Félix Candela

Dorothy Candela

I first met Félix at the University of California, Berkeley. He was a visiting professor and I was an architecture student. I was very impressed with him as an instructor. He was very modest, but a tremendous teacher. I cannot recall if I had heard of him or his work before that. Later, we would often see each other at AIA (American Institute of Architects) conventions.

Dorothy Candela, David Billington, and Maria Garlock behind the Restaurant Los Manantiales construction model.
I was previously married to John Webb, my second husband, who was the architect of John F. Kennedy’s grave. Interestingly, John Webb and Félix Candela were born on the exact same day in the same year. My marriage to John dissolved, and afterwards I lived in New York, working as an architect.  By this time Félix’s wife had died. We eventually fell in love, and in 1967 we were married in City Hall in New York (for $2). We moved to Mexico, and lived in a house with five children (one of mine and four of his) and many maids. We had a wonderful marriage; Félix and I had a great deal of love and trust.

We also worked together at Cubiertas Ala, Félix’s company. There were not many other designers working there. Félix’s brother also worked with him. The office was messy; I had to handle much of the organization. There would be huge stacks of correspondence on desks.  When I asked where a particular letter or form was, Félix would point to a certain height of the stack of papers. “There it is,” he would say. 

Maria Garlock showing Dorothy Candela the
Restaurant Los Manantiales models that the
students built.
Félix and I spent almost all of the time together. He would spend a lot of time at his desk, performing calculations. He did all of his own calculations. He also had what I believe was one of the first computers in Mexico, to assist with calculations. He loved working with a computer, but most of this work he would later do in the U.S. 

Félix always classified himself as a builder. He had a rough time, and found solace in his work.  The economics were not great, and he made essentially nothing for his work. He was very modest, though, and never complained. He always said that his workers taught him a great deal. There was a general unease with foreigners in Mexico, and Félix was not able to become licensed there until just before we left Mexico. But the structures are still there, and are all still fine. There were frequent earthquakes while we lived there, but none of his structures were ever damaged. 

Félix decided that we should move to the United States. His life had been stressful, and he had had a heart attack. Ultimately, I think he wanted us to start a new life together in the U.S.  But we had many good times in Mexico, especially at parties. The best parties in the world are in Mexico, where you would get a very interesting collection of people.

Mrs. Candela, Powell Draper, and Joe Vocaturo with the construction models in the foreground.
Ted Segal showing Mrs. Candela his Bacardi model.

Félix liked everyone, even his enemies. He would say that eventually they turn around.  He did not even harbor any ill feelings toward his experiences in Spain, from where he was exiled in 1939. I eventually convinced him to take a trip back, and we had a great time. 
Of other designers, Félix respected the name of Gaudi. He liked Nervi, and Nervi’s son, whom he competed against for a commission in Kuwait. He liked Maillart, of course. And he wrote respectfully of Ove Arup. 

I am not sure if he would have considered anyone in particular an inheritor of his mantle. He had an extremely large number of students at UNAM; he was the head of the architecture, engineering, and construction program. It was a very tough business.

During our time together we never had a vacation, we were always working together. Our life was full and exciting; we lived all over the world, including Athens, Paris, London, and Saudi Arabia. My time with Félix was the best of my life. I miss him.