MODERNIST MONDAY: Félix Candela

Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist each month to explore with ten quick facts. You can keep up with #ModernistMondays on the TTC Blog, or our Instagram page! In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, learn about the life and legacy of Spanish-Mexican engineer and architect Félix Candela.

A portrait of young Ponti

Candela was born in Madrid in 1910.

After graduating from architecture school in 1935, he traveled to Germany to continue his studies. He worked under Materials professor Luis Vegas, entering and winning competitions under Vegas’ name.

During his studies, he was particularly interested in elasticity (the tendency of materials to bend or deform) and became a tutor on the topic.

In 1938, the Spanish Civil War began, and Candela was called home to fight against Franco.

Spanish Republic soldiers

While in the army, Candela served as Captain of Engineers for the Spanish Republic, and was subsequently imprisoned in France until 1939.

Because Franco won the war, Candela was no longer allowed to stay in Spain. Instead, he moved to Mexico to begin his architecture career.

(left A holiday card from Cubiertas Ala, (right) An early sketch of concrete shells

Soon after his arrival in Mexico, he married Eladia Martin and began a family.

During this period of his career, Candela worked to prove the effectiveness of concrete as a shell, or dome, for buildings. He was interested in this from both an aesthetic and financial perspective. In 1949, after a decade of working with the material, Candela founded Cubiertas Ala with his siblings, an engineering firm that focused on concrete structures. He gained more confidence in his concrete forms, and began engineering hyperbolic paraboloid concrete shells as well. (These shapes are similar to saddles or “Pringles” chips, curved up along one axis and curved down along the other, to achieve special structural efficiency.)

(left) Exterior of the Cosmic Rays Pavilion, (right) Interior of the Cosmic Rays Pavilion

Many of Candela’s Mexican projects were awarded by the government, including the Cosmic Rays Pavilion. This Mexico City project became known as one of the first built experiments using parabolic structures of thin concrete and is seen as one of Candela’s defining works.

One of many Candela projects under construction in Mexico

Mexican President Ruiz Cortines praised Candela highly, and invested 20,300,000 pesos (around $2B in today’s U.S. dollars) to public works, primarily led by Candela.

Because of this, Candela was attached to 300 works and 900 projects in a two-decade span.

(top left to bottom right) San Lázaro Metro Station, Candelaria Metro Station, Hotel Casino de la Selva, Templo de Santa Mónica

Some of Candela’s most revered projects during this period include San Lázaro metro station, Candelaria metro stationHotel Casino de la Selva, and Templo de Santa Mónica, all of which employ concrete shell designs.

In 1961, he received the Gold Medal of the Institute of Structural Engineers.

(left) Palacio de los Deportes during construction, (right) Palacio de los Deportes after completion

For the 1968 Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City, Candela was chosen to design the Palacio de los Deportes, a 20,000 seat arena, which today is used for athletics and musical performances.

Palacio de los Deportes after completion

During the 70s, Candela moved to the United States to dedicate himself to teaching. For a time he was a visiting professor at University of Illinois-Versailles, France, where he had a student named Wayne Turett.

In 1978, Candela became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Candela’s final built project is the L’Oceanogràfic, an oceanography center in his birth country, Spain. Design work began in 1994 and opened in 2003, after Candela had passed. The building is visually remarkable and features striking hyperbolic paraboloid roofs.

(left) A portrait of Candela, (right) Los Manantiales restauarant Mexico City

Though Candela passed in 1997, his advancements in thin shell design — a distinctive trademark of his career — have revolutionized Mexican Modernism. While production of thin shell structures has slowed, Candela’s daring works, use of unconventional shapes, and teachings have influenced architecture now working all over the world – including that student from Illinois, Wayne Turett. 

SOURCES:
“Spotlight: Félix Candela,” ArchDaily; “Félix Candela,” Wikipedia; “Félix Candela,” Architecture-History; “Felix Candela, the architect who showcased concrete’s curves,” Curbed