Felix Candela, an architect by training but an engineer and a sculptor by choice. He was the forerunner of thin shell structures popularly known as ‘”cascarones”, astonishing us with its minute thickness and hard concrete brutalist forms. He used hyperbolic paraboloids as the basic module since it is the only geometry that can be constructed using straight beams and can hold its weight, along with that he also constructed folded plates, cylindrical vaults, and elliptical domes. He used various permutations and combinations with his hypars and designed many forms like an umbrella, or a folded hypar, or intersecting hypars, etc. He went on to design more than 300 shells in his time.
He followed three typical philosophies, first that use of natural resources should be encouraged and there should be minimal usage of materials in construction, secondly, the cost of the project should be reduced by interconnecting structure and design and last was to make beautiful forms. His following works will take you through his journey from simple forms to complex geometries and why he is rightly branded as the magician of structural expressions.
Let’s see his 15 worthy projects:
1. Cosmic Rays Pavilion, Mexico City, Mexico
The Cosmic Rays Pavilion, located in the National Autonomous University of Mexico, was commissioned to be built as a laboratory for the measurement of cosmic rays radiation. It is one of the pioneer works of Felix Candela, where he conjoined two hyperbolic paraboloids to develop one thin-shell structure, which is the thinnest ever Reinforced Concrete (RCC) structure ever made. It resembles a horse saddle and has a thickness of a mere 5/8 inch at its thickest. It is 12 meters long and 10.75 meters wide in the span. Candela introduced three supports to hold the RCC structure and corrugated RCC walls to the front and back of the shell. The entry into the interiors is from a stairway that is hidden behind the support.
2. Restaurant Los Manantiales, Mexico City, Mexico
The Restaurant Los Manantiales is rightly called La Flor, which means “the Flower”, as it sits on the edge of a lake, blooming like a flower. It is located in the Xochimilco area of Mexico City and shelters a large barrier-free restaurant space. The delicacy in its design theory is in contrast with its structural interventions. Its sculpture-like RCC roof has 4 hyperbolic paraboloids intersecting with each other to form an eight-sided groined vault. The walls are made up of glass that allows an influx of light from all sides. Candela’s experiment with geometry and structural expression has made this building an international star.
3. Chapel Lomas de Cuernavaca, Cuernavaca, México
Emerging from behind the trees, this open-air chapel’s roof is a monument in itself. Built-in 1958, in cohesion with two other architects, this remains one of Candela’s most precarious structural experiments. He has played with the free edges of the hypar, by dramatically rising one end of it to a height of 21 meters, marking the entrance to the chapel. The thickness of the RCC shell is a jaw-dropping 4cms thick, increasing towards the end where it meets the ground to counter the shell force. The other end of the chapel has a glass wall behind which lies the altar. The devotee standing at the entrance has an unobstructed view of the altar, and above him lies a smoothly curved roof figurative with an Umbrella of the God.
4. The roof of Bacardi Rum Factory, San Juan, Puerto Rico
The Bacardi Rum Factory is another amazing architectural experiment of Candela. Initially, the factory had three groin vaults, later it was expanded to six groin vaults. These groin vaults are formed by two intersected hyperbolic paraboloids, and then this module was placed next to each other to form a grid of 3 columns and 2 rows. The spaces formed after joining these hypars are filled with skylights. The ends of the hypars are not directly attached to the footings, rather to a leg that further transfers the vertical load into the ground and then into the foundation. The thickness of the shell is 4cm which is visible from the exterior due to the projections. The stiffening ribs and V beams are also added for structural strength but are made invisible to the naked eye.
5. Church of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, Mexico City, Mexico
Candela was elated to design a religious building because he believed that a religious building has a defined purpose and a single floor, where the structure will always play the titular role. With the Gothic principle of minimizing the usage of material over a large space in awareness, he used his hypars as an explanation for the same. Let’s simplify, he took an asymmetrical hypar umbrella and placed it on the ground in an inclined position, so that the shorter side touches the ground. He then pulled the shorter side from the middle, forming a half bay and the legendary pointed arch of the Gothic Style. Then he put two of these hypars back to back to form the interior bay. Further, he adjacently placed four of these combined hypars edge to edge to form the nave of the church. The exterior is beautiful but the real expression lies in the interior of the church. This church stands as an outstanding example of Brutalist Architecture.
6. El Atillo Chapel, Mexico City, Mexico
This Chapel is one of the earlier examples of Felix Candela’s mastery of structures. It is located on a lush green sloped site, where the challenge was to provide access to the beautiful greens from the interiors. To solve this a rhomboid was planned and aligned on the site in a north-south axis, further Candela designed a straight hypar as the roof aligned on the same axis, where one end rises higher than the other. To provide light into the interiors, a stained glass window was provided on one end, and on the other end, a concrete cross was placed behind another glass window, acting as a religious and an architectural element at the same time. Other exterior and interior walls are of brick and stone masonry. This chapel mixes with the green background like an indigenous milestone of local materials, masonry, and wood architecture.
7. Palace of Sports built for Olympic games, Mexico City, Mexico
The Palace of Sports built for the Olympic Games in Mexico changed the course of stadium architecture in the coming times. The sports palace was circular in design spanning 120meters in diameter and vertically spaced out for three floors. The roof of the sports arena was designed as a square-patterned dome, not out of concrete, but with transverse steel arches, steel members as supports, and straight hypars. It houses various facilities for athletes, organizers, judges, and other members in its spatial organization.
8. L’Oceanografic, Valencia, Spain
The L’Oceanografic is located within the City of Arts and Sciences complex designed by Santiago Calatrava. It is an oceanarium with many beautifully designed buildings, out of which, the entrance building and the underwater restaurant was designed by Candela. It takes inspiration from the water lily, where the entrance building is the intersection of three hypars and the underwater restaurant is a takeaway from the Los Manantiales Restaurant and is an intersection of 4 hypars. Candela has used steel fiber reinforced concrete in the thin shell structures and also used the shotcrete process on the formwork to add strength and remove the extra weight of ribs and beams. It also contains one of the largest dolphinariums in the world with a depth of 10.5 meters.
9. Church of our lady of Guadalupe, Madrid, Spain
This Church is located in Madrid and is another beautiful example of structural engineering by Candela. In this church, he has used his simple straight hypar and combined it edge to edge with three other hypars, which acts as a roof to the church. The exterior walls have a lattice print and concrete piers in the façade. The other ends of the four hypars together form a pointed conical dome at the center that adds verticality to the church and below which the altar is located. It is a small scale church yet has made a mark in the architecture timeline.
10. San Lazaro Metro Station, Mexico City
After Candela had migrated to Mexico, he contributed to the Mexican Architecture in each type of land use. He contemplated two important metro stations in the city, one of them being the San Lazaro Metro Station. A metro station is a nodal point of the city and hence it has to be architecturally significant. This one has a roof made with the combination of folded hypars. A folded hypar is a form where the diagonals of the hypar are folded. The arrangement of the roof form bears a resemblance to a range of mountains and looks as rock-solid and concrete as themselves. The exterior of the building is colored in vibrant colors to stand the station out amongst the surroundings.
11. Hotel Casino de la Selva, Cuernavaca, México
The Casino de la Selva or better known as the Jungle Casino Resort was redeveloped with some additions in 1950 by Candela and his team. They contributed with a dining room attached to an auditorium, a few bungalows, and a chapel in the place of the fountain. The dining room was built by combining five paraboloid sections and the auditorium had a single hyperbolic paraboloid roof over the existing roof of the dining area. The walls were glass infills in between the curvatures of the shells. The bungalows were made by grouping four straight hypars that formed an “umbrella”, held by a single column at their center. Lastly, for the chapel, two hypars were connected from their straight edges, with a skylight implanted in between them. This hotel is now demolished and used for other purposes, but some murals from the complex have been restored.
12. High Life Textile Factory, Mexico City, Mexico
Post the industrial revolution, Candela got an opportunity to change the air of the industrial architecture in Mexico, be it the warehouses or new market spaces. His most ambitious form, “umbrella”, which was used where large areas had to be covered, is a group of four straight-edged hypars supported by a sleek column that transfers the load to an inverted footing. The High Life Textile Factory was one of the examples of extensive use of this famous form. In this factory, he lines many such “umbrellas” adjacent to each other, and punctures them with glass blocks, for light to enter in the interiors. Presently, the factory is known as the Cavalier Industries, and sadly the skylights have been covered too.
13. Church of San Jose Obrero, Nuevo leon, Mexico
This church built by Candela is made of two straight hypars, placed opposite to each other with their straight edges in between giving space to add glass skylights. The dramatic rise of the other two free edges of the hypars gives a feel of lightness to the structure, even though it is a concrete shell. The two hypars are winging on stained glass windows, that allow the light to come in, illuminating the nave in return. The entrance to the church is from the merging point of the hypars, and in line with it lies the altar at the other vertically meeting end. This church resonates with the wings of the bird ready to take a flight.
14. San Antonio de las Huertas Temple, Mexico City, Mexico
This temple is another hidden masterpiece in Mexico City by Candela, where the rigid façade is in contrast with the spiritual and positive amber interiors. Again, Candela’s muse, the hypars are the context of its roof form. He has made a groin vault by intersecting two hyper shells and placed three such vaults in line with each other but not in contact. The gap between them is filled by stainless glass windows that bring in the amber tone inside the interiors making them serene and peaceful. The beauty of the temple lies in its interiors, the stained skylights, and the beautiful murals that should be lauded for the same.
15. The Jacaranda Nightclub, Acapulco, Mexico
Well, let’s round-up with some jazz! This nightclub is part of the Hotel El Presidente, with the location being the ace in this project. It is sited next to the beach, and it had to be designed enveloped between the sea, the rocks, and the green wilderness. From the high rise hotel, it looks like a tortoise sitting on the beach. Candela used three hypar shells where the edges of two hypars meet at a single common apex point acting as its support to the ground. It covered around 300sqm of the area with different areas allocated to the dining area, the bar, and the dancing stage. A railing and a stone hill were placed as a boundary between the sea and the built-up space. Other ancillary areas like the toilets and wine cellars were covered by masonry walls. It is the rigidity of the concrete mixed with the calmness of the environment that makes this building worth a mention.