Though O’Neil Ford’s (1905-1982) only formal architectural training was from The International Correspondence Schools of Scranton, Pennsylvania, he has a reputation as being one of the best-unknown American architects of the 20th century.
The roots of Ford’s style come from his being a man of the American frontier who was raised on a farm near Sherman, Texas. Ford was one of the last architects who reflected self-learning and natural instinct for form without a self-serving attitude toward his work. It has been said that the style of Ford is “fundamentally pragmatic, durable and rich without the fuss.”
Ford began his architectural experience as a draftsman in the Dallas office of architect, David R. Williams. During the construction of the Drane House in Corsicana, Ford laid the foundation for his trademark Texas Modern Style of Southwestern architecture by using and discovering native materials. His vernacular approach to building, while dictated by climate and site, is combined with several principles of modernism such as simplicity and honesty of form. Ford’s ability to use natural and local materials and still maintain a sense of sleek modernism was what set him apart from others. At a time when Dallas was not apart of the modern scene, Ford was able to establish a contemporary sophistication with natural materials.
His volume of work in Dallas began to mushroom between 1946 and 1960 with a plan to create a regional modernist style that reflected rural Texas. With the influences of Alvar Aalto and California modernists, Ford highlighted this design not only for houses but also for commissioned works for universities in Texas and nation wide. He considered himself a pre-modernist whose buildings remained honest and lasting. As a designer, Ford worked with a plan that began with central space and moved to the outside of the structure, and finished with the design of rooms and courtyards.
Rather than follow his contemporaries and use modern building materials, Ford heavily utilized stone and wood in his designs. Ford designed his first solo project in 1929 for artist Jerry Bywaters. The house site was a cliffside in the Bluffview neighborhood overlooking Bachman Creek. It was demolished in 2003. Among other neighborhoods he built houses for prominent families in Bluffview, Lakewood, the “M” Streets and in the Park Cities working to create and maintain the beauty of each area.
- Fuller, Larry Paul. The American Institute of Architects: Guide to Dallas Architecture.Dallas. McGraw-Hill. 1999.
- George, Mary Carolyn. O’Neil Ford, Architect, Vol I. Texas: Texas A&M U Press. 1992.
- Dillow, David. The Architecture of O’Neil Ford Celebrating Place. Austin. U of Texas Press 1999.
Edited by: Michael Hazel