Bringing Projects to Life
A selection of letters written by Amancio Williams, introduced by Claudia Shmidt
Amancio Williams’s letters are part of his architectural project, and following the course of his correspondence, his main dilemma is made evident: bringing this project to life.
From the beginning of his career as an architect (he graduated in 1941 from the Universidad de Buenos Aires), he built an international network of relationships with two goals: to showcase his designs and endeavour to have them built. While he focused on mass dissemination of his design proposals through newspapers and magazines as a way to gain notoriety and political support, in the letters to his colleagues he asked them to secure funding for him with the decisive justification of realizing his theories.
Williams was convinced that architecture should contribute to transforming urban culture and lead humanity toward a new way of life: ecological, sustainable, and in harmony with nature. As a modernist, his conviction that political and economic power had a duty to build a better world for all of humanity kept him restless. And a certain naive trust in his contacts among architect colleagues continually disappointed him.
Buenos Aires, 18 February 1948
M. Jean Prouvé
My dear friend,
I always remember you and all your family with great sympathy, reminding me, in Europe, of our own, and of the pleasant day I spent in Nancy. I hope to be able to send you some food soon, as I have obtained permission to do so in a much simpler and quicker way than by parcel post.
I’m still waiting for the two price calculations you were supposed to give me, roughly speaking, one for the suspended structure building and the other for the dwelling. Once the cost of the first has been (roughly) established, it will be easier to carry out. It could be negotiated immediately. As for the dwelling, if the cost is reasonable for here and its construction and shipment safe, I will order it from you.
I have just received a letter dated 11 January from Mr Marcel Spire, who claims to be your friend, in which he proposes to set up workshops in Argentina working as licensees of the Nancy Company. I would like to know your opinion of this gentleman. The idea is very good. I find it very opportune to set up workshops in our country that can offer high quality works, built almost entirely in metal, to be assembled and sold to the government or to private individuals.
As far as construction is concerned, there is a fabulous demand here, which is compounded by a very great shortage of materials and manpower, and a construction industry that is not sufficiently organized to deal with modern problems. In turn, private or national institutions are not in a position either to prepare the plans or to coordinate the action needed to bring them to fruition. As a result, a company that can design, build, and install several different types of work could do a great deal of business.
We might be able to obtain the support of the Argentine government to form a joint venture between the government and private interests. The private capital would have to come from France. Undoubtedly Argentine capital could also be found, but I could not help on this, as I have very few ties with capitalists, and am too busy. But I could help a lot in the formation of a company like the proposed one and also work to obtain the support of the State.
The Ministry of Public Health, which I advised, would be an immediate client. Basically, I’ve been commissioned to design a large number of 50- to 100-bed hospital units using modern construction methods. I plan to build some of them in reinforced concrete and others in steel construction. In the event of a rapid installation of the workshops in question, they could form the basis of these constructions.
It would be essential to bring from France, in addition to capital, machinery, capable and honest technicians, and a few specialized workers.
Current construction prices are rising every day. We can now calculate $400 per m2 for buildings without any special quality and $600 for better ones.
If you are interested in setting up these workshops, please draw up a plan and send it to me.
Please give my regards to Mr Spire and send him this letter, which is in reply to his letter. I am at his disposal for anything he may want me to do.
My best wishes to your charming family. Yours sincerely,
Architect Richard Neutra
2300 Silverlake Boulevard
Los Angeles, California
4 October 1954
Dear Mr. Neutra:
I have for a long time wanted to write you, but I didn’t like to bother you. Personally, I have not only a great esteem for yourself but a great admiration for your work, and though we have seen each other only for some hours in our life, I believe that you too have an esteem for me. Things not said but felt make me believe so.
I hope to see you in a trip to the States I am planning to make sometime. I could then see you calmly and ask your advice on many things, because you are one of the few people who can give a good one through their wisdom and experience. I find myself doing a tremendous endeavour in the way I know is the right one, and until now I have an awfully difficult situation in my country, where I could build practically nothing.
Until the moment comes to meet you, I want to ask you an advice about my Hall for Plastic Spectacle and Sound in Space, which I think you already know and which is not only an architectural creation but a discovery in acoustics, a total and definite solution of acoustics problems in a closed hall.
There is now a chance in Buenos Aires to build a great concert hall. There is a strong need of it, and my hall would fulfil it completely. Journals and magazines are leading a press campaign to support my work, argentine authorities have been made interested and I have a slight hope to get the work done. But the struggle for it is only beginning and I need every support I can get to win.
In Argentina, foreign support counts very much. I am now asking your advice about the following points dealing with it.
1– Is there in the States or in Europe any very important institution to which my Concert Hall could be presented for its consideration? I know that in former times, people used to communicate their works of research and their results to institutions like the Sorbonne, the French Institute or the like. Is that feasible now? Does one need some recommendation for it? (My work in acoustics is principally a discovery, based on scientific research.)
2– Do you consider possible the construction of my Concert Hall in the States or in any other foreign country? A certain time ago I consulted on that an American institution; the answer was that the only chance to get it done was to get Mr. Nelson Rockefeller interested in it. I wonder over that. What do you think of it?
3– My Concert Hall has been published in papers and magazines over the world, but of course in architecture, art or technique ones. Now I need, as more useful for the moment being, to have it published in popular papers and magazines, widely known. Is there any possibility of that in the States? How can I manage to obtain it?
4– Any foreign support would be a great help. Which could be that support in your idea? What sort of individual support could you give to me in the case you were able and willing to do it?
5– Consequently to the last point, any news concerning my hall and coming from abroad would be very useful when published in Argentine papers. Anything like my work being presented to an institution, or being considered by a town committee, or commented by important people, would provide sufficient material for a few lines of information. Can you suggest any way of obtaining that?
I regret very much to trouble you with all these questions. I do it because the building of my concert hall would mean a victory of modern architecture and no doubt you will be willing to help me to win it. Please forgive me for bothering you. I will always thank you for anything you do for my work.
Very cordially yours
M. Max Bill
Hochschule für Gestaltung
Bahnhofstrasse 1. Ulm
4 October 1954
Dear Max Bill:
I’m writing to ask your advice on a number of issues relating to the possible construction of my Hall for Plastic Spectacle and Sound in Space.
We are facing the only chance of realizing this project. The Argentine press is running an intense campaign to publicize the work, and the authorities have been interested.
It’s very important to get as much support as possible. Foreign support in any form can be decisive.
I’d therefore like to ask you to answer the following questions, so as to guide me towards the best way of imposing my work.
1– Do you know of any major institution in France or elsewhere to which my work on acoustics could be presented or communicated? I think this used to be done at the Sorbonne or the Institut, is it still done? Is it necessary to have influence? Let me remind you, in connection with this presentation, that this concert hall is a discovery, not just an artistic creation.
2– Do you think it’s possible to build my concert hall in France or elsewhere? Some time ago, I consulted the S. Guggenheim Foundation on the subject: I was told that the only chance was to interest Mr. Nelson Rockefeller. That doesn’t seem very likely to me. What do you think?
3– This concert hall has been published in specialized magazines and books all over the world. But I believe that non-specialized, mass-circulation newspapers and magazines are more effective at the moment. What possibilities are there for this? What advice would you give me for obtaining publications of this kind in France or elsewhere?
4– Any foreign support would be a great help. What do you think this support could be? What individual support could you give me if you were able and willing to do so?
5– Following on from the previous point, news from abroad published in Argentine newspapers would be very effective. Any little note announcing that my concert hall had interested such-and-such an institution, or had been presented to such-and-such another, in fact, anything that could provide the occasion for a short publication. How can I do that?
I hold you in high esteem for your work, and I also believe that your experience in the struggle can be of great help in the victory of the modern movement. This is my only excuse for bothering you.
I’d like to take this opportunity to extend my warmest greetings to you, Tomás Maldonado, and his wife.
I wish you all every success in Ulm.
Very cordially yours,
Mr. Arch. Oscar Niemeyer
I returned to Buenos Aires amazed and enthusiastic about your country, about Brasilia and the quality of your work. The trip to Brazil has done me a lot of good and has been for me something like an injection of vitamins. It is evident that life there has the “tempo” of modernity. Brazil has a symptom of wisdom, as a nation: respect for the great works of the past and the support to its creative minds and their new works.
I liked your work very much. The Alborada Palace is full of beauty, refinement and charm. As soon as the colour photos I left to be developed in Rio arrive I will write some articles about Brasilia.
The day I arrived in Buenos Aires, Cecilio Morales, the No. 2 man of the O.A.S., a brilliant modern economist, an old friend and for many years an economic adviser in my planning studies, also arrived on a trip to South America. Morales and I were able to talk at some length about the subject which concerns us and which you and I discussed in Rio in 1956 and now on my recent trip: “the need for an organization to protect the creation of new works.” Morales has clear ideas on this matter and in the three conversations we were able to appreciate some points which I will now detail for you and which are in fact the fruit of what was discussed between the three of us:
1– This organization must be pan-American with equal status and influence for the countries of Latin America with respect to those of North America. Provisions must be made to allow Latin America’s imaginative and creative potential to manifest itself.
It is not advisable for this organization to have a global character because of the dispersion it would entail.
2– This organization should be aimed at protecting the creation of new works, and to this end it is important that it should not be just another society where abstract problems are raised or where theories are made. It must not be like the U.N. or O.A.S., or just another C.I.A.M. It must be a society capable of setting new creative work in motion. This society will have to have the means to be able to realize remarkable examples, great exemplary works which will serve as experience and laboratory for our new epoch and where great discoveries and new ideas can be put into practice. This society will have to make possible the ”Tests” which we need today for human life and for the peaceful development of humanity, and it will have to fill the gap which is felt in this second half of the twentieth century, a time characterized by much theory and without the experience of the work done or the practice of that theory. At this moment, just as mankind is spending fabulous sums and efforts on rocket “tests”—and this is done mainly for war purposes by the countries which today have the power—it is logical to admit that America should unite to make an equivalent effort to bring harmony, well-being and beauty to mankind.
I note here that Le Corbusier, whose opinion is so influential, is one of those who advocate for the need to set examples, and I also note that Brasilia has the character of a remarkable effort.
3– This organization will have to take the form of a large bank, or at least it should have a large Bank within it in order to set in motion and finance (or enable a start to be made on financing) these works that our American countries need so much. We firmly believe that this will be the only way these countries can reach a true stage of development through works free of speculation, business, and deformation.
4– An organization of this kind can put America on the right track and especially be the spark that will bring the countries of Latin America out of their stagnation and difficulties.
Morales flew on 11 October to Rio, where he intended to stay for the week. He wanted to see you and I don’t know if he managed. If you want to write to him, his address is:
Dr. Cecilio Morales
Organization of American States
You can also write to me. What do you think of all this?
Before leaving, Morales came home with the Brazilian chargé d’affaires and three other embassy officials and we presented the idea to them, which they thought was a good one. Fragoso, the Brazilian ambassador, recently returned to Buenos Aires. He invited me to lunch with him and we talked about this idea, which is close to the Pan-American operation.
As for the Argentine embassy in Brasilia, I have managed to stop the Ministry of Public Works officials from intervening and commissioning it to the ministry’s planning team. Itamaratí has hinted at the possibility for me to build it, and Fragoso has made similar overtures to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
I believe that the decisive factor would be a formal request, in writing, from the architects who created Brasilia, to the Argentine government, asking that, in order to preserve the quality of their work, the Argentine embassy be built by the Argentine architect who has the greatest affinity with it. Your signature would suffice, although the signature of Lúcio Costa would also be desirable and effective.
In asking you to do this I am not doing it for my personal advantage alone, but for the good of Brasilia and of my country, and of the modern movement.
I will be most grateful for your action.
Mr. Prof. Kenneth Frampton
c/o Institute of architecture and urban studies
8 West 40th Street
New York, New York 10018
Buenos Aires June 21st 1979
Dear Mr. Frampton
Reginald Malcolmson wrote to me a lot on you, your enthusiasm and idea of aide for my work. By this reason I write to you as to a friend.
June 2/79 I airmailed to you an envelope with “7 Días”, “Clarín”, “Convicción” and the Uruguay architects society magazine “Arquitectura”. Today I adjoin “La Nación” june 6/79 this one is the best article on the “Visionary Drawings of architecture and Planning”. “La Nación” respected my text, it’s a newspaper like “Clarín” in the order of 600,000 daily exemplaires.
I am working hard in “The City that Humanity needs”, theme refered to the human habitat and to the need of a quick change. Until ending 1978 I considered that more than 10 millions exemplaires had being published in Uruguay and Argentina on it. Consequence: the public is beginning to be informed of the need of this change.
I need help, Frampton. While [Why] don’t you get in contact with Reginald Malcolmson and George Collins for this. I also would like to begin publishing in the States in newspapers and magazines on this.
My best regards