Sunday, December 21, 2014


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Edward Durell Stone, one of the most controversial figures of 20th-century architecture, was once quoted as saying, “They say people are fundamentally interested in only three things: food, sex and shelter. I can’t say I’m authoritative on the first two, although I’m in favor of both. It’s shelter that concerns me, and it’s nice to be doing something people are interested in.”

Indeed, he was most concerned with shelter, and people were—and still are—absorbed in his work. He was the architect behind such high-profile projects as The Museum of Modern Art and Radio City Music Hall in New York, the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. In creating this body of work, he became one of the most influential architects of the 20th century, but, as is often the case, with great success comes consequence. For Stone, it was contempt from critics and contemporaries for his later works, scorn that continues even decades after the architect’s death.

His son, New York-based architect Hicks Stone, notes that his father’s work is simultaneously triumphant and embittered, and he wants to enlighten a new generation about his father’s life and legacy—a goal he approaches candidly in his literary debut, “Edward Durell Stone: A Son’s Untold Story of a Legendary Architect.” The younger Stone writes about his father’s career, relationships, and professional and personal struggles in what is part retrospective, part intimate biography, documenting his father’s life and passion.

“I was inspired to write the book because Dad deserved to be understood,” Mr. Stone said from his part-time Roxbury home. “There has been such criticism and disdain regarding his work. He was considered a master architect, persona non grata … and then his work was trivialized by critics and his peers.”

As he writes in the book’s introduction, “I believe that my perspective as a son and architect offers me a unique and privileged position to address many of these bromidic and reflexive perceptions.”

Mr. Stone will talk about his father, his new book and 70 years of American architecture Jan. 12 at 7 p.m. at the Oliver Wolcott Library in Litchfield, and Jan. 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the Wykeham Room of the Gunn Memorial Library in Washington. Both events also include a book signing. The programs are free and open to the public, but registration is recommended.

“I think my perspective is quite different from others and what has already been said about my father’s work,” Mr. Stone said. “I want to correct 50 years of misunderstandings and trivializing.”

There is a lot to say about the late Stone, whose talent as an architect was recognized early; he won a scholarship to Harvard’s School of Architecture, and the Rotch Travelling Fellowship in 1927 that afforded him the opportunity to travel throughout Europe and North Africa on a two-year stipend. After working for several firms, including Schultze & Weaver, for which he designed the main lobby, grand ballroom and private dining rooms of the Waldorf-Astoria, the elder Stone started his own architectural practice with an office in Rockefeller Center. Among his first major projects was the Museum of Modern Art’s new building on West 53rd Street in New York in 1936.

Other high-profile projects followed, but with Stone’s popular and commercial successes came a negative reception among the architectural community. Mr. Stone calls it “a double edge that continues to inform his legacy.” In his book, the younger Stone addresses the body of work of his father’s that has been largely neglected, if not completely misunderstood.

“At the time, International Modernism had very forceful advocates,” Mr. Stone explained, noting that it was a very specific style in that it completely eliminated ornamentation, and focused on the expression of volume rather than mass, and balance rather than preconceived symmetry. “Anyone who strayed was ostracized.”

He explained that his father pursued that style of architecture until meeting Frank Lloyd Wright, and with that meeting his father’s view changed. “His work was broad and accomplished. He could do the modernism of Radio City Music Hall, the international style of the time, rustic architecture and could fuse them all together. He did it all very well,” Mr. Stone said. “He was on the cover of Time in 1958, so there were [people] who celebrated his work.”

Some dismiss his later work as merely decorative, a misconception Mr. Stone has heard often himself. “I hope that, in writing the book, I can offer a foundation for a new generation of architects,” Mr. Stone said. “I want to offer a fresh perspective, free of International Modernism, European dogma.”

Hicks Stone witnessed the expression of this dogma firsthand while studying to be an architect. A professor showed a slide of his father’s U.S. Embassy building in New Delhi, which elicited hisses from his fellow students.

“I was stunned that all of these [people] … had already formed such a strong opinion of his work,” Mr. Stone said. “Most people are very careful and diplomatic about it, but the contempt was evident even when I visited Dad’s alma mater.”

Mr. Stone also sheds light on his father’s personal life by sharing anecdotes recalled or discovered while researching his father’s complex and turbulent life. As book literature states, “This is an unvarnished look at a life full of great achievements tempered with dark struggles and personal demons. A succinct, multidimensional timeline weaving hard facts with poignant tales, [it] is a comprehensive and authoritative yet touching account that will inform and fascinate.”

As dedicated as he is to dispelling the myths surrounding his father’s work, Mr. Stone admits he never planned to be an architect himself.

“Dad died in 1978. He wanted me to work with his firm, but I was your classic rebellious son. If he wanted me to have short hair, I grew it as long as possible. … I was not a good son. But after he died a strange process began. In a matter of months, I was taking supplemental courses at Columbia and, a year later, I was at Harvard. I didn’t think about it at all. I was like a salmon, swimming upstream.”

Mr. Stone received his master’s in architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in 1983, and founded Stone Architecture, LLC in New York City and Roxbury in 1991 after working as a senior designer in the office of Philip Johnson and John Burgee Architects.

“To not be an architect was foreign to me, especially considering my subliminal training,” he said. “My parents valued creativity. The idea of finance and materialism was not a worthy pursuit in their eyes, so it was easy for me to fall into the creative side of things.”

Writing the book, which was named one of the 10 most notable books of 2011 by Metropolis Magazine editor Paul Makovsky, he said, was an experience he hopes to duplicate. He is thinking about writing a companion book to his first. Mr. Stone wrote the book at his part-time home in Roxbury, which he said was the perfect place to write.

“I loved it. I’m a snoop by nature, always asking questions, so I spent a year snooping in libraries across the country before writing the book,” he said. “And I found that writing is a lot like architecture. You’re taking a number of elements and bringing them together to craft something elegant.”

Source: Jaime Ferris, The Litchfield County Times


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