Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What does a Spanish Civil War revolutionary, The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City, one of the most influential architects of the 20th century and Walsh High School in Ottumwa, Iowa have in common?

Felix Candela

Probably unbeknownst to most people from Ottumwa when the new Walsh High School opened in 1962 students stepped into an unusual building using a design by one of the most famous architects of the 20th century, Felix Candela.

Born in MadridSpain in 1910, Candela was a national sports champion in Spain and a noted award-winning architect who was pursuing graduate studies in Germany when the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936.

He left school to return to Spain and fight for the Republic against Franco and when Franco won he slipped into a refugee camp in France to avoid becoming a prisoner of the Franco regime.  In 1939 he was selected for relocation to Mexico and moved to his new home.

In Mexico Candela pioneered the use of thin shelled concrete in building construction and among the nearly 1,000 buildings he designed were the revolutionary 1968 Olympic Stadium in Mexico City and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.

The Guadalupe Basilica is the most popular Catholic pilgrimage site in the world drawing over 20 million visitors annually to see the tilma of Juan Diego with the image of Our Lady that was made December 12, 1531.

As a point of reference, at that time America had not been settled and Henry 8th was still King of England.

Candela developed a thin shelled concrete material for use in buildings called the "hyperbolic paraboloid" and his structures are located in Mexico, the United StatesSpainVenezuelaColumbiaPeruGuatemalaPuerto RicoEcuadorGreat Britain and Norway.

My father, Wayne E. Putnam arranged with Felix to use his designs for the new Walsh High School as well as our home overlooking the Ottumwa Country Club.  And that is how all those pieces in the title tie together. Felix Candela, a very nice man and world renowned architect whose world famous "hyperbolic paraboloid" design was incorporated into Walsh High School.

Local architects for both of the projects were Ken Steffen and Steve Stoltz.

Felix moved with his family to the United States in 1971 and taught at Harvard University and the University of Illinois.  He died at the age of 87 while living in North Carolina.

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