Edward Durell Stone (March 9, 1902 - August 6, 1978) was a twentieth century American architect and an early proponent of modern architecture in the United States.
Stone was born in Fayetteville, Arkansas, a small college town in the northwest corner of the state. His family, early settlers of the area, owned a prosperous dry goods store. One of his childhood friends was J. William Fulbright, the future United States Senator from Arkansas and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Stone and Fulbright remained friends throughout their lives. Stone attended the University of Arkansas, where his interest in architecture was encouraged by the chairman of the art department. His older brother, James Hicks Stone (1886–1928), was already a practicing architect in Boston, Massachusetts, and James encouraged his younger brother to join him there. While in Boston, Stone attended the Boston Architectural Club (now Boston Architectural College), Harvard University, and MIT, but he never received a degree. While studying, Stone also apprenticed in the offices of Coolidge, Shepley, Bulfinch and Abbott, H. H. Richardson’s successor firm. Henry R. Shepley, one of the firm’s senior partners, mentored Stone while he was in Boston and assisted him throughout his career.
While studying in Massachusetts, he won the prestigious Rotch Travelling Fellowship (now called the Rotch Travelling Scholarship), which afforded him the opportunity to travel throughout Europe and North Africa on a two year stipend. Other winners of the Fellowship include the architects Ralph Walker (of Vorhees, Gmelin and Walker), Louis Skidmore (of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill), Wallace K. Harrison (of Harrison and Abramovitz) and Gordon Bunshaft (also of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill). During his travels, Stone maintained sketchbooks and produced exquisite watercolor drawings in the Beaux-Arts style. He also visited buildings by some of the leading modernist architects of the day, works which would influence his early practice. While in Venice, Stone met and courted Orlean Vandiver of Montgomery, Alabama. They would marry in New York City in 1930.
Stone returned to New York City in October 1929, just at the onset of the Great Depression. He had been offered a job while in Stockholm, by Leonard Schultze of Schultze and Weaver, and on joining the firm, Stone designed the main lobby and grand ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. He then moved on to work in the offices of Reinhardt, Hoffmeister, Hood & Fouilhoux, who were among the architects associated on the Rockefeller Center project. Stone was the principal designer on the Radio City Music Hall, and he worked in conjunction with the interior designer, Donald Deskey. His relationship with Deskey ultimately led to his first independent commission in 1933 for Richard Mandel, whose family owned the Mandel Brothers department store. Stone produced a startling, volumetric modernist home in Mount Kisco, New York, for Mandel, with elements suggestive of the European modernists Erich Mendelsohn and Le Corbusier. The Richard H. Mandel House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
The acclaim generated from this commission led to other prominent residential commissions. Similarly, his work on the Rockefeller Center project also brought him to the attention of the Center's lead architect, Wallace Harrison, and Nelson Rockefeller. When the time came for an architect to be selected for the new Museum of Modern Art, Stone's name was put forth by Harrison, and in turn by Rockefeller, over the objections of Alfred Barr, Jr., the Museum's director. Stone was selected as the design architect for the Museum in association with Philip Goodwin, the only architect on the Museum's Board. It was at this point that Stone formally started his architectural practice, opening an office in Rockefeller Center.
Stone continued to employ the modernist vocabulary for the remainder of the 1930s, but during an automobile trip across the United States in 1940, he began to formulate an approach to design that fused the experience of his Beaux-Arts training, bucolic origins and dissatisfaction with the austerity of modernist aesthetic. A visit to Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin in Wisconsin encouraged Stone to seek new forms that expressed a warmer architecture that was more rooted in American vernacular design.
The onset of World War II interrupted Stone's exploration of this new approach to architecture, and he enlisted in the United States Army Air Force in August 1942. Stone entered the Army as a Captain but was promoted to the rank of Major in November 1943. During his war service, Stone was stationed in Washington D.C. where he was the Chief of the Planning and Design Section. His principal responsibility was the planning of Army Air Force bases. Stone was discharged from the Army in November 1945.
Stone reopened his architectural practice in 1945 in a townhouse at 50 East 64th Street in New York City. During this period, he continued to explore vernacular architectural forms, incorporating Wrightian motifs and rustic materiality and fusing it with explorations of modular construction techniques. His commissions during the 1940s were principally single-family homes, but there were notable exceptions.
In 1946 Stone was commissioned to design the 300-room El Panama Hotel in Panama City, Panama. The hotel was completed in 1951 after a lengthy and difficult construction period. The playful modernity of the building and its environmentally sensitive design generated critical interest and the hotel was featured in a January 1952 story in Life.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Stone's role as Chief Design Critic and Associate Professor of Architecture at the Yale University School of Architecture gave him the opportunity to recruit many skilled young staff members for his office. Stone’s avuncular and supportive manner and his ability as an educator and designer created a synergistic office environment that fostered design inquiry and experimentation.
His success as a practitioner of modern architecture and his prominence as an academic, enabled Stone to form bonds with other academics of the era like Walter Gropius (Chairman of the Department of Architecture at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design), Pietro Belluschi (Dean of MIT's School of Architecture and Planning), George Howe (Chairman of Yale University’s School of Architecture) and William Wurster (co-founder of the University of California at Berkeley College of Environmental Design).
Stone would continue to be involved as a visiting critic at other universities, including Cornell, Princeton and Stanford, until the demands of his architectural practice no longer permitted him to do so. He also actively supported the establishment of an architectural program at the University of Arkansas, which was headed by his close friend, John G. Williams. Stone served as a frequent visiting critic and was an early advocate for the architectural school’s accreditation. Stone’s role as an educator was honored in 1955, when the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded him the Medal of Honor, praising Stone as a “distinguished designer of buildings and inspiring teacher.”
In 1950, Stone formed a partnership with architect Alfred Aydelott of Memphis, Tennessee to design the Hospital of Social Security for Employees in Lima, Peru. This project established Stone as a specialist in hospital design, and it would lead to a series of commissions that focused on providing a humane environment for patients. Many of Stone’s prominent medical commissions were in the State of California and include the Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula in Monterey, the Scripps Institute in La Jolla and the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage.
In the mid-1950s Stone moved away from strict modernist tenets and began to fuse the formalism of his early Beaux-Arts training with a romantic historicism. This historicizing aspect of Stone’s work was in part influenced by his second wife, Maria Elena Torchio, whom Stone met, fell in love with, and proposed marriage to on a transatlantic flight. They were married shortly after in 1954. The Stones’ frequent travels to Italy during this period and Maria Elena Stone’s Italian origins reawakened his interest in classical and Italianate precedent which he had so dutifully recorded in his Rotch Fellowship sketchbooks. As Stone later wrote, “I believe the inspiration for a building should be in the accumulation of history,”. Decrying the “passing enthusiasms” of modernism, Stone asserted that “Architecture…should be timeless and convey by its very fiber the assurance of permanence…”
Stone's career enjoyed a dramatic turn when he was awarded the commissions for the United States Embassy in New Delhi, India and the United States Pavilion for the 1958 International Exposition in Brussels, Belgium. A cover story on Stone in the March 31, 1958 issue of Time magazine led to a series of important national and international commissions, and Stone's firm grew in size from 20 architects to over 200. No longer an intimate design atelier, Stone’s office became a stratified corporate entity and his work became uneven and formulaic.
Stone was generally shunned by the critical architectural community for his repudiation of pure modernist aesthetic, but his office was prominent and successful. Business Week called Stone the "Man with a Billion on the Drawing Board" and United Press International described him as "the most quoted architect since the death of Frank Lloyd Wright".
Stone continued to garner major architectural commissions into the early 1970s. The State University of New York at Albany, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, the Standard Oil building in Chicago, Illinois and the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology, were notable examples of late phase work.
Stone married his personal assistant, Violet Moffat in 1971 and retired from active practice in 1974. He died in New York City on August 6, 1978. His firm, Edward Durell Stone & Associates, continued to exist in various forms until 1993.
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