O'Neil Ford: Texas's godfather of modern architecture – Curbed

Texas architectural legend O’Neil Ford has been referred to as essentially the most well-known architect no person is aware of about. For a member of an infamously egotistical occupation, that will have stung. However Ford, as would shock few who knew him, was too brash and too busy to care.

Recognized for each his charming demeanor and slicing retorts (sick of the the “voluminous spewing of writing about architecture,” he detested intelligent and trivial modern design), Ford was an early modernist with a humble respect for craftsmanship and the handmade. Developing because the style for the Arts and Crafts model transitioned to a starvation for the Worldwide model, he favored streamlined shapes however craved pure supplies, which he called “previous-age insurance coverage for buildings.” For him, true inspiration lied in reflecting the easy Texas panorama, and the naturalistic work of Alvar Aalto; Frank Lloyd Wright was merely an “egomaniac … all the time attempting to be unique.”

Ford’s outspokenness was earned, although: His work gave him ample declare to the title of Texas’ godfather of modern design. So obsessive about historic preservation—particularly the sweetness of San Antonio’s Spanish architecture—that he was truly declared a Nationwide Historic Landmark himself by the Nationwide Council on the Arts (nonetheless the one particular person with such an honor), he embraced modernism not solely as a solution to abandon the previous however to refine it. Like Mies van der Rohe, Ford was a modernist who constructed issues by hand, and it confirmed in his work.

“The sweetness of brick is that you could maintain one within the palm of your hand,” he once told an interviewer. “It's a must to lay brick by hand, in order that whenever you’ve completed, you understand how a wall is constructed as a result of you possibly can really feel it.”


For an architect who was celebrated for his designs for Texas universities, Ford undoubtedly had an unorthodox schooling. Born within the tiny city of Pink Hill, Texas, Otha Neil Ford grew up within the cotton patches of North Texas and began studying at a progressive faculty espousing the humanities-and-crafts motion, till his father died in a railroad accident when he was 12.

Little Chapel-in-the-Woods at Texas Girl’s College
Courtesy Denton Public Library/College of North Texas Libraries

Ford rapidly turned the breadwinner and, on account of monetary constraints, the one formal architectural schooling he had was incomes an “architectural certificates” by way of a Pennsylvania correspondence school (he picked up the pamphlet from a touring salesman on the hamburger stand the place he labored, and satisfied his mom to spend the final $19 in her financial savings account on the category).

It wasn’t a lot, however together with Ford’s character, it was sufficient to get him began within the workplace of Dallas architect David R. Williams, an equally flamboyant character. After Williams closed his workplace within the early ’30s, Ford discovered intermittent work till beginning a partnership with Arch Swank in 1936.

For the subsequent 5 years, the collaboration would give Ford an opportunity to refine his personal modern model in each Dallas and San Antonio. A collection of early residential commissions, together with one on St. Joseph's Island for oil magnate Sid Richardson, and the low-slung, rectangular Murchison House in San Antonio, showcased the affect of Richard Neutra and Irving Gill.

From the ’40s onward, Ford would preserve a shifting set of partnerships, engaged on an array of establishments initiatives, together with college commissions and work for the Texas Devices company campus. Within the midst of this work, he would discover time to lend his identify and energy to preservation campaigns, together with profitable efforts on behalf of La Villita, a historic San Antonio village.

Murchison Tower at Trinity College
Courtesy of Ford Powell & Carson

Buildings to know

Thought of one of the highlights of Ford’s profession and one of the very best buildings within the state, the Little Chapel-in-the-Woods at Texas Girl’s College in Denton sees Ford making a elegant, meditative area. Constructed as an interdenominational prayer area, it’s a sly software of modern sensibilities to a standard kind, constructed round a collection of parabolic arches, with pupil-designed stained-glass wrapping the partitions with scenes of girls ministering to human wants together with nursing, educating, speech, literature, dance and music.

Ford’s work at Trinity College as a complete stands as one of his biggest achievements. He would go on to design different campuses—together with College of Texas-San Antonio—constructed with a daring, muscular collection of concrete blocks and up to date strains. However Trinity, the place he and his agency labored for many years, exhibits his genius for flattering and accentuating the panorama. He initially referred to as the campus a “dismal and antagonistic jungle,” however whereas strolling its grounds, seen that limestone escarpment that bisects the campus and laid out buildings with respect to that pure division.

The result's a campus in tune with its topography, somewhat than one which forces the structure to abide by a grid. The modernist buildings, in trademark “Trinity crimson” brick chosen particularly to mirror the glow of the Texas solar, fan out like a modern tackle an Italian village, with Murchison Tower standing guard on the campus heart. Architectural Forum praised the sleek, horizontal modern buildings and their expressive glass curtain partitions.

Legacy and repute immediately

Ford’s biggest reward to modernism was to follow it with the soul of a preservationist. His method elevated the handmade and revered the teachings of the previous, and handled the panorama and native supplies as indispensable parts of nice design. He’s been referred to as the dean of Texas architecture and, by means of a long time of operating a big agency, amassed fairly an inventory of architects who would name him a mentor, together with architects David Lake and Ted Flato of Lake|Flato and Frank Welch.

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O'Neil Ford: Texas's godfather of modern architecture - Curbed