Edward Durell Stone, unlike many other International and Mid-Century Modern architects, has seen a lag in recognition. Though he died in 1978, he has seen no revival in reputation as Eero Saarinen, dead in 1961, or Walter Gropius, dead in 1969, or even like Marcel Breuer, dead in 1981. I make this aporetic remark only in that most people do not know of Edward Durell Stone, only to hate Edward Durell Stone. And maybe that is of good riddance. Oh, and by the way, he designed the Buffalo News Building downtown.
Born in 1902 in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Stone saw no real splash into the American architectural scene, rather a trickle. Living a seemingly typical middle-class childhood in a small southern city, he went to the University of Arkansas, where he excelled only in technical drawing. Moving to Boston, he found work at the architectural office of Henry Shipley, grandson of Henry Hobson Richardson, eventually pushing him to Harvard, failing out, and later to MIT. His earliest works, pre-International, were in the couture semi-Victorian styles popular in the day, rooms at the Waldorf Astoria and a stint designing the Radio City Music Hall, though not a small project. His architectural palate was not finally sated until he was introduced to Internationalism, particularly the 1932 show presented by the MOMA and curated by Henry Russell Hitchcock and Philip Johnson amusingly called Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, touting only those Buffalo colors, this was made possible due to our own hometown modernist – Anson Conger Goodyear.
By the late 1930s, much of Stone’s architectural principle had been laid and fortified and the young architect had already driven his own niche into the pool of bourgeois homebuilding and obsessive “Futurama.” It was at this time that Stone built the summer home of A. Conger Goodyear, now a national landmark. This house is remembered even today for its innovation in building a Modern home yet with the incorporation of unstereotypically intimate warmth. Modernism was no longer a taboo subject for the rich and famous; the style could, under the direction and peddling of Stone, be the visage of efficiency and unburdened living.
Going into the mid-century, Stone found himself in the middle of bigger and bigger works. In 1939, he landed the commission to design the permanent location for the Museum of Modern Art, edging out even the European master of LeCorbu. Stone emphasized the efficiency of the museum space and the ability for circulation to work seamlessly throughout the building, a completely anti-Victorian gesture. He had an opus right there in front of him, yet he chose instead to pursue tedious redirection. He, for much of the 1940s worked designing model homes, trying to perfect his obsession with efficiency under the constraint of money. He later designed the American Embassy in India, a veritable Modernist temple. He received adulation and ridicule in equal measure. Some found his latticework and clearly classical influence tacky, while others found this building to be a contemporary answer to a fundamentalist want, in other words “dream-like.” The embassy’s clear classic derivation will haunt much of Stone’s work until he dies.
As there remain many more works of Stone’s to fall next, including the famous Huntington Hartford Gallery (2 Columbus Circle), his next relevant work, at least in this strain of thought, is of the Kennedy Center in DC. In this work, he wished only to build the Modernist monument. Using opulence as a nudge into greatness, Stone built the lobby to be six stories high and 630 feet across; too large for any real purpose; too large for any real want other than to impose submission by the audience. The Kennedy Center, with its gleaming white walls, red carpets, drapeaud galleries, and over the top proportions, was nicknamed “the beached white whale” and compared by Ada Louis Huxtable to the work of Albert Speer, Hitler’s Chief Architect. The Kennedy Center was completed in 1971.
In 1969, as the Buffalo News was entering its 91st year, the old jumble at 214 and 218 Main Street became unmanageable for the proprietor, Kate Butler. She tapped Stone, who was working on his project in Washington, to design the new home for the Buffalo News, where there had been the railyards of the Lehigh Valley Railroad and across from the beautiful Beaux Arts Terminal. The building was completed in 1973.
Seeing where this beauty may be received as the “ugliest building in Buffalo,” this might only be due to the structure’s reliance upon something, that in the twenty-first century may be referred to as, cold or harsh – concrete. In Brutalism, dragging Stone along with it, a style emerged built in hope and clear-cut intention. Architects wished to build temples to the Modern age, where the common became elevated, and not denied in want. The Modern stone – concrete – was to replicate the already centuries old buildings that emphasized the sacred relationships between people. It was only after this thought process had time to digest in the belly of American culture that Americans wished not to be subsumed by the harsh intensity of cold rock. It is important to understand Stone’s intention for the building as much as his reality.
Stone looked to the News’s purpose of relaying truth and comfort to the Buffalo community, making his client the prime candidate for a Brutalist edifice. Concrete was not only the modern stone, but also the cheapest, and most readily accessible, material around. A public institution, such as the News is, could not afford for marble or granite or steel in the Miesian form of opulence. The building is clearly Modern in its use of plain façade, patterned concrete, strip windows, and sparse landscaping. The upper floors, where much of the News’s work is done, takes from Stone’s obsessive efficiency in large open floorplans. Utilizing contemporary construction tactics, Stone utilized site cast and pre-cast concrete in the building, especially seen in the lower façade paneling; this technique aided in giving the building its feeling of mass and hefty proportions. The seems found between the panels are echoed through from top-to-bottom with upper paneling, window spacing, and lower pilotes. The News Building, in that way, looks almost like a temple supported by simple columns.
In 1973, when the building first opened, the Brutalist style was already in vogue. Shopping Malls, Public Court Buildings, City Halls, Airports, and the like, were all being designed and built out of concrete forms. This style grew dysfunctional, hard to manage, even expensive, and so, when the deconstructuralists of the later twentieth century decided to build thinner, weightless buildings, this style went the way of old cars – clunky, inefficient, and ugly. That is why the News building can sometimes be called the “ugliest building in Buffalo.” Edward Durell Stone died only a few years later.
“Edward Durell Stone, FAIA (1902-1978).” US Modernist. Accessed February 1, 2018. http://www.ncmodernist.org/stone.htm
Hunting, Mary Anne, “Edward Durell Stone: Modernisms’s Populist Architect.” New York: W.W. Norton, 2012, 176 pp.
LaChiusa, Charles, “The Buffalo News Building.” Buffalo Architectural History. Accessed February 1, 2018. http://buffaloah.com/a/news/tc.html
Paletta, Anthony, “The Most Hated of Architects: On Edward Durell Stone.” Los Angeles Review of Books. Published January 30, 2013. Accessed February 1, 2018. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-most-hated-of-architects-on-edward-durrell-stone/
Salomon, David, “Review: Edward Durell Stone: Modernism’s populist Architect by Mary Anne Hunting.” University of California Press. Published December 1, 2014. Accessed February 1, 2018. http://jsah.ucpress.edu/content/73/4/605
Welton, Michael, “A Second look at Edward Durell Stone.” Architects and Artisans. Published November 15, 2012. Accessed February 1, 2018. http://architectsandartisans.com/a-second-look-at-edward-durell-stone/