Capitol, exemplify his ability to create a modern architecture which, through his Arts & Crafts commitment to meaningful craftsmanship and decoration, is replete with humane values.

The only other relatively recent study of Goodhue, Richard Oliver’s 1983 monograph, has many fine qualities but its biographical element is definitely secondary. So it is good that this book provides such a warmly perceptive account of the architect’s life, revealing the complexities of his intensely creative personality while documenting the desperate pace of his professional career as success brought more and more commitments. It is a measure of Wyllie’s skill as a writer that, at the end of the book, the reader feels, just as many of Goodhue’s contemporaries felt, bereft at the premature ending of a talent that evidently still had much to give.
–Peter Cormack, Journal of Stained Glass, Winter 2007