Friday, September 20, 2019

O'Neil Ford on Architecture

O'Neil Ford on Architecture
Kathryn E. O'Rourke (Editor)
University of Texas Press, April 2019

Hardcover | 5-1/2 x 8-1/2 inches | 280 pages | 20 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-1477316382 | $29.95

Publisher Description:
Acclaimed for his designs of the Trinity University campus, the Little Chapel in the Woods, the Texas Instruments Semiconductor Components Division Building, and numerous private houses, O’Neil Ford (1905–1982) was an important twentieth-century architect and a pioneer of modernism in Texas. Collaborating with artists, landscape architects, and engineers, Ford created diverse and enduringly rich works that embodied and informed international developments in modern architecture. His buildings, lectures, and teaching influenced a generation of Texas architects.

O’Neil Ford on Architecture brings together Ford’s major professional writings and speeches for the first time. Revealing the intellectual and theoretical underpinnings of his distinctive modernism, they illuminate his fascination with architectural history, his pioneering uses of new technologies and construction systems, his deep concerns for the landscape and environment, and his passionate commitments to education and civil rights. An interlocutor with titans of the twentieth century, including Louis Kahn and J. Robert Oppenheimer, Ford understood architecture as inseparable from the social, political, and scientific developments of his day. An introductory essay by Kathryn E. O’Rourke provides a critical assessment of Ford’s essays and lectures and repositions him in the history of US architectural modernism. As some of his most important buildings turn sixty, O’Neil Ford on Architecture demonstrates that this Texas modernist deserves to be ranked among the leading midcentury American architects.
dDAB Commentary:
O'Neil Ford on Architecture and The Open-Ended City: David Dillon on Texas Architecture, featured yesterday, have a few things in common. Both books were published earlier this year by the University of Texas Press as part of its Roger Fullington Endowment in Architecture series. They hone in on architecture in Texas, one on the writings of one of its notable practitioners and the other with the best output of  one of its most important architecture critics. And the subjects of the books — architect O'Neil Ford (1905-1982) and critic David Dillon (1941-2010) — were united in a third book: David Dillon's The Architecture of O'Neil Ford: Celebrating Place, published by University of Texas Press in 1999. The two recent books differ slightly in terms of intentions though. The Open-Ended City highlights the best of hundreds of articles by a celebrated critic, while O'Neil Ford on Architecture aims to reacquaint people with a once-celebrated architect (Kathryn O'Rourke calls him "arguably twentieth century Texas's most important architect and, in the 1950s and 1960s, a major figure in US architecture") who has been forgotten over time.

People wanting to learn about Ford's buildings should hunt down Dillon's book on him, but those interested in his words will find plenty to like here (those in the first camp should enjoy his words too). The 21 articles and lectures, spanning from 1927 to 1982, are a diverse bunch, ranging from a series of essays on early Texas architecture (done early on with David R. Williams, the subject of his last essay) to excerpts from Lessons in Looking, a book he did with the Learning About Learning Educational Foundation based on dialogues with children about understanding art, architecture, and design. In between is a talk on the Youtz-Slick lift-slab construction technique he was known for, a short piece on one of his most well-known buildings, La Villita Assembly Hall, and a lecture he improvised while in Italy after he lost his luggage and his lecture notes. A couple other highlights were in the third of the books three parts (I. The Making of a Modern Architect, II. Growth and Synthesis, III. In and Against the World, IV. Looking Back, Looking Forward), particularly the lectures "The Condition of Architecture," and "Culture—Who Needs It?" With so many lectures in the book, the scarcity of images is sometimes an issue, given that Ford referred to the slides on the screen with his words. This is a minor issue in a collection that is, among other things, an excellent argument for architects to take the time and effort in crafting their words in print and in talks, and for schools of architecture to teach writing as well as design.

Author Bio:
Kathryn O’Rourke is an associate professor of art history at Trinity University. She is the author of Modern Architecture in Mexico City: History, Representation, and the Shaping of a Capital.
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