Willie Peña Interview

Willie Peña
Willie Peña

William Merriweather Peña is known as the Father of Architectural Programming. Here we learn more about the journey of creating the classic programming guide – “Problem Seeking: An Architectural Programming Primer.”

We didn’t have an organized course of study for programming. We did not have goals, facts, concepts, needs – nothing. Most of the time we just had form, function, and economy. I began hiring people that wanted to be programmers and I began writing chapters that were later in a book so to speak.

I began teaching 2 to 3, maybe 4, young people programming. I began teaching them and we would document it on paper, hoping that eventually, we would make it into a book.

Before 1970, we had enough to make a book out of it and it was a pamphlet – none of us knew how to write. CRS had hired an editor – he was a writer – so we gave him our speeches about programming; John Focke had given a couple of speeches and I had written a couple of speeches. We gave them to this editor, then the editor we had hired put the whole thing together, and that was the first pamphlet kind of thing. Neither John or I had written it, we just had given him information about programming and he wrote it.

John Focke
John Focke


I had to give speeches and so I began to collect a series of slides that were pertinent. By the time we went to Mexico – to Guadalajara – I had a set of slides without Spanish words and I gave my speech.

Bill Caudill was in the audience and he said:

“Willie, I heard your speech and I understood everything you said by just looking at the slides. So, the next time we write Problem Seeking, we publish Problem…”

Notice that he said the next time “we” publish. That was the CRS mode. “We publish.”

“The next time we publish Problem Seeking we’ll do it as a primer.”

So, what we did – we published my speech. The Problem Seeking that was published in 1977 was my speech but this time – Bill Caudill:

“Let me take care of the characters.”

Bill was in charge. Bill went to our graphics designer:

“I want a language for this speech”

Bill Caudill
Bill Caudill


Our man at the office came up with the idea that “OK, I want to use a thick and a thin line with each character” and that’s what he did.

He kind of invented a new vocabulary using the illustrations I had collected for many years, drawn by many people. But now I had a whole set of them, and the whole set was done in one character, and published Problem Seeking – that’s it.

If you take a look at the 1977 copy it was my speech, with my illustrations, but it was done by a professional graphics designer, by a professional man who knew how to put books together – and the rest of it was up to us.

Steve Parshall came and asked for a job between semesters and he put the book together.

Steve Parshall
Steve Parshall


It’s a long story but many people participated.

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