Wenceslao Alfonso (W.A.) Sarmiento (Wence)

Audio

Sarmiento on designing his signature interior stairways.

Sarmiento talks about how his Peruvian culture influenced his design work.

About W.A. Sarmiento

7be335477876db854960134c6e137164_LW.A. Sarmiento was born September 28, 1922, in Trujillo, Peru.  He completed school in 1946 at the Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria (National School of Engineering) in Lima, Peru and was a vehement modernist.  An admirer of the Bauhaus School design philosophy as well as Frank Lloyd Wright’s application of natural and organic materials and engineering principles, Sarmiento was anxious to apply these theories in communities.

Joining several other architects in South America, Sarmiento signed the MANIFIESTO DE EXPRESIÓN DE PRINCIPIOS (Manifest of Principle of Expression)  on May 15, 1947.  The Manifesto decreed that society needed a new architecture for the 21st Century that reflected the evolution of art and engineering instead of revising historical themes.

During his training in the late 1940s, Sarmiento worked for eighteen months as a draftsman under Oscar Niemeyer in Brazil.  This is where Sarmiento’s influence from the work of LeCorbusier and Niemeyer reflect directly in shapely designs and the use of many curves.  However, he worked so far under Niemeyer that Sarmiento knew he was an office ‘peon’ but made the most of his experience, staying after hours to observe and study the designs of the master architect.

In about 1950 while visiting his wife’s sister in Missouri, Sarmiento had a minor car accident.  The other car was driven by W.G. Knoebel.  Knoebel, discovering that Sarmiento was an architect as well, invited him to meet his boss Joseph B. Gander, President of the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation.  The two hit it off and Sarmiento was offered a job as a designer at the company.  Following this fortunate circumstance, he came to the U.S. permanently in 1951 and was naturalized in 1956.

Sarmiento’s designs for Bank Building & Equipment Corporation led to the construction of hundreds of cutting-edge mid-century modern buildings nationwide.  Many towns had never imagined setting their sights on what Sarmiento planted in their downtowns before then!  He became a driving force behind revolutionizing the look and feel of banking in postwar America between 1952 and 1964.  During this time he designed financial landmarks in communities across the country including Newport Balboa Savings (1954; 1960) in Newport Beach, CA; First Security Bank (1955) in Salt Lake City, UT; Glendale Federal Savings & Loan (1958) in Glendale, CA; Liberty National Bank & Trust in Louisville, KY; and the Phoenix Financial Center (1964; 1970) in Phoenix, AZ.  For producing outstanding design, Sarmiento was declared the “whiz from Peru” by the St. Louis Globe Democrat in 1962.

Like the early Bauhaus designers he admired, furniture design was also a strong suit for Sarmiento.  From wood framing to metal forging and cushion sewing, many of the mid-century buildings of Bank Building & Equipment Corp. designed by Sarmiento also included specially designed furniture for the offices.  On the first desk he designed, Sarmiento received a patent for the principle of the framing design, which from that point on he considered very important to protect his creativity and future return on investment.  However, he only received one other patent for the mushroom-shaped fiberglass teller shelters at the Phoenix Financial Center.

After J.B. Gander’s death and over ten years at Bank Building & Equipment Corp., Sarmiento started his own company.  W.A. Sarmiento Architects grew to its height in the mid-1970s to have offices in St. Louis, Phoenix, and San Francisco with a focus to develop contemporary architecture.  Employing about forty-five people in the entire company, they ran a streamlined operation or mainly designers and architects with no employees working in the areas of sales, public relations or legal. Sarmiento ended the company’s business when family obligations forced him to close the business in 1978.

During his time at the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation, Sarmiento believes that Glendale Federal Savings was his favorite project, where the vision of his design was executed to perfection.  Another of his favorites, on a smaller scale was the branch bank design for City Federal Savings in New Jersey since he had a lot of fun getting the roof shapes to match up together and meet into the vertical sign at the top.

But these types of creative designs may not have been possible without the latitude that Gander provided Sarmiento for creativity.  It signified the trust between them, which helped make the business successful.  But not every designer had the same level of trust with Gander and thus was not provided that same latitude for creativity with clients.

Sarmiento’s Peruvian culture influenced his use of materials and how they were applied.  “Follow the nature of the material for economical use,” is a Sarmiento motto as well as, “A natural feeling is creative.”

On the principles of design, Sarmiento stated, “Less is More is very cold.  Mies executed his principles to perfection but the buildings did not express life through its materials.  Frank Lloyd Wright is a designer my philosophy is much closer to.”

“My greatest strength is imagination.  For any architect to be successful, they have to see a site, and know what to create.  That's where art is a very important component of an architect's work which cannot be taught by any school.

Education

  • 1947 - Architectural Engineer Degree through a five year curriculum at the University of Engineering, Lima, Peru
  • 1948 - Continuing education by studying Classic Architecture by Vitruvius, Palladio, and Vignola, and the contemporary works by LeCorbusier, Walter Gropius, Pier Luigi Nervi, Mies van der Rohe, and Frank Lloyd Wright
  • 1949 - Traveling through main cities in South America:  Mach Picchu, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Brasilia to observe design and construction of new buildings
  • 1953-55 - Continuing studies on new concrete and steel structures as well as mechanical and electrical installations for buildings at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri
  • 1993-94 - Diploma in Plumbing and Electrical Technology for buildings by the Educorp Career College, Long Beach, California

Practice

  • 1947 - Architect in training.  Enrique Scoane Architecture, Lima, Peru
  • 1948-1950 - Architectural designer at Guillermo Payet Architecture, Lima, Peru
  • 1950-1951 - Private Practice, W.A. Sarmiento, architect, Lima, Peru
  • 1952-53 - Designer at Bank Building Corporation of America, St. Louis, Missouri
  • 1954-64 - Director of Design at Bank Building Corporation of America, St. Louis, Missouri
  • 1965-78 - Established Sarmiento Architects with offices in St. Louis, Phoenix, and San Francisco
  • 1972-82, 1990-93 - Director of Design at Murdock Development Co.

Professional Awards

  • 1956 - Fine Hardwoods Association award for excellence in the design of production of office furniture
  • 1971 - NCARB Certificate #10,603
  • 1972 - Certificates in AZ, CA, OH, IL, IA, NE as required by practice
  • 1975 - City of Phoenix award for the planning and design of Phoenix Financial Center

Related Awards

  • 2000 - The Los Angeles Conservancy nominates Glendale Federal Savings Bank Building to the California State Register of Historic Places.  (not listed due to owner objection)
  • 2004 - First Security Bank Building in Salt Lake City, Utah reopens after $6 million rehabilitation. Project is awarded a National Honor Award by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and Utah Heritage Foundation rehabilitation award.  Sarmiento provides crucial information pertaining to original design in order to guide rehabilitation and attends reopening of building.
  • 2005 - The Pasadena and Foothill Chapter of the AIA awarded their first Heritage Recognition Award to the original design and 1962 addition for the Glendale Federal Savings Bank Building.

More info

See the Wenceslaus (W.A.) Sarmiento page on Wikipedia.