Henry L. Kamphoefner: His Years at OU and Beyond, Part 2
by Lynne Rostochil
This is the second of four installments about Kamphoefner’s career. To read the first installment, go here.
By the early 1940s, Henry L. Kamphoefner was one of the OU Architecture department’s most popular and prolific professors and his work was gaining a lot of national attention. In addition to his home being featured in the May 1944 Pencil Points magazine, another of his designs was featured in the April 1944 issue of the periodical. During a time when spare dollars were a rarity and most often went to war-related projects, Kamphoefner’s economical design for an addition to the Cleveland County Health Department was certainly newsworthy.
Here’s the article:
The problem was to provide practically double the existing space for health offices, all within set limits available in an old building. Although assigned to new uses, the existing quarters remained as they were, except for a new coat of paint. The new offices, located in a space that formerly was a community hall, were laid out from scratch:
Health needs of Cleveland County had increased many fold in recent years. War projects upped the County’s population from 27,728 in 1940 to 31,028 in 1943. Some 20,000 sailors are stationed at nearby Navy bases. As soon as funds were granted for expansion of health facilities, the plans were drawn and the contract let. Work started in the middle of July and was completed 10 weeks later.
The in-sloping face of the reception desk is surfaced with 3/4″ tongue and groove strips, vertically applied; the counter top is 3/4″ plywood. Under the counter top, along the entire interior face of the desk, is a shelf that helps keep the work surface clear of miscellaneous accumulations.
In this remodeled area, the 14-foot ceilings of the old hall were lowered to 9 feet; windows were lowered and widened. The bare cement floor was covered with asphalt tile. Otherwise, changes involved only placement of partitions and installation of equipment. Cost of general construction came to slightly more than $7,000 (around $96,000 in 2015 dollars).
This photograph of the lecture room was taken before chairs were installed. On X-ray clinic days or ties for other special types of examination, the room is cleared and folding screens are set up within the space to form a series of individual dressing rooms.
In order to keep carpentry at a minimum, at the recommendation of the WPB, smooth-finish hollow tile was used for walls and partitions. All mouldings and finish detail were eliminated. Most of the lighting is concealed, thus avoiding use of expensive — and scarce — metal fixtures.
A definite limitation existed in the fact that comparatively little of the enclosing wall area is along the exterior of the building; hence extreme care had to be exercised in selecting for these interior locations areas which would suffer least from lack of direct outside light.
General work space
The oblique partition between nurse’s and doctor’s consultation rooms was worked out to handle the special function of each space. Included in centrally located reception desk and waiting room area is space for the office files, accessible to all concerned. The lecture hall has an opening for a projector, operated from the supply room. Blackboard, bulletin board, projection screen, and speaker’s platform are integral parts of the room design.
This lecture hall is a room of many uses. One afternoon a week, a maternity class meets here; on infant, pre-school, and general clinic days, demonstrations and films are shown. It also serves as a meeting place for various health committees.
The doctor’s office
Nurses room at right; “baby bins” at left
Kamphoefner also wrote an article in the American Journal of Public Health about this project — you can read the article here.
During the war years, Kamphoefner also designed a temporary band shell for the Oklahoma State Symphony to use for its summer concert series — here’s an Oklahoman photo of the architect and a model of his creation:
Unlike most band shells — including ones that he designed earlier in his career — this one sported a flat instead of curved roof and a convex curve with fins to allow the music to waft out in all directions so that even the patron farthest from the music would be able to hear it clearly. I’m not sure if the band shell was ever constructed, but here’s a more conventional curved design for the Oleson Park Music Pavilion in Iowa that Kamphoefner designed, perhaps just before his arrival in Norman — it was built in 1938 and added to the National Register in 2003:
Definitely a man with opinions, Kamphoefner let his impressions of the teaching methods associated with the Beaux Arts Institute of Design be known in the June 1944 issue of Pencil Points. After years of teaching the Beaux Arts method, Kamphoefner’s rebellious nature emerged when he called for a reexamination of the institution and its value. It’s a fascinating opinion piece and well worth a read — just click to enlarge:
Within a few years, several universities moved away from the Beaux Arts model and toward more modern and creative methods of instruction. I did find this unidentified and very uncharacteristically traditional Kamphoefner drawing online that might have been his award-winning Beaux Arts entry from 1932:
The popular professor became “acting director of the School of Architecture from 1942 to 1944. Kamphoefner had a penchant for command and by 1945 was effectively the dean of the architectural school. Joe Smay, the school’s founder in 1926 and the actual dean, was nearing retirement, and in the words of Duncan Stuart (Kamphoefner’s fellow faculty member at Oklahoma), Smay ‘didn’t like ‘deaning’ that much’ and preferred the golf course. In 2002, Stuart further recalled how Henry Kamphoefner reacted to the administrative power vacuum: Henry, who liked to run things, just took over. The fact that he didn’t have the title [of dean] didn’t seem to worry him all that much.”*
(It is interesting to note that in the OU School of Architecture brochure I found in 2013 and blogged about, Kamphoefner is listed as chairman for the School of Architecture from 1944-1947, as you can see here.)
By 1944, Kamphoefner was OU’s de facto School of Architecture chairman, as well as official Coordinator of Campus Planning. In his new position as campus planner, he immediately gathered fellow architecture professors James W. Fitzgibbon and Martin S. Kermacy and worked with them to design a completely new OU campus that would be rolled out in phases over three decades. The trio’s first collaboration, a 96-unit married housing complex, had already been approved with construction set to begin in 1945, so when they unveiled their grand plan for a thoroughly modern campus, it’s not surprising that the powers at OU reacted enthusiastically. What might have been surprising, though, was the abundance of national and even international praise the plan received after it was published in the September 1945 issue of Architectural Forum.
The “breathtaking” plan, according to Architectural Forum, called for the OU campus to be divided into 10 zones with areas of similar study clustered together. Kamphoefner and his design cohorts called the existing Gothic-styled buildings impractical for Oklahoma’s weather — they were more suited to cold, damp climes, Kamphoefner claimed. In an Oklahoman article, Kamphoefner explains that “an effort has been made to plant a little bit of Oxford on the OU campus. We’re making an effort to fit the architectural plan to its environment.” In other words, adios Gothic — hello Mod! Here’s an example of the style of architecture Kamphoefner looked forward to seeing on the OU campus:
Kamphoefner had this to say about the new architecture he outlined in the campus plan: “If we satisfy the requirements of our buildings, create simple, workable structures, orient these structures to the sunlight, the prevailing winds, and the physical characteristics of the property, we will find very little need for serious discussion of ‘style.’ We should prefer to justify the building as an expression and embodiment of the life and structure within rather than as an ‘authentic’ reproduction or rejuvenation of a past style.”*
And here’s a photo of the three campus planners looking very pleased with themselves, indeed — that’s Kermacy on the left, Kamphoefner in the middle, and Fitzgibbon on the right:
To see how well (or not well) Kamphoefner’s modern plan fared, I highly recommend checking out this very humorous blog post on greatmirror.com about the architecture on the OU campus. It’s a great read … and there are lots of photos, too! And the entire Architectural Forum article about the project is here.
While the OU plan made the rounds in architectural circles and was called “the first large-scale rethinking of collegiate architecture to go into construction” by The Oklahoman, Kamphoefner was busy at work on a completely different kind of project. He was selected by the Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass company to design a home as Oklahoma’s entry for an upcoming book, Your Solar House:
All 48 states and the District of Columbia would be represented in the book, and the criteria for each architect’s design stated that homes should be “inspired by its own locality,” cost no more than $15,000 (by prewar standards) to build, and “should lift their faces to the sun through extensive windows, or even walls of glass, not only to enlist solar energy as an auxiliary heating plant but chiefly to unite interiors with the out-of-doors in a spacious, cheer-filled atmosphere.” Here’s what Kamphoefner came up with:
And here’s the verbiage that goes along with the drawings (by Nat Baker and John H. Lattimor):
The Oklahoma solar house has been designed for an inside lot 100 feet wide by 150 feet deep, and fronting on the east side of an urban street. Houses on this type of plot are often planned so badly that the specified lot offers a challenge to the designer.
This house has been placed close to the street and to the north lot line, but the design has been worked out carefully to screen the house in those two directions. There are no windows on the east or west sides. The plan opens well to the south and the side and rear of the lot, for maximum privacy and view across the lawn.
The house was designed for relaxed, informal living. The main-entrance vestibule serves as a pivot point off which all rooms work, and passage to or from any room is possible without disturbing any other part of the house. The living-dining area may open into a single unified space when the occasion demands. The storage wall is used throughout the house, and ample, strategically placed storage spaces are provided.
Since the climate here is mild and most rains come from the north and east, the carport is brought into the house but left open on the west and south. Visitors arriving by automobile may enter the house under cover.
Exterior finishes are common brick and redwood siding. The pitched roofs are red-cedar shingles, and the flat roofs are tar and gravel. Interior finishes are chiefly of plywoods with plaster ceilings and hardwood floors. Simple fabrics will be used to screen the windows at night.
Glass is used freely in the exterior walls, but in large amounts only where it can be protected from the summer sun and in no area where the family’s privacy will be violated. Translucent-glass louvers are used to screen the lower bedroom windows from view while admitting light and air.
Planting is an integral part of the architecture as used in the areas next to the house and throughout the plot. It screens and softens specific areas, and enriches space.
Once again, the press raved about a Kamphoefner design, and The Oklahoman declared that the home, which contained many elements the architect had experimented with his own house in Norman, would be built in Oklahoma City. I’m not sure if it was built — does anyone out there in Mod Squad land know?
By 1948, Kamphoefner had been at OU for 11 years. He was at the top of his game there when he, along with four other professors, suddenly resigned in January 1948 and announced that they all would be moving to North Carolina State University. Along with Kamphoefner, three other architecture professors — James Fitzgibbon, Edward Walter Waugh, and George Matsumoto — would make the trip to NCSU. The fifth professor was Duncan Stuart from the Art Department. Before they left, Bruce Goff was named Chairman of the School of Architecture.
Why did Kamphoefner leave OU? There’s a lot of speculation on this topic, so much so that I’ve added a separate blog post about it — go here to read it. Also, I owe a big thanks to Nelson Brackin, who found the issue of the Sooner magazine that announces Kamphoefner and pals’ mass exodus from OU. Read the article here.
With everything settled in Norman and Goff named as chairman, Kamphoefner and his posse headed off to North Carolina while Bruce Goff took his place at OU, and both men would go on to create two of the most prestigious and successful architecture programs in the country.
In our next installment on Kamphoefner and his career, we’ll discuss his years at North Carolina State University, but I want to end this post with a Kamphoefner quote I find especially appealing. Always a man with an opinion, Kamphoefner wrote a critique in The Oklahoman in 1947 that blasted a book written by California architect Paul Williams entitled New Homes for Today. Our pal Kamphoefner hated the book (the designs in it were too boring and staid, he thought) but in the review, he very succinctly and eloquently shared his philosophy about modern architecture:
“… there are no rules for modern architecture other than that it is a reflection of modern life, an attitude toward life which begins with living people and their physical and emotional needs and tries to meet them as logically as possible with the best available methods.”
* Quote came from David Louis Sterrett Brook’s dissertation, “Henry Leveke Kamphoefner, the Modernist, Dean of the North Carolina State University School of Design, 1948-1972. Go here to access it — the dissertation provides a very detailed biography of Kamphoefner and his years at NCSU is quite an interesting read.