The New York City–based modern architect Edward Durell Stone (b. 1902–d. 1978) achieved widespread success during his more than forty-year career. His enormous and prestigious output can be seen on four continents, in thirteen foreign countries, and in thirty-two states. Trained in the mid-1920s, first at Harvard University and then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (he did not graduate), Stone never lost the Beaux-arts bent he developed as a student. The elaborate watercolors he produced as a Rotch Travelling Scholar between 1927 and 1929 are a testament to his artistic sensibility. In the early 1930s, the first of his four phases of production, Stone was intent on trying out the European aesthetic of the first-generation modernists with whom he had been impressed in the 1932 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Disillusioned by its requisite Spartan decoration, however, he began to experiment with vernacular concepts using indigenous resources. He also absorbed the organic architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, who became a long-term friend and “personal hero.” By the late 1950s, Stone had synthesized these experiences in his own definition of modernism, which, suitably, has been called New Romanticism due to its decorative implications, and its originality and mass appeal made him an instant celebrity. With his second wife, Maria, he learned to work the fast-growing media to disperse his architecture through print, and, even more, the emergent medium of television. By 1966, Stone was said to have in production work valued at a billion dollars. So prolific was his output that some assumed he would inherit the mantle of Wright. However, as Stone spun out ever more variations of his signature aesthetic—increasingly classical but still with a rich variety of decoration—for corporations, institutions, and governments, he accumulated criticism and sometimes downright rejection. The disparity between the mass approval and critical dismissal of his architecture is illustrated in the contrasting appellations bestowed upon him: whereas J. William Fulbright, the Democratic senator from his native state, Arkansas, baptized Stone a “populist architect,” a Washington Post architecture critic labeled him a “kitsch-monger.” By the time Stone died, memories of his good fortune had faded. Stone’s legacy remained unresolved until the turn of the 21st century when some of his aging buildings began to be reassessed—for restoration, redevelopment, or demolition. Though lost to redevelopment, his building at Two Columbus Circle in New York City generated an extensive debate about his contributions, which, paradoxically, finally gave the architect a formidable presence in the histories of modern architecture. Researchers should be cognizant that current reassessments of his buildings—for maintenance, renovation, redevelopment, or demolition—are continuing to stimulate dialogue about Stone that can be insightful and informative.
General Overview of Stone’s Career
Before Hunting 2007, Stone 1962 and Stone 1967 were the only comprehensive volumes dedicated to the architect’s life story and production. Stone 1962 still remains the primary, and most widely quoted, source. Of the two long-overdue monographs on Stone—Stone 2013 and Hunting 2013—the latter is more expansive as it considers Stone’s architecture in relation to the development of American modernism. As Stone’s popularity grew at mid-century, numerous articles, including Sargeant 1959 and Jones 1958, reviewed his most prominent work and provided pertinent biographical information. Forsee 1966 and Heyer 1966 are also biographically informative. For contemporary perspectives and illustrations, researchers will benefit from the glut of commentaries in the architecture journals and regional newspapers, and for sources they should consult the footnotes in Hunting 2007 and Hunting 2013. The Edward Durell Stone Papers (1927–1974), comprised of both personal and professional documents, are invaluable, though incomplete, especially in the late years.
Edward Durell Stone Papers. 1927–1974.
Processed in two accessions, respectively in 1975 and 1979, for the first (MS St71/236/Stone), only an abridged finding aide is online; for the second (MC 340), a full finding aide is online. However, the staff is most accommodating with requests for further information.
Forsee, Aylesa. Men of Modern Architecture. Philadelphia: Macrae Smith, 1966.
In this obscure little book focusing on eight architects, twenty-eight pages are devoted to a summary on Stone, the information about his early years being particularly informative.
Heyer, Paul. Architects on Architecture: New Directions in America. New York: Walker, 1966.
As some eleven recent buildings by Stone are surveyed, the author not only weaves in the narrative of the architect but includes many rich quotations.
Hunting, Mary Anne. “Edward Durell Stone: Perception and Criticism.” PhD diss., City University of New York Graduate Center, 2007.
In this dissertation, the first comprehensive scholarly examination of the stylistic progression of Stone’s architecture, the focus is the conflict between the popular approval and critical dismissal of his buildings, which increased as Stone transgressed the basic principles of modernism with his signature aesthetic.
Hunting, Mary Anne. Edward Durell Stone: Modernism’s Populist Architect. New York: W. W. Norton, 2013.
The singular reassessment of Stone’s contributions relative to the transformation and acceptance of modernism in the United States. The text also examines the unprecedented influence of mass communications on the distribution and reception of his architecture. The seven chapters, chronologically organized, are enhanced by 189 black-and-white illustrations and forty-six new drawings of building plans and sections, along with extensive footnotes and a bibliography.
Jones, Cranston. “More Than Modern.” Art, Time LXXI.13 (31 March 1958).
This prestigious cover story reviews Stone’s ancestors and family, character, education, peer evaluations, past successes, and seven current works.
Sargeant, Winthrop. “From Sassafras Branches: Edward Durell Stone.” Profiles, New Yorker (3 January 1959), 32–34, 36, 38–49.
In describing the trend toward “more gaiety, variety, warmth, and charm” in modern architecture, the author’s frequently quoted profile—of Stone’s character, boyhood education, early career, and character as well as friendship with Frank Lloyd Wright, romance with his second wife, Maria, aesthetic philosophy, and best-known buildings—is among the most interesting.
Stone, Edward Durell. The Evolution of an Architect. New York: Horizon Press, 1962.
Following the model of Frank Lloyd Wright’s autobiography, this essential narrative is filled with superlative prose describing his experiences, ideas, and architecture. The 287 pages with more than 470 illustrations were created for promotion with the help of his second wife, Maria, to whom the book is dedicated. Includes entertaining anecdotes, colorful descriptions of family and friends, and delightful sketches.
Stone, Edward Durell. Recent and Future Architecture. New York: Horizon Press, 1967.
An enormous tome (13¾ by 14½ inches) obviously intended as a presentation book for clients. Black-and-white and color illustrations highlight Stone’s production between 1958 and 1966. The four-page introduction by Stone captures his convictions about architecture and the urban environment, his approach to architecture as a business, and his distinct modern aesthetic. Includes a useful list of buildings and projects between 1933 and 1966.
Stone, Hicks. Edward Durell Stone: A Son’s Untold Story of a Legendary Architect. New York: Rizzoli, 2013.
Admirable building descriptions, since the author is an architect. Includes comprehensive list of principal works and honors and impressive color illustrations, some from the family. Although the title implies a tell-all biographical sketch, the book is more of an anecdotal monograph, focused on establishing an enduring family legacy. It also is the outcome of the quest of a son (the youngest of three) to understand his father.
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