Edward Durell Stone. From the International Style to a Personal style1

Ray Bromley

Edward Durell Stone (EDS, 1902-1978) was an American modernist and post-modernist architect, who studied art and architecture at the University of Arkansas, Harvard and M.I.T., but who never completed an academic degree.  The high point of his student days was a two year 1927-1929 Rotch Fellowship to tour Europe, focusing mainly on the Mediterranean countries, and preparing many fine architectural renderings of historic buildings.  His European travels and Rotch Fellowship drawings reflected a deep appreciation of Beaux Arts traditions, but also a growing interest in modernist architecture and functionalist ideals.  Born and brought up in Fayetteville, Arkansas, from 1929 onwards he lived in New York City.
Stone’s career came in three phases that roughly coincided with his three marriages.  In his early career, prior to 1954, he prepared many art deco and international style modernist designs (Ricciotti 1988). He designed some notable international style suburban houses for wealthy clients , the best known of which are the Richard Mandel and Conger Goodyear houses, and he also designed a few modernist houses incorporating vernacular materials like timber and stone, for example the Seymour Kimmel house. He partnered or led in the design of such major works as the Museum of Modern Art[2] and the interior of Radio City Music Hall in New York City, the Fine Arts Center at the University of Arkansas, the massive Hospital del Seguro Social in Lima, Peru, and the El Panamá Hotel in Panama City.  He was a pioneer and talented practitioner of international style modernism in the United States, and he made some significant innovations in developing ideas for affordable housing, in creating new layouts for houses and tourist hotels so as to minimize internal corridors, and in introducing vernacular materials to modernist residential design.  He showed great interest in interior design and decoration, and he designed some lavish interiors for his hotel and theatre projects, most notably at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
These projects might have formed the basis for a promising career, but his work and reputation were negatively affected by financial problems, by years of heavy drinking, and by the breakdown of his first marriage.  He had originally met his first wife, Orlean Vandiver, in Europe during his Rotch Fellowship, and they had married in New York in 1930.  Though he continued working in the early 1950’s and had some important projects, his first marriage was effectively over, his life and finances were in a chaotic state, and several potential clients decided to commission rival architects.

1. A Second Marriage and a Signature Style: 1954-1966
Stone’s great opportunity to transform his life and career came in 1954 when he was under contract to design the new American Embassy in India, a project that resulted from his earlier projects and emerging reputation, but also from his lifelong friendship with Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas. Stone and Fulbright had grown up together in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and Fulbright was especially interested in U.S. foreign policy and citizen diplomacy.  In the early 1950’s, the U.S. Department of State resolved to seek embassy designs that reflected the history and culture of the host nation, and that also reflected the official U.S. government view that America was a global superpower and a beacon of liberty and democracy for “the free world.”  India was the most populous nation in that “free world,” and a country that, under the leadership of Jawaharlal Nehru, sought Cold War neutrality between the United States and the Soviet Union.
The New Delhi contract coincided with a dramatic change in Stone’s personal life; his marriage to Maria Torch, a strikingly beautiful young woman whom he had met on a flight from New York to Paris in July 1953.  Twenty-three years younger than Stone, and divorced from a first marriage, Maria was working as a travel editor for the magazine Fashion and Travel. She was the Ohio-born daughter of two Italian immigrants to the United States, and she was fascinated by the Mediterranean artistic and architectural traditions.  Though both of them came from rather humble and provincial American backgrounds, Maria encouraged Stone’s interest in decoration, grandeur and monumentality, ideals which he had expressed so well in the late 1920s with his Rotch Fellowship architectural renderings.  In addition, though Maria shared Stone’s liking for a lavish life-style, she persuaded him to give up drinking, probably extending his life and certainly strengthening his capacity to do business and solve his financial problems.
After finalizing his divorce from Orlean Vandiver, Stone managed to combine his three major objectives for 1954 into one grand journey.  He took Maria with him when he went to Beirut to work with a group of Lebanese architects on the design of the Phoenicia Hotel overlooking the Mediterranean.  He married Maria in Beirut and then he took her to honeymoon in India while he worked on the embassy design.  The honeymoon included visits to the most famous Mughal sites in and around Delhi – the Red Fort, Humayun’s Tomb, Fatehpur Sikri, the Taj Mahal, and probably also the Agra Fort and the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, known as “the Baby Taj.” The  splendor of the historic sites that they visited inspired him to adopt some Mughal architectural features and principles of site design, combining them with structural and decorative features that he had already used in his prior works, and thus developing a “signature style” that he used in the U.S. Embassy design and in most of his architectural works between 1954 and 1966, the duration of his second marriage.  Ironically, of course, the heritage of the Mughal sites did not correspond to India’s major religion, Hinduism, or to India’s status as a secular republic, or to America’s Christian traditions.  Instead, it celebrated the Muslim monarchies that had ruled over much of the Indian subcontinent before the British took control, and it emphasized architectural links with the Middle East and the Mediterranean countries.
Stone’s signature style incorporated many features of Mughal and Middle Eastern Islamic architecture, but it was highly original because he used concrete, steel and glass in the construction of the buildings, dramatically reducing the need for cut stone.  His best work was inventive and site-sensitive, managing natural light, airflows, water bodies and landscaping to create buildings that were extraordinarily tranquil and energy-efficient.  He adopted features of Mughal architecture that mitigated the heat, dryness and intense sunshine of many parts of the Middle East and South Asia, paying close attention to the alignment of buildings in relation to the sun and prevailing winds, and creating indoor and outdoor gardens.  Thus, his signature style buildings featured flat canopy roofs, columns, arches, colonnades and double colonnades, screen walls, grilles, domes, reflecting pools, fountains, and a variety of towers, some round and slim like minarets, others bulky and square.  Additional decoration included large circular hanging pendant lights inside buildings and under exterior canopy roofs, often also used as planters, and large square and circular planters set on outdoor platforms and in plazas.  His fascination with large circular objects, both hanging from the ceiling and sitting on concrete platforms evoked the image of “flying saucers” – highly memorable and amusing to the public, but anathema to most architectural critics.
Stone’s site plans were symmetrical, sometimes with minor elements of asymmetry for artistic effect, and his preferred landscaping was formal, so that the full sophistication of his designs was best seen from an aeroplane, or looking down on a scale model. Whenever possible he kept motor vehicles away from his buildings, ensuring that parking was out of sight and behind screen walls or trees in the gardens.  His projects are best appreciated when surrounded by well-landscaped parklands, emphasizing integration with nature.
The main New Delhi embassy building, known as the Chancery, was rectangular with a flat overhanging double roof and with pierced masonry screens (grilles) all around the outside to mitigate summer heat and winter cold.  The building had a rectangular mesh-roofed atrium interior with fountains and a reflecting pool so as to create a courtyard garden and an air conditioning and humidifying system for the entire complex.  It was a laboratory for building sustainability and energy-efficiency, designed long before such concepts became commonplace.  Its gold-colored brass columns and grand insignia above the main entrance communicated a sense of welcome and prosperity, and the continuous sound of the fountains, both inside and outside, enhanced a sense of tranquility.
The success of the New Delhi Embassy, inaugurated in 1959, was based on the lavish praise that Frank Lloyd Wright gave to the design, and on favorable reviews in Architectural Forum and other magazines.[3], Stone had a very friendly relationship with Wright, who was undoubtedly America’s most famous architect.  Wright nicknamed the New Delhi Embassy “the Taj Maria” because of its honeymoon significance and the great role that Maria came to play in expanding Stone’s business and reputation in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  She had a flair for publicity and public relations, and she branded everything her husband was involved in as Edward Durell Stone, insisting on using his full name in all public announcements, and on dropping both his traditional colloquial name of “Ed” and the names of his associates and assistants.
Following the New Delhi Embassy, Stone quickly received some additional contracts.  He began work on the Stanford Medical Center in 1954, the United States Pavilion for the Brussels World’s Fair in 1956, the National Center for the Performing Arts (now the John F. Kennedy Center) in Washington D.C. in 1958, and the State University of New York at Albany campus in 1960.  He was on the cover of Time Magazine in March 1958, and the Brussels Pavilion was a major international success. His friendship with Senator Fulbright was reinforced, and New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller, a lover of modern architecture, approved his selection to design the Albany campus.
Even though the World’s Fair pavilions were temporary structures designed to last just for the summer of 1958, both in architecture and contents, the U.S. pavilion positively impressed millions of visitors.  The pavilion itself was circular in shape, with a pierced metallic screen all around the outside, with two attached circular buildings as small and large theaters, and with a translucent roof.  Both inside and outside the pavilion there were fountains and a reflecting pool, and the exhibits and visitor activities emphasized consumerism and entertainment.  Every aspect of Stone’s design contrasted sharply with the vast and austere Soviet box-like pavilion focused on science.  The Soviet Union had launched Sputnik[4], but America, the land of Disney, Hollywood and fast food, was definitely the fun place to be!
While working on the Albany campus, Stone was called upon by the Government of Pakistan to design some of the most important buildings in Islamabad, the new national capital, including the governmental complex, the Presidential Palace and Mosque, a new university now known as Quaid-i-Azam, and the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology.  He received more major contracts than any other architect for Islamabad, reflecting his special status as a world-famous modernist who understood Islamic design and site planning principles.  As further examples of his significance in the Islamic world, he designed a government complex for Lahore, a major mosque for Karachi, Jeddah Airport in Saudi Arabia, and an International College in Beirut.

2. From Growing Fame, to Fall from Grace
Between 1957 and 1964, the Stone practice mushroomed from a few temporary contracts and partnerships into a full-blooded consultancy firm, Edward Durell Stone and Associates Inc. with New York and California offices and with well over two hundred employees working on different projects.  The California operation eventually became a separate company, Edward Durell Stone Inc., with offices in Palo Alto and Los Angeles.  Maria Stone was very active in branding and promoting the firm until 1964, when she petitioned for a divorce that was finally granted in 1966 after a long and acrimonious public quarrel with her husband (Stone 2011, p. 245-251).
During his second marriage, Stone’s signature style became a trade-mark product, something that could be applied for different purposes and in different places, with alternative levels of cost and scale, varying the choice of standard components, and tailoring the design to the client.  Major buildings were variously square, rectangular, circular or oval, interlinked by canopy roofs, and organized into building complexes framed around quadrangles.  As the firm mushroomed in size, signature style projects could be developed by junior staff, with only minimal involvement of Stone himself.
The signature style greatly facilitated the growth of the EDS firm, but its frequent use in different locations led some critics to call it clichéd and even “camp” and kitschy.  The quality of work went down as the number of projects grew, with less flair and imagination going into design, and with clients of the EDS firm engaging in penny-pinching budget cuts.  On the Albany campus, for example, public sector austerity and modest cost-over runs in construction led to drastic cuts in the interior decoration, landscaping and signage budgets, and to the virtual absence of indoor or outdoor public art.  New York State budget constraints intensified feelings of institutional isolation and deterred outsiders from visiting the campus.  Governor Nelson Rockefeller had sought something grand and monumental, but the State of New York had to minimize public expenditure.  The result was a vast shell, spectacular in aerial view but cheap, dull and hard to navigate on the ground.  A long succession of administrators and projects have sought, with some success, to enhance the campus since it was formally opened in 1967, but generations of visitors still make the same criticisms about how difficult the campus is to navigate, and how dull many of the building interiors seem to be.
By the 1970s, the temporary structure of the Brussels Pavilion was a distant memory, Islamabad and other sites in Pakistan had relatively few visitors, and the Delhi Embassy was hidden from view by the construction of high walls and security facilities to guard against sabotage and car bombs.  Stone’s most famous signature style building became and remains the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C., completed in 1971. The J.F.K. Center was given Kennedy’s name after his assassination, but the final project was much less elegant and exciting than Stone had originally proposed.  His original proposal for an oval building had been reduced to a rectangle so as to save costs, and many modifications had been mandated to meet budget limits and satisfy different interest groups. The site is cramped, so there is no grand landscaped area outside the Center to emphasize its significance and create memorable vistas.  The building is known for excellent acoustics in the auditoriums, but many critics have questioned the interior decoration, seeing it as excessively grandiose and discordant with the architecture of the building.
Beyond the J.F.K. Center, Stone’s best signature style buildings are quite widely scattered – Delhi, Islamabad, California, Arkansas, Chicago, and various parts of the U.S. Northeast.  Some of the most breathtaking examples, are relatively small and away from major cities, for example the Unitarian Church in Schenectady, New York, the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in California, the Museo de Arte in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the Beckman Auditorium at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and the Stanford Medical Center.  Some other interesting and idiosyncratic works are in little-visited locations, for example the Pine Bluff Civic Center in Arkansas, the State Government and Civic Center in Frankfort, Kentucky, and the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island, Nebraska. 
By the 1970’s it was already obvious that Stone’s portfolio lacked a spectacular signature-style building in New York City.  Instead, his few post-1954 contributions to the city were modest and either eccentric or dull.  On the eccentric side were two heavily-criticized projects:  the screen wall that he had built in front of 130 East 64th Street, the Upper East Side brownstone where he lived with Maria; and, the Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art on Columbus Circle, nicknamed “the lollipop building” for its strange external decoration around the base.  The Gallery of Modern Art at 2 Columbus Circle, originally opened in 1964, triggered a major controversy in the late 1990s, when the owners applied to transform its exterior and interior and to re-launch it as the Museum of Arts and Design, redesigned by the Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture.
The transformation was finally approved and completed in 2008 to the dismay of many architectural historians who wanted to preserve Stone’s unique work (Hunting 2013, p. 148).  On the dull side was Stone’s first skyscraper, the 50-floor General Motors Building at 555 Fifth Avenue, opened in 1968. It had an extraordinary strategic location and great views to and from Central Park, and it sold for 2.9 billion dollars in 2009, making it the most expensive office building in the United States. Stone joked that “Every taxi driver in New York will tell you it’s his favorite building,” perhaps recognizing that its architecture had more public appeal and popularity than praise from architecture critics (Hunting 2013, p. 141).

3. Understanding the Signature Style
Stone’s signature style has been variously described as Decorative Modernism, Postmodernism, New Romanticism, and Architectural Populism.  Clearly he was a modernist seeking to advance, enhance or transform modernism in some way.  He had a strong interest in interior design, and he was anxious to find ways to decorate the exteriors and interiors of his architectural works.  He was fascinated by the impact of exterior light on interiors, whether coming through ceilings or walls, and using roof oculi, glass bricks, grilles and meshes as alternatives or supplements to windows.  He made imaginative use of staircases, sunken areas, fountains and reflecting pools to add variety and interest to exterior and interior areas.  Thus, he decorated his modernist architecture, and he could be viewed as an early pioneer of post-modernist ideas.  He sought to complicate the stark simplicity of international style modernism, and he avoided any hint of “brutalism,” the starkest form of modernism.  As brutalism was often likened to rugged masculinity, his decorative modernism seemed “romantic,” with a more loving, light-hearted and even “feminine” touch. 
For several years after the 1958 Brussels World’s Fair and his appearance on the cover of Time Magazine, Stone’s architecture attracted a lot of public attention and praise.  By the mid-1960’s, however, these accolades were being turned against him by critics who described him as “a populist,” implying in some way that his architecture lacked integrity.  He was accused of betraying the purity of modernism and catering to the interests of the general public, rather than to the tastes of architectural experts.  Many of those experts began to criticize his frequent use of a wide range of decorative features as gimmicky, playing to the masses rather than to the educated elites.
During Stone’s career, only two books were published about his architecture, Edward Durell Stone: The Evolution of an Architect in 1962 (Stone 1962), and Edward Durell Stone: Recent and Future Architecture in 1967 (Stone 1962).  In both cases Stone was the nominal author, though most of the content consisted of photographs of models, design diagrams, and artists’ impressions of what the buildings would look like.  Some were completed projects and included real world photographs, but most were projects in preparation or construction, and some never went into construction.  The 1962 book contained some interesting text on Stone’s career and ideas, but the 1967 book was little more than a giant album of pictures. Most of Stone’s international work and all his projects after 1966 remained very poorly documented, with no meaningful published explanation by Stone himself.  Over 40 years lapsed before any additional books came out, and the two recent books are the first to seriously discuss Stone’s life and work in a broader perspective (Stone 2011, Hunting 2013).
Stone was much more a practitioner than a writer, and his links with architecture schools and critics were quite tenuous.  Though he had taught courses for several years at New York University before World War Two, and at Yale for a few years after World War Two, his relatively humble origins in Arkansas, his lack of completed university degrees, and his lack of major writings on architectural history, styles or theory, limited his appeal in the academic world.  As his portfolio of projects grew massively during the 1960’s, and as the originality of his work diminished with the transition from partnerships and small-scale teams to a major firm with most work done by relatively inexperienced staff, his reputation in university circles and among architecture critics diminished quite rapidly.
He came to be seen as a distinguished individualist, but not as the founder of any new school of architecture.  He had many employees in his firm, but he was not the leader of a new movement in the profession as a whole.  Many professional colleagues argued that he took on too many contracts, and that many of his projects were characterized by poor sites, difficult clients, regulatory barriers, and inadequate budgets.  Such conditions led, almost inevitably, to unsatisfactory outcomes, eroding the reputation for beauty, innovation and environmental sensitivity that was associated with his finest works.

4. Beyond Maria:  Eclecticism and Crisis
After Stone’s divorce from Maria in 1966, his New York and California based firms gradually abandoned his signature style and produced an increasingly eclectic set of projects.  Many were designed by staff with little input from EDS, and the sense of branding and corporate identity began to fade.  Stone’s health deteriorated, and he suffered a series of mild strokes from 1971 onwards.  He married again in 1972, to Violet Campbell Moffat, and he formally retired from the leadership of his firms in 1974, selling his shares and remaining as a consultant.  The last design projects formally attributed to him were prepared in 1973.  Many of the later works seemed to betray signature style principles without exemplifying meaningful alternatives or innovations. 
The best of the last phase of Stone’s career may have been the Pepsico World Headquarters in Purchase New York, designed in 1967, and the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California, designed in 1968.  Both exemplified the extraordinary sense of tranquility and harmony with nature associated with some of Stone’s best campus and hospital projects.  The Pepsico Headquarters is an elegant, simple and highly-flexible office complex surrounded by a beautiful landscaped park and sculpture garden.  No cars are visible from the buildings, and mobile partition walls have facilitated many upsizings, downsizings and corporate reorganizations.  The Eisenhower Center follows some of the principles of Stone’s smaller and truly-extraordinary Community Hospital on the Monterey Peninsula, designed in 1959 and surely one of the most peaceful and beautiful medical facilities ever established.
Overall, however, most of Stone’s output from 1967 to 1973 was eclectic and dull.  The majority of the late projects were corporate offices, banks, department stores, and small city public buildings that attracted little interest beyond their immediate local areas. One exception was the Fort Worth City Hall in Texas, partly designed by a local associate architect in 1968, and betraying Stone’s signature style interior with a brutalist exterior. 
Much more problematical and historically significant were the major skyscraper projects that followed on from the General Motors Building in Manhattan.  Two were truly massive:  the 83-floor 346 meter high Standard Oil of Indiana Building in downtown Chicago, designed in 1970, completed in 1973, and now known as the Aon Center;  and, the 72-floor 298 meter high First Canadian Place Tower in downtown Toronto, designed in 1971 and completed in 1975.  In both cases Edward Durell Stone Associates worked together with another firm to design a sleek marble-clad skyscraper, and some years after completion the buildings had to be re-clad in another material because slabs of marble were falling off the exteriors of the towers.  The re-cladding cost the owners about as much as they had originally paid for the buildings and triggered major law-suits that led to the liquidation of Edward Durell Stone Associates several years after Stone’s death.  Both towers were record-breakers, the tallest marble-clad buildings in the world, with Standard Oil briefly being the world’s fourth tallest skyscraper before it gradually slipped down the league table as other structures were built, and First Canadian still being Canada’s tallest skyscraper.  Architecturally, however, neither skyscraper won great praise, and First Canadian is often criticized as dull and contributing almost nothing to the Toronto skyline.
Stone’s other late tower, the 22-floor Executive Office Building in the Florida State Capitol Complex in Tallahassee was designed in the early 1970’s as a phallic construction that dominates the skyline of a small city.  With its domed legislative chambers on either side, it overwhelms and overshadows the adjacent historic Old State Capitol building.  The original plan was to demolish the Old Capitol, but after a preservationist outcry the historic building was restored as a beloved, delicate and dignified structure with a mammoth neighbor.  The new Capitol Complex is generally considered to be an eyesore, betraying all the principles of contextual and environmental sensitivity that characterized Stone’s best works.
By the time of his death in August 1978, Stone was gradually disappearing from the architectural literature and from lists of architectural superstars.  His work was increasingly condemned as quirky, kitschy and populist, with frequent repetitions of styles, layouts and decorative features.  It belonged to no “school of architecture” and he left no major statement of architectural philosophy to enlighten scholars and young practitioners.  He retired in 1974, his California firm ceased operations in 1984 (Stone 2011, p. 290-299), and his New York firm was plunged into crisis by the lawsuits over the marble falling from the Standard Oil Building in Chicago and the First Canadian Building in Toronto, leading to eventual liquidation.

5. Recent Interest
After more than three decades of relative obscurity, two New York City authors have recently written major books about Edward Durell Stone and his architecture:  Benjamin Hicks Stone (1911), son of Edward and Maria, and a practicing architect, and Mary Anne Hunting (1913), an architectural historian.  Both books provide very comprehensive overviews of Stone’s life and works, and Hicks Stone offers many very personal insights on his father’s life and character, and on the impact that his marriage to Maria had on his work and image.  He also provides a very comprehensive list of over 340 “principal works,” ranging from architecturally-significant individual houses to governmental complexes, major hospitals, university campuses, residential neighborhoods, and various model designs and comprehensive plans (Stone 2011, p. 321-325). Over half these “principal works” were constructed or adopted and published, leaving a very substantial legacy for re-evaluation by future architectural historians and critics.
Stone’s second marriage saved his career and was associated with his most famous and highly-praised works, but the ensuing growth of his firm and business led to some careless and inferior projects, and to over-repetition of decorative features as architectural clichés.  His skyscraper projects were relatively unsuccessful, and his best work was low-rise and closely integrated with the surrounding landscape.  His separation from Maria in 1964 and the ensuing highly-public divorce accentuated the problems of his firm and image.  Much of the work done by his firms in the late 1960s and 1970s was uninspiring, and very little was documented for posterity.  Only now, with the books by Hicks Stone and Mary Anne Hunting, do we have overviews that enable a full survey and evaluation of his career.  A modest flurry of interest in Stone’s life, work and principles has resulted from these two recent and excellent books about his architecture, but for most 21st century audiences he remains a little-known and hard-to-define architect.


[1] In the original text the author defines the style of ED Stone as "Signature style," which in Italian would have a similar meaning to "self-referential style," but, precisely because of the sense that Bromley himself gave to the work of ED Stone in essay and for Stone's personal choice to "abandon" the International Style and to stain himself with "apostasy" - as Tom Wolfe (1981) tells - From Bauhaus to Our House, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York; [Trans. it.]: Maledetti Architetti (Bompiani, Milan 1988) - it was considered more appropriate to translate it into "personal style" [N.d.C.].
[2] Designin with Philip Lippincott Goodwin [N.d.C.].
[3] Architectural Forum (1959), “A new public architecture”, (January). 84-89 [N.d.C.].
[4] Launched in orbit on 4 October 1958, it was one of the major attractions of the USSR pavilion [N.d.C.].


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