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Edward Durell Stone

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Edward Durell Stone 1902–78, American architect, b. Fayetteville, Ark. Stone's first major work, designed in the starkly functional International style in collaboration with Philip L. Goodwin, was the Museum of Modern Art, New York City (193739). Stone, whose style became more ornate and embellished in the 1950s, won renown for his design of the U.S. embassy at New Delhi (1958). In this building he introduced traditional Muslim motifs, including lacy grille patterns. Stone subsequently applied grillwork to many of his buildings, including the U.S. pavilion for the Brussels World's Fair (1958) and the Huntington Hartford Museum (1962; now the New York Cultural Center), New York City. Among his later works are the Amarillo Fine Arts Museum (1969); the Univ. of Alabama law school (1970); the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (1971), Washington D.C.; and the Community Hospital of Monterey Peninsula, Carmel, Calif.

Photo of Edward Durell Stone
(b Fayetteville, AR, 9 March 1902; d New York, 6 Aug 1978). American architect. He studied art at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville (1920–23), and from 1924 until 1926 he studied architecture at the Boston Architectural Club, while working in the office of Henry R. Shepley. Having entered the architectural course at Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, in 1926, he transferred to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology the following year and won the Rotch Traveling Fellowship in 1928–9, which took him to Europe. Resettling in New York, he worked with a consortium of architects on the Rockefeller Center, also making significant contributions to the design of Radio City Music Hall. In 1933 he designed one of the east coast’s first Modernist houses, the Mandel house at Bedford Falls, NY. In 1936 he established his own firm in New York, and in 1938–9 he built the first section of MOMA with Philip L. Goodwin (1885–1958). From the beginning his work had shown a strong tendency to formalism and ornament, and this could be seen in MOMA, the International style façade of which was enlivened by a series of circular cut-outs in the overhanging roof. His association with MOMA may account for his serving as a juror of the pro-Modernist Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL, competition of 1938, which MOMA supported under the direction of its President, A. Conger Goodyear. He designed Goodyear’s house (1938–9) at Old Westbury, Long Island and took third prize in the Smithsonian Gallery of Art competition of 1939. During World War II he served (1941–5) in the US Air Force.

Streetscapes/Edward Durell Stone and the Gallery of Modern Art, at 2 Columbus Circle; An Architect Who Looked Both Forward and Back 
Published: October 27, 2002, Sunday 

IN 1956 he unabashedly plunked down a large concrete grille in the middle of a row of East Side brownstones. His 1964 Gallery of Modern Art, at 2 Columbus Circle, was, in the words of a critic for Art News, ''a turkey.'' And critics said that his 1968 marble tower, the General Motors Building at 58th Street and Fifth Avenue, seriously compromised the character of Grand Army Plaza across the street. 
But the complex, big-talking and romantic architect Edward Durell Stone was far ahead of his time in his views on the environment, city planning and historic preservation. Now Stone himself is becoming a cause, as preservation groups gird for a final battle over the Columbus Circle building, which has been vacant in recent years and seems headed for the dustbin. 

Stone was born in 1902 into a well-to-do family in Fayetteville, Ark. He went to both Harvard and M.I.T., studied architecture in Europe for two years, joined an architectural firm in New York and got his big break in 1936 when he received the commission to design the new Museum of Modern Art building at 11 West 53rd Street. Working with a museum trustee, Philip Goodwin, Stone developed a crisp glass and marble facade, at that time the most advanced architectural statement of European modernism in New York. 

Although Stone had traveled extensively in Europe sketching old monuments, it was a 1940 trip across America that awakened doubts in his mind about the doctrinaire modernism and urban policies that were changing the country. In his 1962 memoir, ''The Evolution of an Architect,'' he wrote that he ''was appalled by the devastation'' caused by suburbanization, road blight and the demolition of historic buildings. 

Another change came in 1953, when he met Maria Elena Torchio on a flight to Paris -- and proposed to her before the plane landed. A fashion writer, she was the daughter of a Florentine father and a Barcelonese mother, and she alerted her husband to a richer sense of architectural beauty and the idea that pleasurable materials, forms and decoration were acceptable. 

Stone's United States Embassy in New Delhi, completed the next year, had fountains, a screen of gold-leafed columns, principal walls of perforated concrete grilles for shade and a surrounding pavement of marble and of river stones smoothed by the Ganges. Compared to the minimalist designs of the period, the new embassy was swathed in Edwardian luxury. 

In 1956 Stone reused the grille idea to remodel his old brownstone at 130 East 64th Street, using the grille this time for privacy. It was in that year that Huntington Hartford, heir to the A.&P. supermarket fortune, announced plans for a new Gallery of Modern Art on a trapezoidal site at Columbus Circle bounded by Broadway, 58th Street and Eighth Avenue. 

Hartford hired Stone, who developed a facade in soft white marble, supported on a Venetian-style arcade, with cutout porthole shapes at the corners to allow visitors to see out. Stone's rendering also shows the building festooned with long, hanging vines or plants and surrounded by thick trees -- but none of those additions were in the final plan. 

The combination of Hartford's tastes for traditional art and Stone's unusual design made the building seem erratic to contemporary critics. But although Alfred Frankfurter, writing in Art News in 1964, the year the gallery opened, called it ''a turkey'' with the ''cheap glamour of a shoe emporium on Main Street,'' many critics were fairly amiable. Olga Gueft, writing in Interiors, called it an interesting exception ''to the glittering ice-cage architecture'' of contemporary New York. The building's principal sin was that it stood out from the sameness that had taken over New York architecture. 

Stone used his increasing success to espouse a series of ideas that would not become mainstream for years. In 1958 he was quoted in The New York Times as saying that suburban sprawl was desecrating the American landscape, and he called for the creation of a federal cabinet position, the secretary of the environment. 

In an article in The Times the following year he advised Americans to ''beware of progress'' because older things were almost always better than new ones. ''The world of plate glass and aluminum that is upon us leaves the average mortal deeply unsatisfied,'' he said. In a speech to the Women's City Club in 1960 he criticized New York streets for having no place to sit. He suggested that cars be banned from Lexington and Madison Avenues and that they be replaced with vast flower gardens. 

Two years later he called for what The Times termed a ''dictator of arts'' and said, ''We need someone who can say 'no' when people want to build a modernistic hot dog stand in a street of Colonial houses.'' 

Such an idea was visionary at a time when even Penn Station could not be saved from demolition. Indeed, Stone later sought to salvage the columns from Penn Station and place them around Columbus Circle. 

IN 1966 Business Week said that Stone had a billion dollars of construction projects in his office, including the 50-story General Motors Building. Both this and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, completed in 1971, were long on rich finishes, including red carpets and marble, but short on the slightly eccentric quality of his earlier work. Stone died in 1978. 

Hartford had pulled out of the Gallery of Modern Art in 1969. Renamed the New York Cultural Center, it was operated by Fairleigh Dickinson University from 1969 to 1975. A year later, Gulf & Western Industries, with headquarters across Columbus Circle, bought the building as a gift to the city, intending that it be a visitors center and headquarters for the Cultural Affairs Department, which left in 1998. 

In the last several years, leading preservation organizations, including the Municipal Art Society, the New York Landmarks Conservancy, the Historic Districts Council and Landmark West, have tried to get the Landmarks Preservation Commission to hold a hearing on the old gallery. 

They have called in supporters, among them the architect and historian Robert A. M. Stern, who called the building ''arresting and delightful'' and added that ''although it may seem out of fashion, that does not mean that it is trivial.'' 

But the commission's chairwoman, Sherida Paulsen, said that it had considered the issue in 1996 and declined to hold a hearing. She declined to comment on whether the commission might change its mind. 

Many preservationists are hesitant. Frank Sanchis, executive director of the Municipal Art Society, said that the organization's board is ''severely divided in its opinion'' even though it is lobbying for a public hearing. 

Mr. Sanchis said he strongly favors designation and considers the disagreement ''an indication of the building's significance.'' 

This summer the city agreed to sell the building to the American Craft Museum, which is now at 40 West 53rd Street and was recently renamed the Museum of Contemporary Arts and Design. The cost of buying and renovating the Columbus Circle building, officials at the museum say, will exceed $30 million. 

The museum is now selecting architects. Holly Hotchner, its director, said that the marble exterior is in poor condition and that the new museum will have to have windows. 

Meanwhile, the preservation organizations are developing other venues for discussion and continue to try to persuade the landmarks commission to reverse itself. 

Arlene Simon, the president of Landmark West, said she is working on setting up a conference on Stone for early next year in cooperation with the American Institute of Architects. Simeon Bankoff, the executive director of the Historic Districts Council, said, ''We'll raise as big a fuss as possible to save the building.'' 

Hicks Stone, an architect in New York and one of Stone's sons, said that although his father was never part of the preservation establishment, ''he would have been very grateful for the renewed interest in architectural history.'' In contrast with his father, he said, he is not keen on historic styles. 'I love modern work,'' he said. ''I prefer looking forward to looking back.'' 

But he said he suspects that whatever replaces his father's building will be a lesser work. ''I wish them luck,'' he said, ''but once you get through with the tight budgets and the design by committee, everything is homogenized. You end up with pablum.'' 

Published: 10 - 27 - 2002 , Late Edition - Final , Section 11 , Column 1 , Page 9 

Copyright New York Times.

Stone studied at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, then apprenticed himself to Henry R. Shepley in Boston until 1925. After completing his studies at Harvard University and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology , he received a Rotch Travelling Scholarship to Europe which lasted from 1927 to 1929.

As one the the earliest American exponents of the International Style, Stone had a major impact upon architectural education in the United States during the 1950s. He helped transform the International Style modernism of the 1950s into the postmodernism of the 1960s and 1970s by substituting formalism for functionalism.

Stone's formalism developed during in his Beaux-Arts education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his apprenticeship in the New York office of Schultze and Weaver. Stone attributed his shift from a somewhat severe modernism toward the more ornamental formalism of his later career to his second wife, Maria Torchio, whom he met in 1953.

In typical modernist fashion, Stone allows his buildings to stand as isolated objects in open space. He arranges his buildings as large multi-functional central spaces ringed by smaller enclosed rooms of more definite purpose. Unlike many modernists, he uses luxurious materials and a profusion of decorative details.

Stone's later architecture responded to the middle-class taste for a vulgar display of wealth. It also satisfied the equally characteristic American preference for efficiency and straightforwardness. Stone expressed wealth and thrift by covering his large box-like buildings with vivid ornamentation.

Randall J. Van Vynckt. International Dictionary of Architects and Architecture: Volume 1- Architects. London: St. James Press, 1993. ISBN 1-55862-087-7. NA40.I48 1993. p779-780.