Luis Fernandez was born - on January 13, 1939 - in Cuba, where he (and his family) lived as dissidents until they emigrated to the U.S.A. in 1967. He visited the states once as a member of the International Boy’s Club in 1954. And, again, as a recipient of a one-year scholarship in 1955 as an exchange student for his last year of High School. In 1955-56 he attended St. John’sAcademy in Jamestown, North Dakota. in Jamestown, North Dakota. Luis Fernandez graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering in 1965. During his last two years at the University of Havana. Mr. Fernandez was an Assistant Professor of Hydraulics. He attended post-graduate studies at the University of Maryland.
After President Fidel Castro ousted dictator Batista, he made it illegal for Cuban natives to leave the island without permission from the government. Mr. Fernandez who had decided that he could no longer live in his native country due to lack of freedom of expression, filed a petition to legally leave Cuba. Upon reviewing his petition, the authorities subjected him (and his family) to punitive measures including loss of employment, property damage and verbal acts of aggression among other things. For two years before leaving the country he designed, built and marketed necessary household items such as auto antitheft devices that made him a “quasi rich man” during the time he awaited the decision on his voluntary exile.
Mr. Fernandez worked as a Structural Engineer from 1967 to 1972 for a private consulting firm in Silver Spring, Maryland. He, later, opened his own office where he continues to practice as a Structural Engineer. He is the Principal of Fernandez & Associates Structural Engineers, P.C., in Falls Church, Virginia.
Editor: What is you heritage?
LF:My father and my mother are both from Spain. They moved to Cuba in the early years of 1900. My maternal grand father came from Zaragoza, Spain. He was a builder and was in the business of building bridges. My father came from Astorias, Northern part of Spain. He was a private night watch man.
Editor: What was your childhood like?
LF:I was very athletic; always captain of the bunch.
Editor: Where did you go to school?
LF:At the age of 5, I attended a very special private school system where I was taught to read, write; and I learned the fundamentals of math. The teacher of the class was a 90-year-old ex-accountant. His name was Zayas Bazan. He was brother-in-law of Jose Marti – a famous patriot and a war hero who fought and died during the Cuban Independence wars. And, there were only three of us in the classroom; my self, my only brother who was 3 years older than me and my 12–year–old cousin. He taught all of us at the same time and at the same level. I learned a lot of math very quickly.
Editor: What kind of student were you?
LF:I was a very good student. I listened well and always brought in good grades.
Editor: What were you like as a young man?
I read a lot. I loved history – specially, history of architecture. And I did a lot of snorkeling and dancing.
What are some great influences in your life?
LF:My father and my uncle who had great work ethics. My father was a night watch man in the old part of Havana. Havana is an old city that was founded in early 1500s. The city was attacked many times in the 16th century by pirates. In the 17th century many new buildings and fortifications were constructed in the city. There were parts of the city that housed many civic monuments and religious structures from the colonial era. My father used to take me to work to these areas where I could see these incredible mixes of different European architectural styles.
Editor: Who did you work for after you graduated from college?
LF:I worked for AT& T as a line man, I taught at HavanaUniversity, and did most everything else that came my way. I had a family to support.
Editor: What made you decide to go on your own?
LF:I felt like my employers had limited expectations on growth, creativity and ingenuity.
Editor: Who is your favorite architect?
LF:Philip Johnson. Let me tell you why! He was simple, straight forward, creative and honest.
Editor: Who is your favorite artist?
LF:I have two! Renoir and John Singer Sargent.
Editor: Who is your favorite musician?
LF:Puccini – to me he never died!
Editor: What is your favorite book?
LF:Longitudes and Attitudes by Thomas L. Friedman.
Editor: Any teachers that influenced you?
LF:Joseph Bory, a French engineer specializing in heavy pre cast panel design and
fabrication. He taught me how to do it; detail it first, design it afterwards!
Editor: Any books that helped/influenced you?
LF:The Treasure of Youth - An old 20 volume collection of books. I learned so much from these books that you can not believe.
Editor: Do you have any heroes/any role models?
LF:My father and uncle.
Editor: Was there anything in your life that you had to overcome?
LF:I had to leave Cuba! Too much deception, too many lies. But nothing personal.
Editor: Do you work alone?
LF:Never. I always work as a team. I delegate a great deal, I direct, teach and compile.
Editor: How does it make you feel to see your work become reality?
LF:It gives me a great pleasure to be part of something that takes shape right out of
Editor: Have you had any disappointments?
LF:I learned from my mistakes and never repeated my mistakes. No regrets!
Editor: Do you have a favorite among your work?
LF:Large volumes and long spans are among my favorites; churches and recreational facilities to name a few.
Editor: What is more important to you in designing a building?
LF:My responsibility is to make it safe and sound. The structure, in its own fashion, is always graceful to me.
Editor: How did you manage the recession of the late 80s/early90s?
LF:Worked harder and longer; nothing I’m not accustomed to.
Editor: Is there anything you wish you never did?
LF:I consider myself the happiest man alive. I’m surrounded with loving people and blessed by the opportunity to do good work. I give it all my time and energy and expect nothing in return.
Editor: What are your thoughts about the role of the engineer in society?
LF: I don’t think that the engineers do enough to protect our society. Look at the chemical plants, paper mills, refineries, factories, and biological & nuclear plants; they all have been designed, erected and managed by one type of engineer or other. Shame on all of us! If we don’t fix it now there will be nothing left of the environment for future generations. Education is the name of the game. We must be aware that our worst polluters are also our largest advertisers. In television advertisements, for instance, they hide our problems in flowers and beautiful green lawns.
Editor: Would you recommend becoming an engineer to a young person?
LF:Yes. Become an engineer and help us save the environment.
Editor: In the matters of the community and the matters of the environment?
LF:I wish we were a bit more sensitive to our environment. It is disconcerting to me that we cut down these trees and replace them with black top.
Editor: Would you do it all over again?
LF:You mean waking up at 4:00 A.M., running over to the office – hustling - to get the job done? Yes, in a heart beat!
Editor: What are your hobbies?
LF: I loved spear fishing when I lived in Cuba. Later I enjoyed flying helicopters. Now, I enjoy skiing, flying gliders and maintaining a collection of gliders.
Editor: Is there a particular style of architecture you like?
LF: You now that I am a frustrated architect! I Love Frank Lloyd Wright and his 100 year
forward incredible beauty of forms and simplicity. And, I admire Philip Johnson and his retro Renaissance perspective of forms and what he called “processional architecture”. I appreciate his style of bringing you there – slowly – and blowing your mind away with beauty and space.
Editor: Any dislikes?
LF:I, absolutely, abhor folding architecture and its variations as a decadent failure to
recognize practicality & responsibility. There’s more…Greek architecture is, still, appealing to me; only for federal buildings. I despise these little “column supported porticos” with their ridicules blasphemous little buildings behind them. You know what I’m referring to, right? I saw one recently near Main Street in Culpepper. What a disgrace! Don’t these people have any respect for Greek architecture?
Editor: What is your preferred construction?
LF:I like pre-cast, brick, terracotta and glass if used prudently. I prefer if they are designed without any absurd styling. If done right, they can be relevant for decades to come. Look at the EmpireStateBuilding or The Chrysler Building, Close to 80 years old, still, as beautiful as they once were. Or, The Lipstick building – by Philip Johnson – would not be torn down for a hundred years.
Editor: What do you think our prevalent style of architecture is?
LF:Lately there is a trend towards Scandinavian architecture; simple, linear and lots of glass. I think that’s it!
Editor: What’s the greatest challenge of our industry?
LF:I’d like to see a lot more enthusiasm, a bit more etiquette, and higher principles in our younger generations of professionals.
Editor: Thank you very much, Mr. Fernandez. It’s been a privilege.
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