Felix Candela’s Legacy: An investigation of Felix Candela’s work and its legacy to the socio-cultural heritage and public identity of the contemporary society in Mexico and the UK
RIBA Research Trust Awards 2010
Felix Candela (1910-1997) was a Spanish born architect who in 1939 went in exile to Mexico after being imprisoned at a concentration camp in France due to his involvement with the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War. Candela lived in Mexico for thirty years and he obtained the Mexican citizenship. These years constitute the most important part of his professional life, a period when he developed and mastered the structural systems for thin shell concrete structures and most in particular the double curved or hyperbolic paraboloid concrete thin-shell structures. Within these thirty years Candela was in charge of more than 800 projects and in 1961 he was awarded the August Perret Prize. In 1971 Candela migrated to the USA where he worked as a full time lecturer at the University of Illinois and he also got the American citizenship. He died in 1997 at North Carolina.
Candela’s prestige and fame are mostly attributed to the design and construction of thin-shell concrete structures for religious buildings, the majority of them built in Mexico between 1950s-1970s. However, Candela’s thin-shell structural systems were also used in the retail market and although they might not be in the position to compete with the elegance and evocative geometrical shapes of those used in religious buildings, they embrace an equal or even higher relevance with regards to the industrial and socio-cultural development and identity of the contemporary Mexican society. An example of this are the thin- shell structures that Candela built for the Jamaica and Coyoacan markets in Mexico City which hitherto encourage one of the most important economical and socio-cultural activities in the Mexican society.
Candela’s, construction and structural systems and most in particular the hyperbolic paraboloid inverted umbrellas, predominantly used in the retail market sector, crossed the Mexican borders to reach and influence the work of other architects and engineers around the world. In the UK this is exemplified by the John Lewis warehouse at Stevenage built in 1963 and the Queensgate Market in Huddersfield, built by in 1970.
The credit to the contribution and influence that Candela’s work had in these two buildings, the John Lewis warehouse in Stevenage and the Queensgate Market at Huddersfield have been overlooked and poorly documented. Moreover, not only do the construction and structural solutions are to be acknowledge, but most importantly and, hitherto ignored, the buildings’ present condition and their impact on the heritage and collective identity of the contemporary communities at Stevenage and Huddersfield.
The main objective of this appraisal is to research into Candela’s work beyond the structural and construction perspectives to thoroughly investigate and analyse the contribution of the retail market buildings, constructed or influenced by him, in the heritage, identity and socio-cultural development of the contemporary Mexican and British communities. The findings of this research will be disseminated through a long article.
Dr Marisela Mendoza read architecture at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México and also did an MSc and PhD at The University of Nottingham, UK. She has taught at The University of Nottingham, Lincoln University and is currently a Senior Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. Marisela’s main research areas are in lighting, deployable structures and music & architecture.
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Marisela can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org