Venezuelan architect and teacher, of English birth. His father, Carlos Antonio Villanueva, was a diplomat and author of several history books about South America. His mother, Paulina Astoul de Villanueva, was French and was his link with the culture and life of Europe, where he spent his early life. In 1920 he began to study architecture with Gabriel Héraud at the École des Beaux-Arts, Paris, from which he graduated in 1928; he then went on to study at the Institut d’Urbanisme, University of Paris. In 1929 he returned to Venezuela and settled in Caracas, where he established his own architectural practice. This long stay in Europe marked his professional and personal life; his subsequent approach to architecture was inspired by his European background, and he even spoke his mother tongue, Spanish, with a strong French accent. At the same time, however, he was deeply interested in both the traditional architecture of Venezuela and its constraints, such as the brilliant light and tropical climate.
From 1929 to 1939 Villanueva was Director of Buildings at the Ministry of Public Works in Caracas. His early works included the bullring (1931) in Maracay, where a traditional arcaded form was expressed with a skeletal concrete structure, and a group of buildings in Caracas begun in 1935: the Museo de Los Caobos (now the Museo de Bellas Artes), the Museo de Bellas Artes, and the Museo de Ciencias Naturales. This museum complex is characterized by a series of indoor–outdoor rooms; one of its main features is the way in which it utilizes the strong light contrasts of the climate. Other buildings of this period include the prize-winning Venezuelan Pavilion at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne, Paris (1937; with Luis Malaussena), and the Escuela Gran Colombia (1939), Caracas, which reveals the influence of the Paris school of architecture.
In 1940 Villanueva won a competition organized by the Banco Obrero, an institution that provided low-cost housing, for the redevelopment of El Silencio, a working-class quarter in the center of Caracas. Here he produced a series of buildings linked by a continuous arcade at street-level and grouped around a central plaza, revealing a concern for the quality of the human environment that became characteristic of all his work. He remained consultant architect to the Banco Obrero until 1960. Another low-cost housing project of this period responded to traditional residential patterns: the General Rafael Urdaneta development (1943–1944), Maracaibo, a mixture of single-family houses and low-rise blocks of flats, was planned concentrically around urban amenity centers and public spaces, and the buildings made full use of natural ventilation techniques. He developed these principles in several housing projects subsequently built in Caracas, such as the Fransico de Miranda and Coche developments (1946–1947); Ciudad Tablitas and El Paraíso (with Carlos Celis Cepero and Manuel Mijares), both begun in 1951; and 23 de Enero (1955–1957; with José Manuel Mijares, Carlos Brando and José Hoffman). The last two projects are considered among the best low- to middle-income housing complexes in Venezuela. Set in a hillside landscape, the mixture of low- and high-rise blocks allows much of the natural environment to be retained and makes full use of the cool breezes found above ground-level.
In 1944–1945 Villanueva began work on perhaps his best-known project, the Ciudad Universitaria, Caracas, producing a master-plan and the first building for the department of medicine. Construction continued on the project until its completion in 1959, with Villanueva designing a large number of separate faculty buildings, auditorium, and library. A feature of the exposed concrete structure is the use of precast lattice panels that produce brilliant patterns of sunlight and shade as well as promoting the flow of air. The entire complex is set in landscaped gardens connected by covered walkways and plazas incorporating works of art. The integration of architecture, painting, and sculpture in the Ciudad Universitaria is one of its principal characteristics; for Villanueva this symbolized the understanding of common goals as well as the compromise between different modes of expression. He included works by Alexander Calder, Victor Vasarely, Antoine Pevsner, Baltasar Lobo, Hans Arp, Fernand Léger, and Henri Laurens, as well as important Venezuelan artists such as Mateo Manaure, Armando Barrios, Oswaldo Vigas, Víctor Valera, Francisco Narváez, and Carlos González Bogen. The result is a truly beautiful university campus, with halls and shady plazas strewn with works of art and interspersed with spacious gardens. Another notable building designed by Villanueva at the Ciudad Universitaria is the Olympic stadium (1950–1952), an elegant structure of slender concrete columns and cantilevered beams. He became the founding Professor of Architecture at the university in 1944.
Later works by Villanueva include the Fundación La Salle office building (1961–1964), Caracas; the Venezuelan Pavilion (1967; with E. Trujillo) for Expo ’67 in Montreal, in which he placed a Penetrable by the artist Jesús Soto; the Museo Jesús Soto (1970–1973) in Ciudad Bolívar; and the new building for the Museo de Bellas Artes (begun 1972), Caracas. He received many national and international honors and awards, including the Premio Nacional de Arquitectura (1963) for his work on the university campus in Caracas. He was a founder and President of the Sociedad de Arquitectos de Venezuela and the Consejo Nacional de Protección de Monumentos Históricos, which reflected his continuing interest in the historical architecture of Venezuela. Villanueva’s development of a lyrical and structurally dynamic version of Modernism, adapted to the environment and traditions of Venezuela, had a lasting influence on younger architects of the region.
- La Caracas de ayer y de hoy, su arquitectura colonial y la reurbanización de El Silencio. Paris, 1950.
- Caracas en tres tiempos. Caracas, 1966.
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- “Three Cubes of Color: The Venezuelan Pavilion at Expo ’67.” Architectural Forum 127, no. 2 (1967): 58–59.
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- Soffer, L. and Grumbach, A. “Carlos Raúl Villanueva.” In Art d’Amérique Latine, 1911–1968, 456–461. Paris, Pompidou, 1992. Exhibition catalog.
- i) [Colegio nacional de arquitectos, Cuba], ii) [Colegio oficial de arquitectos, Madrid; cont. as Rev. N. Arquit.] de Carlos Raúl Villanueva. Caracas and Madrid, 1993.
- Villanueva, Paulina, Pintó, Maciá, and Gasparini, Paolo. Carlos Raul Villanueva. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000.
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- Carranza, Luis E., Lara, Fernando L., and Liernur, Jorge F. Modern Architecture in Latin America: Art, Technology, and Utopia. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014.
- Frank, Patrick. Manifestos and Polemics in Latin American Modern Art. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017.