Discovery opens a window on the architects design process

SAN ANTONIO – Ford, Powell & Carson, the architectural home of modern master O’Neil Ford, turned 75 this year, and there’s no better way to celebrate than with unexpected gifts.

Over the summer, an intern uncovered long-forgotten design drawings and sketches of large projects such as La Villita, Trinity University and the Tower of the Americas while cleaning the basement of the offices of the business at Place Saint-Paul.

“It was like opening Tut’s grave,” said Michael Guarino, the firm’s senior partner, of the cache of hundreds of objects. “It was just an amazing find.”

From these objects, some found in stained cardboard wallets, Trinity University has produced a fascinating exhibit in the Neidorff Art Gallery that highlights the process of taking a design from the drawing board to the product. finished.

“Education by Design: Drawings From the Collection of Ford, Powell & Carson, 1939-1970” presents the first concepts of the tower of HemisFair Park – one elegantly fluted like a glass of champagne at the top, another with a base like an Apollo rocket – as well as designs for Trinity and Skidmore college campuses. There are also student drawings of everyday objects – lamps and lights, furniture – from the La Villita art school between 1939 and 1942.

Ford came to San Antonio in 1939 to oversee the restoration of La Villita, and it was here that the themes of education, preservation, planning, and social concerns that defined his work became clear to the La Villita. first time, according to Kathryn O’Rourke, architectural historian in Trinity’s art history department.

Learn more about Ford, Powell and Carson

La Villita School was a favorite project of Mayor Maury Maverick, O’Rourke said. In collaboration with the National Youth Administration, the idea was to train students in arts and crafts.

“The students were mostly poor and predominantly Mexican or Mexican-American,” she said. “They drew objects that would be used in the restoration of Villita, and Ford obviously criticized them. In one of the drawings he wrote “Very good” followed by the initials ON. “

Ford was deeply interested in education, perhaps because he had never completed college, and several of his most important commissions were for college campuses, such as Trinity and Skidmore in Saratoga Springs, New York. .

“The exhibition ties his interest in education to design and architecture,” Guarino said.

Among Trinity’s designs are a view of the Murchison Tower and Parker Chapel with downtown San Antonio in the distance.

“This is how architecture works,” Guarino said. “The current tower and chapel are very different from the first drawings. The designs evolve. It takes time to design something thoughtfully. And it’s a very collaborative process.

Other architects associated with the firm are well represented in the exhibition, including Mike Lance, who made the preliminary sketches for the Tower of the Americas in 1965; and Boone Powell, who not only designed the Skidmore campus, but sketched a plan for Braniff Memorial Tower at the University of Dallas on what looks like a yellow notepad.

“What really interested Ford was the craftsmanship, whether a building or an object was put together properly,” said O’Rourke. “He used the materials honestly, in a straightforward manner, and celebrated the use of the hand to bring art into the world of architecture. “

After his death in 1982, many of Ford’s documents went to the Alexander Architectural Archives at the University of Texas at Austin.

The decluttering of a summer basement revealed treasures that the architect obviously wanted to keep, including the drawings of the students of La Villita.

“All these years people thought all of his stuff was going to Austin,” O’Rourke said. “We wanted to show how architects experiment with ideas, and that’s how good design happens. He doesn’t just come out fully formed.

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Abdul J. Gaspar

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