image courtesy Pamela Peters

On the western façade of The University of Texas at Austin Goldsmith Hall are inscribed the names of four architects. The first three are obvious enough. Ictinus designed the Parthenon. Vitruvius gave us the concepts of "firmness, commodity, and delight" in his ten books on architecture. Palladio may have only written four books on architecture, but the buildings he produced defined the direction of western architecture for the next 300 years.

The fourth name on that wall was always a bit of a mystery. The inscription read "Goodhue," but that name was not a familiar one. It was not mentioned in our history courses, and none of our design professors ever instructed us to look up the work of someone by that name. The library contained no monograph of his work, and so in the days before Wikipedia, we were all left asking the question, "Goodwho?"

When I graduated from UT in 2000, I moved to Chicago to begin my professional career. While there I volunteered as a tour guide at Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House which, as it turns out, sits about 400 feet from University of Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel. This colossal gothic pile was designed by a New York architect by the name of Bertram Goodhue. A few years later on a road trip through Nebraska, I found myself in Lincoln, where I explored the state's towering Capitol Building that this same Goodhue fellow had designed. Once I had returned to Texas and was working at Lake|Flato, I designed a middle school at Cranbrook in the shadow of Goodhue's Christ Church of Bloomfield Hills.

It turns out that Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue was a rather prolific American architect working at the turn of the twentieth century. Although he was just a few years older than Wright, his architecture took a much more traditional path. As a virtuoso of revival styles, he produced designs in Gothic, Spanish, Romanesque, and many other modes. If modernism had never happened, Goodhue would today, no doubt, be considered a luminary on par with the likes of Ictinus, Vitruvius, and Palladio. But modernism did happen, and his name has become a footnote.

But I have found that the footnotes of history can teach just as much as the pillars that traditionally define it.

In my years as a student at UT, I may not have learned exactly who the man was behind the fourth name on the wall at Goldsmith, but I did learn to embrace the inherent incompleteness of my education and become an eternal student of architecture. No student ever graduates knowing everything—I certainly did not—but at UT I was taught to appreciate the unknown and enjoy the process of exploring.

Thirteen years after graduating from UT, it is easy to become bogged down in the grind of practice. But there is nothing more inspiring than discovering an architect whose work may be very different from mine, but whose ideas still have relevance today. I may never design a gothic church in Manhattan, but I can appreciate the ingenuity of how Goodhue modified historic precedent to address the specifics of the site. I may never design a library in a hybridized Egyptian and Mediterranean style, but I can appreciate Goodhue's attempt to assign appropriate stylistic approaches to new cities and programs. I may not always recognize the names of dead architects chiseled onto the sides of buildings, but I can certainly enjoy the process of discovering the work that earned them a place there.

 

*A version of they essay first appeared in the December 12, 2013 edition of the University of Texas School of Architecture's eNews bulletin.