New Television Workshop Collection

New Television Workshop Collection Oral HistoriesDesign Archives

O'Neil Ford Interview

Alternative Title:
Design Archiving Project--O'Neil Ford Interview

Copyright Date:

Copyright Holder:
Rights information is unidentified.

5 videocassettes of 5 (VHS) (300 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in.
5 videocassettes of 5 (Betacam SP) (300 min.) : sd., col. ; 1/2 in.
5 videocassettes of 5 (300 min.) : sd., col. ; 1 in. master.

One of four interviews conducted in 1981 as part of the New Television Workshop's (NTW) Design Archiving Project. The "Design Archives" was an NEA-sponsored project originally conceived in 1980 as an attempt to record lengthy interviews with four "national treasures" involved in various fields of design. The others were Charles Blessing (city planning), Melanie Kahane (interior design), and Paul Rand (graphic design). Plans to broadcast portions of the interviews never came to pass. Nor did plans to transfer the interviews to videodisc in order to provide a resource for researchers and students in the field of graphic design. Other NTW projects undertaken to interview famous artists were the "Dance Archiving Project," in which tap dancer Honi Coles was interviewed in 1981, and the "Twentieth Century Artists" series, in which artists Judy Chicago and Lee Krasner were interviewed in 1979.

The interviewer is Bill Lacy, president of The Cooper Union, an art/architecture/engineering college in New York City. Lacy was a colleague and friend of Ford. The tone of the interview is casual and jovial, due largely in part to Ford's and Lacy's friendship. The interview covers Ford's life and career and his ideas on architecture.

O'Neil Ford was born in a small town in northern Texas in 1905. Although never formally educated in architecture, Ford gained work as an architect at a young age and shortly thereafter won prestigious commissions. Ford emphasized the integration of crafts and the use of native materials in his designs. Among his most famous projects are the restorations of the La Villita and the Trinity University campus in San Antonio, Texas, and Skidmore College in New York. His writings on architecture were nationally published. He was appointed to the National Council on the Arts in 1968 and to the American Council for the Arts in Education in 1975. The first endowed chair in the School of Architecture at The University of Texas was named after Ford. He died in 1982.

This is raw, unedited footage. Two spots on reel 2 (from approximately 9:35-11:45 and from 18:45-22:00) have nearly inaudible audio.

The original footage was filmed on five one-hour 1" videotapes. Preservation masters were made in 1999 on five one-hour Beta cassettes, as were five screening copies on one-hour VHS cassettes.

4-hour interview on five videocassettes.
One of the cassettes does not contain interview footage, but 29 raw, unedited minutes of exterior and interior shots of Ford's buildings.

Tape 1 (57:00): Introduction by Lacy about Ford's background, contributions, and fame; educational background at International Correspondence School of Scranton, PA; first job experience; inspiration for being an architect; places/countries where he has designed buildings; reasons for his notoriety; dislike of "publicity for publicity's sake" in architecture; his "non-style" of architecture (use of crafts and honesty of materials); childhood experiences and family influences; influences of other architects on him; dislike of egoism in architecture; architects he's fond of; houses he designed in San Antonio; impressions of other architects; disdain for fashion in architecture; works between WWI and WWII; studies in Europe in 1930's; following of a traditional path in architecture; origins of his interest in historical preservation; works in Texas, Georgia, and D.C. in the 1930's; work under Lyndon B. Johnson on the LaVillita Project in the 1930's and his relationship with Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960's; relationship with politicians and governments regarding environmental issues.

Tape 2 (58:00) (contains some audio problems): The journals he has kept for past 29 years; involvement in education -- lecturer, professor at the University of Virginia and lecturer at Harvard; disappointment at high schools' inability to prepare students for college-level engineering and architecture; the need for schools to emphasize the arts; his architecture videos designed for children; fights with governments to preserve nature and parks; views on Pompidou Center in Paris; difficulty with designing new commissions and putting human qualities in buildings; distaste for modern materials; technology in architecture; necessary limitations and seriousness that should exist in architecture; disdain for egoism by young architects whose avant-garde designs are undertaken simply to gain fame; the learning process among architects at his office; treatment of interiors and landscapes as they relate to his firm's architectural plans; age vs. experience in architecture; value of design competitions.

Tape 3 (59:00): Fame in and feelings for San Antonio; his knowledge of the city and its people; the need for restraint in architecture; dislike for over-ornamentation; contributions of Bauhaus on architecture; refutes Philip Johnson's idea of monumental architecture; brief views on architecture in London, Rome, Paris, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles; development along San Antonio's river; ugliness of U.S. suburbs; vulgarity of American architecture; ideas of Las Vegas and its architecture; influence of the advertising industry on architecture, especially the use of billboards; damage of parking lots and garages on cityscapes; active social life in downtown San Antonio; beauty of Paris, especially due to the Metro and the use of underground parking; livability of London; award ceremony in his honor in Waxahachie, Texas.

Tape 4 (49:30): Business of architecture; how his firm gains clients (corporations, universities, museums, and hospitals); ideas on hospital design, based on his own stays in hospitals; ideas on airport design and university design; regional architecture and its relevance in today's age; the need to respect indigenous materials and characteristics; stresses common sense and simplicity in architecture; dislike of dogma; church design -- its simplicities and complexities; disdain for modern architecture and architects who are "primadonnas"; simple, sensitive arrangement of ancient buildings at the ruins of Mexican and Central American Indian cultures.

Tape 5 (29:00)--MARKED "Reel 1--Building Footage" ON THE CASSETTE AND CASSETTE BOX OF THE VHS SCREENING TAPE: Raw, unedited shots of interiors and exteriors of Ford's buildings, seemingly all in San Antonio.

Lacy, Bill

MacLeod, Margaret

National Endowment for the Arts--Design Arts Program

Architects -- United States
Architects and community
Architecture -- Environmental aspects
Architecture -- Domestic -- Texas

Unedited footage

Home | Exhibit Space | Finding Aid | Search the Site WGBH

The New Television Workshop Collection Web site
is a production of the WGBH Archives. © 1999 WGBH Educational Foundation.

Please contact the WGBH Archives with comments and questions. Artists involved with the New Television Workshop are encouraged to communicate with us.