Monday, December 3, 2018

Visit: Glen Echo Park

Glen Echo Park Entrance Sign

Glen Echo Park is a rare gem. Nestled in the Maryland woods just outside of Washington, D.C., this U.S. National Park was at one time a regional amusement park. One scenic trolley ride away from the city, and guests could spend their summers riding on the attractions, swimming in the pools, or dancing in the ballroom. When the park closed in 1968, it was acquired by the National Park Service, and was re-purposed as an arts and culture community hub (I'm skipping a lot of detail, see the bottom of this post for links to further reading).

I love all the different architectural styles scattered throughout. You have the Rustic Chautauqua Tower and carousel building, the Art Deco Arcade, the Spanish/Art Deco mix on the Spanish Ballroom, and then the 1970's wooden yurt colony. It's an eclectic mix, and differs so much from the predominantly Neoclassical/Brutalist landscape that makes up Washington, D.C.

Carousel and Arcade Building

Visiting recently has brought back some old memories. In the late 1990's, my parents would take me here to see puppet shows by The Puppet Co.. Glen Echo really stuck out for me. It was the first somewhat-neglected place I had ever visited. Many of the buildings had paint that was faded or chipping-away. A rusting shooting gallery had been overtaken by plants, and you could see the sky through a large opening in the ceiling. There were quite a few buildings around, but it didn't ever look like they were regularly open.

I remember the yurts seemed so alien to me

Notably, I was drawn to the Crystal Pool. The Crystal Pool was an outdoor multi-swimming pool complex that could allow 3,000 guests to swim at once. After the amusement park closed, the pools were filled in and/or demolished. What remained was the monumental entry door and the remnants of the lower level of the diving pool. By the 90's, the diving pool had a forest growing out of it. Peering through the peep holes in the door, or looking down at the pool from the playground up the hill, it captured my imagination.

Crystal Pool Facade in 2008
(CC Image courtesy of Tina Saey, "Crystal pool" on Flickr)

Looking back, Glen Echo was the first location I ever realized had a past. Everything I had seen previous had been in good condition and open for business. I started questioning what had been there before, and what had happened to have it reach its present condition? Most importantly, the Crystal Pool had me thinking, could this and the other closed structures reopen? Later on, that trail of thinking would lead to: how would this place reopen?, aka adaptive reuse/preservation!

So, what did I think the Crystal Pool was/could be? I remember it best in winter, so leaves and underbrush weren't obscuring the space. It looked like the trees were supposed to be there, or maybe I liked how the trees looked (These memories are going on 20ish years, please bear with me). What I thought it was/could be was a private contemplative walk around a pond. It didn't seem that exciting. It didn't really make sense why guests would want to pay to do that, but who was I to judge?

Remnants of the Crystal Pool's diving pool in 2018. The
entrance is to the right of the picture. The trees have been
cut down since my visits in the 1990's.

Well, I grew a little older, and puppet shows weren't as exciting, so my parents stopped taking me to Glen Echo (Anything else Glen Echo offered could be found a little closer to home). From then until now, the park has gone through some terrific renovations to revitalize its buildings. Things have been painted in the last 20 years. Buildings have been faithfully restored or reconstructed. I would not have come up with the same questions I had had back then if I visited now.

Looking down the restored Arcade

The Crystal Pool's entry door has been restored to its former glory, and the forest in the diving pool has been cut down, with a tarp now covering up the foundation. Other than that, the site remains untouched and unused. It's odd, because it seems like it is the only site in Glen Echo that has not been re-purposed yet.

Crystal Pool Entry in 2018, restored

In 2017, architecture students from the University of Maryland proposed three master plan concepts to Glen Echo's board. Two of the plans suggested turning Crystal Pool into an outdoor amphitheater. I think that would be an excellent idea! The Bumper Car and Cuddle-Ups pavilions could serve in that capacity, but they lack the infrastructure and space required of most live theater/dance performances. Crystal Pool, a blank canvas past the doorway, would be a more ideal environment to have that happen in.

Bumper Car Pavilion

Glen Echo continues to exude its unique, magical charm. I look forward to see how it continues to evolve over the years. It's doing great things and is beloved by its community. I cannot wait until my next visit.

Glen Echo Park Entrance Sign & Chautauqua Tower
(It needs to get painted again)

Glen Echo on the Potomac TV Documentary
National Park Service - Glen Echo
Glen Echo Park Partnership for Arts and Culture
The Historical Marker Database - Glen Echo Park’s Crystal Pool
The Historical Marker Database - The Glen Echo Park Yurts
Book - Glen Echo Park: A Story of Survival
A General History of Glen Echo Park (c. 1997)
Postcard From Past Glen Echo (pre-2000's renovation pictures)
“Fun is Where You Find It”: A New Plan for Glen Echo Park

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

SUNY Albany, or Edward Durell Stone built an EPCOT

State University of New York at Albany.

Great minds think alike. I have been an avid Disney fan for over a decade now, so I have immersed myself in much of the lore, including Walt Disney's plans for a city of tomorrow, the original EPCOT. While touring Edward Durell Stone's State University of New York at Albany (aka SUNY Albany or University at Albany), I had this odd sensation it was all eerily familiar. Not just because Stone designed many similarly-looking buildings, but because I kept being reminded of Disney's fabled city. Two massive building projects, one dreamed, one built, but both thought up in the same couple of years. While they do have their differences, I wanted to explore the similarities between Walt Disney's EPCOT and Edward Durell Stone's University at Albany.

Visionary movie producer and theme park creator Walt Disney had plans to build the future. After secretly buying thousands of acres of land in Florida in the 1960's, he publicly announced his plans to build a new complex. Along with a Florida theme park, Disney proposed an Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow, or in short, EPCOT. This would be a testing ground for new kinds of city living. New technologies would be tried out in a planned, controlled environment, meant to make the lives of its citizens better. If an experimental technology proved successful in EPCOT, then it could be deployed to regular cities around the world, benefiting everyone. A great, big, beautiful tomorrow was just a dream away.

A radial city design was chosen upon. In the center would be a skyscraper hotel and convention center, the city's "weenie" (Weenie is a Disney term for a visual icon that draws people towards it, like Sleeping Beauty Castle or Spaceship Earth). The central skyscraper would sit on top of an urban center that contained shopping, pleasantly-arranged office high-rises, and a transportation hub. Hugging the urban center would be high-density housing complexes. Surrounding that would be a greenbelt. The greenbelt, while having plenty of green space and ponds, would also have athletic fields/stadiums, schools, churches, and space for outdoor fairs/events. Beyond the belt was the last ring around the city, low-density residential areas. This final area could be expanded farther out as needed.

Transportation would make up the backbone of this city. Cars and service vehicles (undesirable elements) would be relegated to underground tunnels and perimeter roads surrounding the city. Residents would use different paths that would be open to electric carts, bicycles, or walking. To reach further areas of the city, residents could ride the PeopleMover (continuously-moving, automated transit trains) on elevated rails. From the urban center, PeopleMover tracks would reach all the way out to the low-density residential areas. Monorails would also factor into the design, linking the city with other areas across the Disney property.

After Disney's death in 1966, Disney's heirs tried to live up to the grand plan as best as they could. While creating a literal city was off the table, the Disney Company instead infused many of the city's ideas into the Florida property. The Magic Kingdom was built over tunnels that hid utilities, service areas, and employee transportation around the park. Many utility systems across the property were state-of-the-art and/or experimental when built. Monorails were the flagship transportation system for the property, and the PeopleMover made an appearance as a park attraction in The Magic Kingdom's Tomorrowland. The 1983 EPCOT Center theme park (now named Epcot) was built to be closer to a permanent World's Fair than a living city. It originally showcased future technologies and different cultural communities from around the world, all through the magic of edutainment. The Disney Company would eventually create an unicorporated town named Celebration. Celebration proposed some new ideas for better ways of living, but had more in common with a livable theme park than EPCOT. The Disney Company will probably never create Walt Disney's EPCOT.

Now, let's pivot. While Walt Disney was planning out EPCOT, acclaimed architect Edward Durell Stone was building one. We could call it an Experimental Prototype College of Tomorrow, or in short, the University at Albany.

The University at Albany campus had been situated in downtown Albany. Thanks to increased enrollment, it was looking to expand itself to accommodate more students. Unfortunately, the campus was completely landlocked in its downtown area. A former golf course outside of the crowded downtown was chosen as the site of the university's new uptown campus location. Edward Durell Stone was tasked with designing it. With virtually a blank slate, he could build his idea of the perfect college campus.

Ground was broken in August of 1962. 13 academic buildings and 36 dormitories were built to accommodate up to 7,500 students. The academic buildings would all share the same foundation, an elevated platform called the Academic Podium. For the fall semester of 1964, some students were able to live in recently-completed dormitories. However, it would be 2 more years before the uptown campus started holding classes, and 3 more after that before the campus was finally finished.  The project stayed on schedule and under budget. Because Stone was building a complete college campus all at once, the college had a unified look and layout. It was an urban planning feat on many levels.

As I said earlier, both the Albany and EPCOT projects share many similarities. Even though Albany is set up as a rectangle instead of as a circle, it still features specialized rings like EPCOT. In the center of the campus is a courtyard with a fountain and a 251-foot pillar, the weenie of campus. The inner ring of buildings surrounding the courtyard are all focused on campus community and culture: the Library, the Campus Center, and the Performing Arts Center. The next ring, which follows along the perimeter of the Podium, focuses on classrooms and department offices. Once past the Academic Podium are four dormitory quads, each one by the Podium's corners. Around and beyond the quads is campus's own "green belt," including athletic fields, parking, and open fields and forests.

Public transportation was not a huge factor of the Albany campus. Stone, however, shared Disney's disdain for cars. Shortly after the campus opened, Stone told a student interviewer, "Nothing is more fatal to architecture than to have buildings located in a parking lot." The University at Albany would be a walking campus. Parking was relegated to the edges of campus. In creating the Academic Podium, Stone also created service tunnels underneath the main thoroughfares, like those that were planned for EPCOT. This was so auxiliary service functions could still take place.

Both projects have a minor focus on green spaces. One cannot simply build urban expanses -- there needs to be a balance of nature and the constructed environment. EPCOT had its greenbelt, with "a broad expanse of beautiful lawns and walks and trees" (EPCOT film transcript, The Original E.P.C.O.T). Trees and shrubs were also drawn throughout the concept art of EPCOT's shopping areas. At the Albany campus, Stone scattered planters and green courtyards throughout the Academic Podium. Off the Podium, there were plenty of trees and green spaces. SUNY Albany's landscape was designed by architects Clarke & Rapuano.

Aerial Photograph of the University at Albany in a hallway
at the University at Albany.

Even looking beyond what was built, there are many similarities between Disney's city of tomorrow and colleges in general. College is a training ground for the mind, experimenting with new and thought-provoking ideas. It helps grow students into the thinkers and dreamers of tomorrow, which they could then theoretically shape the world around them for the better. Disney's marketing focus for EPCOT was on being a training ground for technologies, but that isn't to say EPCOT would be limited to only one outlet for finding a better tomorrow.

Another similar aspect of EPCOT and colleges is the control. For EPCOT, Walt Disney wanted absolute control over everything. He successfully had the State of Florida give him municipal jurisdiction over his land (something Walt Disney World still benefits from today). He also wanted all the citizens to rent, so no one would own the property. By not owning property, they couldn't vote on changes in the city. Disney would be free to switch out technology in homes as he pleased. Colleges can also exert this force. Students rent dorm rooms, and don't outright have a say in college operations. It is at the will and discretion of the college administration for how much impact a student government can have. This is why some colleges have dry campuses or impose curfews. At the end of the day, a college/Disney has the final say.

There are still differences in the plans. EPCOT was planned to be much larger than SUNY Albany. EPCOT was envisioned to have 20,000 residents, while Albany was designed for 7,500 students. While Albany can get away with not having transportation systems, EPCOT's size alone necessitated it. EPCOT was also going to have many differing architectural styles. While a majority of EPCOT's buildings would use then-contemporary styles, the indoor shopping area below the hotel would use older ones. Called the International Shopping Center, every section would be themed to a different locale around the globe (This grew from the idea of adding an International Street at Disneyland, and later manifested as World Showcase at EPCOT Center). At Albany, Edward Durell Stone had his signature style, and all of the original campus followed this one aesthetic.

Both Disney and Stone had plenty of urban planning experience and knowledge. Edward Durell Stone was a studied architect and had years of experience. He also had a natural knack for layout and finding a simple solution to complex spacial requirements. By the time he designed the Albany campus, he had designed a couple hospitals, hotels, and college master plans. For Disney, Disneyland was praised by urban planner James W. Rouse as the "greatest piece of urban design in the United States." The Disney Company thought so as well; to date, they have copied and adapted the original park's design for five other theme parks around the world. Once Walt Disney came up with the idea for EPCOT, he did a lot more research into urban planning before he reached the plan we know today. I think the fact that these plans are so similar, it does give Disney a lot of credit for his urban planning talents.

I don't believe these men had much interaction together, if any. I can't seem to find any mention on the internet of any Disney/Stone connection. For the 1958 World's Fair, the Disney attraction Circarama was part of the United States pavilion. The pavilion complex was designed by Stone, so it is very likely they exchanged correspondences. Any possible evidence of interaction would probably exist in either the Disney Archives and the University of Arkansas' Edward Durell Stone papers.

I'd like to conclude. Walt Disney and Edward Durell Stone were brilliant men of their time, and did amazing things in their fields. Many people bemoan that Disney's city of tomorrow never got to see today, but I believe a close-cousin version of it was built just up the road in Upstate New York.


Postscript: A Review of SUNY Albany

Courtyard view from the Futterer Lounge in the
Performing Arts Center.

[Full Disclosure: I am a current employee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Any opinions expressed below about the Kennedy Center are my own personal views and do not represent that of the Center, its management, or its staff.]

This campus. Wow.

It is so huge. The Academic Podium is 580 feet wide and 1,540 feet long (To compare, the podium that the Kennedy Center sits upon is around 690 feet long). I thought the Kennedy Center's colonnade was long -- Albany's go on forever. And that's not all, this entire campus covers 360 acres. It's sprawling! This is not a campus for those who hate exercise.

Looking down from one end of the colonnade
to the other at SUNY Albany.

I see this as a visually stunning campus featuring a great layout, but the logistics and the realities the design faces undermine it.

It is amazing to stand in the central courtyard and be surrounded by the Stone aesthetic. It's a lovely feeling that everything goes together. Not many architects get to shape a whole environment of buildings. The repetition of elements becomes a strong architectural statement.

That all being said, wayfinding is difficult when everything looks the same. To help people out, maps and signs are posted everywhere. This ultimately leads to a cluttered look. It's frustrating to see buildings age in this manner. I feel if architects want to control this better, they either have to make their layouts ridiculously simple, or build in more wayfinding tools/directional signage. Stone did have some wayfinding built in, but it needed more. A college where everything looks the same is inherently going to need more wayfinding tools than a college that has architecturally-diverse buildings.

Stone made the Academic Podium have covered paths so that students could walk outside in any type of weather. Nevertheless, New York winters can be brutal even without precipitation. You still have freezing temperatures and wind (which the colonnades are known to enhance). The utility tunnels,  envisioned exclusively for service vehicle use, are now also used as pedestrian walkways. It feels like there was some misunderstanding of the local weather when the complex was being designed. It's a great campus, but this design would have been better if built somewhere warmer. While there are enclosed pedestrian-only paths built into the design, more of them would have improved campus usability in the winter months. This would have also ensured that the utility tunnels could remain exclusively auxiliary.

Utility tunnel at University at Albany. Big pipes!
The pedestrian path is on the right-hand side,
denoted by the yellow line.

Maintenance across the Podium varies. The more important locations are better taken care of than the off-the-beaten-path walkways and quads. This is even more apparent because everything looks the same. If one section's quality of care is at a lower level than others, it will stand out.

Landscaping also has struggling patches. I have found at a lot of places I have visited, landscape maintenance is seen as an afterthought, or is piecemeal. I believe that this is an incorrect way of thinking. Landscaping is just as integral to the experience as the building is. Modernist and Brutalist buildings don't always look good standing on their own. A little greenery can break up the starkness. It can make a place feel more alive. I think Albany should invest in a landscaping master plan.

Even if there are new plantings here, can anyone explain the
placements of the larger plants and rocks in this planter?

The two large courtyards on either end of the Podium, however, were well planted. I was especially surprised and delighted looking down one colonnade and seeing what looked like the edge of a forest growing inside the Podium.

Look at that forest! (I took a lot of shots down
the colonnades.)

Looking into a lush courtyard

I wrote earlier how I enjoyed campus's architectural cohesiveness. This does not include almost all of the expansions touching the Academic Podium and in close proximity to it. They stick out like sore thumbs. They either vaguely try to be similar to the original design, or do whatever they want. For such a highly-stylized campus that started with such a strong architectural identity, why would you add something that doesn't go along with the rest? It takes away some of that power. 

Colleges, heed my words. You don't always need that new contemporary architectural style on campus. If your campus already has amazing architectural cohesion, fight against the temptation for that different style. It will all be worth it!

The one slight exception I found for an expansion was University Hall. This administration building, built in 2006, is right next to the main entranceway to the Podium. It is this wavy-mirror structure that is set on an angle from the Podium. It is intentionally not fitting in with Stone's design, while reflecting his design in its glass. I can grudgingly appreciate that. My only wish is that the building on the other side of the entranceway mirrored University Hall. Instead, the Massry Center for Business was built in 2013 with a different look. 

University Hall (Left), Stone's SUNY Albany (Center),
and the Massry Center for Business (Right). I barely took
any shots of the expansions, I was not having it.

I have a lot of strong criticisms for this campus, but I don't want that to bury the fact that it is beautiful and I did enjoy walking around it.

Stone's style is on full display here. There are overhanging eaves with cut-outs everywhere. Hanging circular planters are present, but serve more as lighting than for holding plants. I even found some metal grillework in the central courtyard with a decorative pattern!

Fun grillework cover!

The columns are always the main stars here. Again, I really like that melting column look at the top. When there are rows of columns running parallel to each other, it creates this modern Gothic/Islamic architecture vibe.

Columns melting into the entranceway's ceiling

Another opportunity to give you a
looking-down-the-colonnade shot,
featuring the ceiling.

I have never seen anything like the columns in the library. One part melting column, one part sunburst light. They're a little strange, but I really like them. They seem like a maintenance nightmare, plenty of individual strands were out. It was a challenge to find a completely lit column to photograph.

Loved this aisle

Example of a column with unlit strands

Rare shot of two columns next to each other
all lit up

Sunburst Columns everywhere! It's really lovely.

The main fountain in the central courtyard is of note. It is a lovely, relaxing oasis on campus. The day I visited was very hot, so other people were sticking their feet in the water to cool down. The fountain was renovated 2012-2014, with a new jet design and walkway bisecting the pool. The renovation was designed by Stone Architects, LLC, led by Hicks Stone, Edward Durell Stone's son. Its use of angled lines give off its younger age, but it does very much fit in with the original design.

Central Fountain

I liked the boxed trees along the perimeter of the Podium. They reminded me of the ones that used to surround the Kennedy Center.

Boxed trees!

The Performing Arts Center was closed when I visited, so I have no comments on those spaces.

The 251-foot pillar in the central courtyard is actually a water storage tank with a carillon on top. It was awarded "Steel Tank of the Year" in 1968 by the Steel Plate Fabricators Association for being utilitarian and beautiful!

The prettiest water tower

I visited one of the four dormitory quads, the Colonial Quad. The quads are two stories tall (as opposed to the Academic Podium structures being three stories tall). In each of their courtyards is a 22-story dormitory tower.

A corner entrance to Colonial Quad.
The paint on those columns is ROUGH.

The two-story dorms match the style of the Podium. The towers are very bare & unadorned, which is unfortunately par for the course of Edward Durell Stone tower structures. They copy the wall facade used throughout SUNY Albany. Did not get to go inside any of the dorms, but peering through a window, the rooms look pretty college-standard to me.

Base of the tower. Accessibility is addressed through long
& short-term solutions. Being added in retroactively, the
ramps do not blend in well with the original design.

Corner Dorm Room

It's hard to find a bad angle here. Campus is really photogenic.

Corner of the Academic Podium

Looking at the entrance to SUNY Albany, featuring
post-Stone water features

My final thoughts: Visit the University at Albany during the summer when everything is green and the fountains are on. Wear comfortable footwear to walk in. Soak in the Stone aesthetic while dipping your feet in the central fountain. You don't need to look at the expansions, you don't need to enroll/live there. Just get lost in the Academic Podium, and enjoy this architectural gem.

Central Courtyard Fountain

Sources Used:
Since the World Began by Jeff Kurtti
Realityland: True-Life Adventures at Walt Disney World by Dave Koenig
The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World by Alex Wright & The Imagineers
"There's A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow" by the Sherman Brothers.
The Original E.P.C.O.T
University at Albany SUNY Campus Heritage Preservation Plan (465 pages, I love it)
Edward Durell Stone: A Son's Untold Story of a Legendary Architect by Hicks Stone
"Edward Durell Stone" UAlbany sign in the main courtyard
Campus Update: University Hall Opens
Cutting-Edge University at Albany School of Business Building
Google Earth, Kennedy Center
The Millennium Stage: What if... 1971?

Fun Additional Readings/Listenings:
Was the Campus of the University of [sic] Albany Originally Designed to be Used in Arizona?
Disney History Institute: Disney vs. Russia Part 1 [focus on Disney at the 1958 Brussels's World Fair]
Disney History Institute: Disney vs Russia Part 2 [focus on Disney at the 1958 Brussels's World Fair]

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The First Kennedy Center Design

The Kennedy Center

[Full Disclosure: I am a current employee of the Kennedy Center. Any opinions expressed in this piece are my own personal views and do not represent that of the Center, its management, or its staff.]

"This structure should be harmonious with buildings of official Washington and yet record the advances in the art of architecture in our country. It will become the showcase for our indigenous talent and culture. We have been far too modest in recognizing our cultural attainments."          -Edward Durell Stone, Evolution of an Architect

When most people think of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, they think of the elevated marble box along the Potomac River. Today, I want to share with you the story of the fabled and unrealized first design of this building.

Let's go back in time to 1958, back when the Kennedy Center was known simply as the National Cultural Center. Up to that point, the United States had not had a nationally-designated facility showcasing its performing arts. That all changed with the National Cultural Center Act. Signed into law by President Eisenhower in September 1958, this act created a Board of Trustees and an Advisory Committee on the Arts to bring this long sought-after dream to reality. One stipulation of the Act was that all the money for construction had to be raised in five years time (September 1963), or the project would be scrapped. The Center also had a specified plot of land to use in Washington, D.C.'s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. A majority of the land within the site was already federally-owned. The other parcels would be purchased later on.

Current site size outlined in purple.
Approximate original site size outlined in yellow-green.
(Aerial Image: Google)

The plot had an unusual kidney-bean shape. To figure out how best to use the site, Center officials decided to hire an architect-advisor. Senator William Fulbright of Arkansas, a founding Kennedy Center trustee, proposed Edward Durell Stone for this position. The trustees approved this choice in June 1959.

After visiting the site, Stone showed a lot of interest in having the Center right on the water. To get there, Rock Creek Parkway (which was more inland than it is now) would need to land swap with the Center. The National Park Service approved the land swap idea.

In Mid-July 1959, Stone presented two schemes at the executive committee meeting. One was of multiple performance hall buildings, crowding the site up. The second scheme was one building with three performance halls in a line, joined together by a long hallway lobby (Sound familiar?). Stone argued that one building would save from building multiple heating/cooling plants, parking facilities, and box offices, and would also not require more than one maintenance or housekeeping team. While it was noted the second scheme utilized areas outside of the legislated site boundaries, Stone wanted the Center to follow the D.C. architectural style of monumental buildings in park-like settings. The committee approved it for recommendation to the Center Trustees. Trustees would review the scheme at the next joint Trustee-Advisory meeting at the end of September.

As the month of September rolled around, Stone reached an epiphany. He called his Center contact, Jarold Kieffer, to say he was throwing out the approved scheme for something a little more radical. "Jerry, wait until you see this new concept," Stone said, "You'll see why I am willing to gamble." Another executive meeting was held before the joint meeting, and the new concept was met with approval.

At the joint Trustee-Advisory meeting, Stone presented his new design. Although the architect-advisor position was only supposed to come up with site organization ideas, Stone presented a fully fleshed-out design of his new concept. Stone's gentle charm won over those present, and his design concept, site layout, and his role as Center architect were all approved in one fell swoop. The design was later approved by the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts, and tentatively approved by the National Capital Planning Commission. President Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon both liked the design. The concept was finally presented to the public on November 22, 1959 to favorable reviews.

What was this radical concept?

Illustration of the first design of the National Cultural Center.
Edward Durell Stone Collection (MC 340), Box 104, JFK1.
Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville.

The National Cultural Center would be a curvilinear walled structure that vaguely resembled a clamshell. Everything would radiate outwards from a circular core. The Center would be right on the water, with terraced steps extending 180 feet into the Potomac at its peak.

National Cultural Center Main Floor Plan

The central circular core would be called the Grand Salon (1). The 75 foot-high space would be marked by a ring of columns and chandeliers, a semicircle elevated walkway to the theaters, and capped with a glass dome. This would have been the ultimate special event space. Large balls, receptions, state visits, and performances in-the-round could be held here. It was calculated the space could seat up to 6,000 people for a dinner.

Surrounding the Grand Salon were the performance venues. To the east was a 3,000 to 4,000-seat opera house (2). A 2,700 to 3,000-seat concert hall (3) and a 1,700 to 1,800-seat traditional theater (4) would be in the other wings. In the opera house block, two more venues (5) would sit alongside the opera house, an 800 to 1000-seat recital hall and a 400 to 700-seat experimental theater.

To the west, the Grand Salon's river-facing wall would be an uninterrupted floor-to-ceiling stretch of windows. A restaurant/cafe in this area would enjoy the views from inside (6). Outside, terraced stairs would go all the way down to the water (7), greeted by shooting fountains on each side. It was envisioned foreign dignitaries would arrive to the Center via a boat and step off onto the terrace for a grand entrance experience. "The Center will give such visitors an initial and lasting impression of America -- an impression of which we may all be proud," touted a National Cultural Center brochure.

Much like the Hall of States and Hall of Nations today, the main entrances would be two hallways in-between the main performance halls (8). These hallways would each have a rectangular skylight running most of the length of the hall's ceiling. The hallways were situated so that from the center of the Grand Salon, you could see down New Hampshire Avenue (9) from the northeast hall, and the Lincoln Memorial from the southeast hall.

Along the outside of the building, much like the current building, there would be a large overhanging eave supported by golden columns. Hanging Planters would be placed between every other column. Two roundabouts (each surrounding a fountain (10)) would mark each entrance area.

Rock Creek Parkway (11) would be relocated to the other side of the Center and connect the two roundabouts. F Street would still be present, for some reason (12). 

Parking would be under the main level. The Center could hold around 1,000 parking spaces on two levels (In comparison, the Kennedy Center opened in 1971 with approximately 1,400 spaces on three levels). For parking entrances, two versions were proposed. One version had cars entering the building from the main entrance roundabouts. In the other, cars would have had their own separate entry plazas by the back wall of the concert hall and theater.

There would still be a roof level of the building, but it would not be open to the public. Administrative offices and tv/radio broadcasting studios would have filled the space. Along with offices for Center staff, various cultural organizations would also be offered a portion of office space. The whole roof section would be entirely windowless and include no outside terrace area.

So, with the design approved, it was all smooth sailing from then on, right? Well, there were some complications.

As noted before, the government-mandated site was too oddly-shaped to utilize efficiently. Edward Durell Stone's Center design spilled over into other lots.

Current site size outlined in purple.
Approximate original site size outlined in yellow-green.
(Aerial Image: Google)

The designated land was never going to be enough space for everything that was proposed for the Center's complex. In order to get a site expansion, however, Congress would have to approve new legislation. This would take time.

Complicating the matter was the Water Gate Inn restaurant and its owner, Marjory Hendricks. The Inn was a popular restaurant of no relation to the current Watergate Complex. It was on land that wasn't part of the Center's original land plot, but was included in Stone's design. Hendricks was not happy about this. She wrote letters and drummed up support on Capitol Hill for the Inn. One of her points she used was that her site was part of a historic trail. In 1755, General Braddock led troops (including a young George Washington) along this part of the river on the way to a skirmish known as Braddock's Defeat at Fort Duquesne. Building the Center complex onto her site would destroy any historical significance the site had.

There were also many on Capitol Hill and elsewhere who wanted the National Cultural Center anywhere but along the river. Some wanted it on the National Mall where the Air and Space Museum would eventually be built. Others lobbied for it to be on Pennsylvania Avenue. Any time Center officials had to ask for an amendment or change, people would reignite the site debate.

Land issues would continue to be a pressing issue. Long story short, legislation was approved for an expanded site footprint in July 1964. As for Hendricks' historic claims, Center officials proved with aerial photography that her whole site had been underwater until the early 20th century. Hendricks' property was eventually condemned to be included in the Center's site.

Another long term issue was money. The National Cultural Center Act of 1958 stated that all money needed to build the Center would have to be raised by September 1963, or the project would end. Stone estimated the first design would cost $61 million to build. There were also other costs the Center had to pay before even building anything. They had loan payments, land acquisition, staff fees, architect fees, legal, publicity, and fundraising fees. These costs would bring the estimated price tag up to $75 million. In today's money, that would be $632 million. It was going to be a lot of money.

By 1960, there was still no overall approved fundraising plan for the project. The first consultant firm hired failed to have any inspiring methods of raising money. They were replaced by another. Members of the fund-raising committee threw ideas around, but nothing was decided upon. There were ideas of utilizing President Eisenhower to help raise funds. This never happened. One committee member had an interesting idea to wait two years and then start a mass public appeal in 1962 (a year before the fundraising deadline). This idea was not pursued either. Fundraising was stalled at the starting line while time ticked away. What little funds had been raised were dwindling.

To help reduce the amount needed before the deadline, a phased-opening strategy was proposed. In the phase one of the build, the building's outer shell, one performance venue (most likely the opera house), and the parking garage would all be constructed. The rest of the performance venues would be finished later once money became available. The first phase would only cost $30 million.

While money sputtered along, a bigger storm was brewing. The U.S. presidential election of 1960 was in high-gear. Republicans chose Vice President Richard Nixon as their candidate, and Democrats chose Senator John F. Kennedy. Both Nixon and Kennedy were for a National Cultural Center. While Nixon fully pledged his support towards the project, Kennedy's support was more muted, wishing the Center be built "as speedily as possible." Kennedy ultimately won the race, and became president.

As the National Cultural Center, many board positions were presidentially-appointed, or served "at the pleasure of the president." With a new president, many were unsure if they would continue in their current roles. Center officials tried to reach out to President Kennedy to learn his thoughts on board appointees or even anything about his views on the Center project. They were met by White House aides and representatives, but never Kennedy himself. They received no definite answers or information. They started to wonder, did Kennedy actually support the Center?

Center officials heard through rumors that the President had questions on how large and costly the Center was, so he did not want to work directly on the Center project. Center officials countered with suggesting Kennedy should then elect individuals into Center leadership positions. That way, they could assess the Center's design, make changes if needed, and he could trust their wisdom. Kennedy also did not want to make leadership choices for the Center, preferring the Center do that. Center officials said candidates for the presidential-approved positions would want to feel like Kennedy approved of them from the start. If Kennedy didn't want to look himself, they asked, could a representative from the White House be chosen to search for appropriate candidates? Many of these points were repeated over and over again to many White House aides and representatives.

Months passed by, money continued to disappear. Many Center officials grew frustrated. Chairman Corrin Strong did not want to be chairman anymore and threatened to resign multiple times due to the President's inaction. In late May 1961, Board of Trustees member Catherine Filene Shouse was able to directly speak with the President about Center issues. Kennedy agreed to assign an aide to the task of finding new Center leadership. Candidates were hard to come by though, and more months drew on.

During this waiting period, the National Cultural Center got some bad news regarding the river terrace's 180 foot intrusion into the Potomac River.

National Cultural Center River Intrusion & size comparison
Red - the overhanging eave outline
Orange - the river terrace steps
Yellow - the size of the Kennedy Center in 1971
(Aerial Image: Google)

At the Center's point on the river, 180 feet is roughly 20% of the river width. When the Army Corps of Engineers were approached about the river terrace, they said the terrace might bottleneck the river at that point and cause flooding upstream. No yea or nea was decided upon. On August 1961, the Army Corps colonel overseeing the Potomac River brought Center officials images of ice floes on the Potomac. Ice floes are very dangerous for any structure along the river. River narrowing could also cause ice dams that could wreck havoc downstream. The colonel also let Center officials know that whoever intruded last into a river bore the legal liability for property damage if flooding occurred upstream.

With this in mind, Center officials decided that the National Cultural Center could not go into the water. However, there was not enough space to the east to move the whole design onto land. A few alternative terraces were thought up, but in that moment, the design unofficially died. The National Cultural Center now had no money, not enough land, unknown presidential approval, and no design with a future.

(This would not be the last Center attempt to expand over or onto the water. A few expansion plans over the years have proposed extending the River Terrace above the water or building stairs down to a small dock for water taxi service. Most recently the current southern expansion, known as the REACH, originally planned to have one of its pavilions permanently anchored next to the shore. Concerns about the environment and activism from the Potomac River's boating community led to the pavilion moving onto land. As much as they look great next to each other, the Kennedy Center and water have not mixed well together.)

On Labor Day weekend 1961, Roger Stevens was appointed as the new Chairman for the National Cultural Center. In October, Stevens met with President Kennedy to learn his thoughts on the Center. Kennedy said that the price tag was too huge, and he was opposed to the phased opening plan, noting the significance of a national cultural center being an empty shell.

Stevens held his first joint Trustee-Advisory meeting on November 14, 1961. He confided to those present the original plan was more grandiose than was realistic, so they were now looking for more basic facilities. He announced he had asked Stone to come up with some alternative design ideas. No one brought any opposition to it, so the first National Cultural Center design officially retired.

On September 11, 1962 at The Elms mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, First Lady Jackie Kennedy revealed the model of the second National Cultural Center design. This design had a scheme very similar to the one first thought up by Stone. It featured three performance venues, side by side, connected by one major foyer along the riverside of the building. Above the main floor was a roof level with an open-air courtyard with a retractable roof. The building's cost came out to $30 million (This price did not include the parking levels' cost, which were considered a separate cost -- but that is part of a long, complicated finance story we're not about to get into). The next day, the Board of Trustees and Advisory Committee approved the concept. President Kennedy told Stone that he was very pleased with the new design.

Going forward, Kennedy would show more support for the National Cultural Center project and helped the project as best he could. After his death in 1963, Congress made the Center a living memorial to him by renaming it the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

The journey from then until the first performance in 1971 continued to be bumpy. New challenges would appear, while old ones would be revisited. But unlike the first design, the second design was able to endure to the grand opening.

I consider the first National Cultural Center design to be Edward Durell Stone's magnum opus of ceremonial modern buildings. Stone designed a trilogy of similarly-styled buildings of prominence during this period: The United States Embassy in New Delhi, the United States Pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, and the National Cultural Center. We go from a rectangular Embassy, to the circular US Pavilion; what could be next? The National Cultural Center would have been Stone's only work of this group built in the United States, his prime audience. Being a building of national significance, it had to be iconic. The large-scale clamshell Center would have been an exponential evolution from the other two buildings. The shape alone was a departure from anything Stone had ever done, or would ever do. For him to go back to a rectangular design seems like an unfortunate let-down. Don't get me wrong, the current Kennedy Center is a wonderful building with great public area design. It continues to be one of Stone's most famous works. But I believe the first design would have had an even greater impact on his legacy. It would have warranted more respect to his creativity and vision as an artist.

If it had been built, would the first design receive the same architectural criticisms the current Kennedy Center has received? Yes and no. Other than the shape and the Grand Salon, the buildings are quite similar. The interior decor would have matched pretty closely, so it would have received the same reviews on that. However, much of the iconic quips seem to be more about the Kenendy Center's shape: It's the box that the Watergate cake came in, a beached whale, a Lincoln Memorial imitator, or a marble Kleenex box. With such an unusual shape, the first design would not have inspired any of those. Perhaps it would inspire awe, perhaps it would inspire a slew of new metaphors.

Something was definitely lost when the Center separated from the water. Sure, logically and financially it was not the best idea, but emotionally and spiritually the stairs were absolutely necessary. The Kennedy Center was and is a land-locked island of a building. It is constantly calling out for any connection to the world around it. Having a terrace down to the water would have opened it up and made it feel part of the city. That missing connection is why so many expansions have tried to reach the water. It doesn't make sense be that close to the water and not embrace it in some form.

The Kennedy Center is great. My heart has unfortunately fallen in love with what-could-have-been, a cultural center never to be. Maybe one day, when the dust of centuries has past over our cities, this design can be rediscovered and built to see the light of day.

Is there any remaining legacy of the first design? Yes, it's right next door! The infamous Watergate Complex was designed to harmonize with the Center's curvy first design. When the Center changed its plans, Watergate did not.

From National Cultural Center to John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts: At the Front End of the Beginning, by Jarold Kieffer, 2004
Miracle on the Potomac: the Kennedy Center from the beginning, by Ralph E. Becker, 1990
Edward Durell Stone: Modernism's Populist Architect, by Mary Anne Hunting, 2013
The Evolution of an Architect, by Edward Durell Stone, 1962
The National Cultural Center, booklet, no author listed, c. 1959
Public Law 85-874 (National Cultural Center Act)
Public Law 88-260 (John F. Kennedy Center Renaming Act)
Kennedy Center River Stairs Design Fails to Impress, The Georgetowner, March 22, 2011
Kennedy Center Expansion Approved without Floating Pavilion, District Source, July 13, 2015
National Cultural Center model, created by Theodore Conrad Modelmakers
Rafael Viñoly Kennedy Center Eastern Expansion Plans
Is the spelling fundraising, fund-raising or fund raising?
Inflation Calculator
Google Earth
Illustration of the first design of the National Cultural Center. Edward Durell Stone Collection (MC 340), Box 104, JFK1. Special Collections, University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville.

Popovers and Hobbyhorses at the Water Gate Inn
Creating the Kennedy Center, written by Hicks Stone (Son of Edward Durell Stone), goes over 2nd design, as well as critics' responses
Architecture: A Look at the Kennedy Center Ada Louise Huxtable's iconic 1971 Kennedy Center take-down review
A Tour of the Kennedy Center with an Architectural Critic, 2017

Gill Boggs and Waatan Austin, for access to the National Cultural Center model. After many years in storage, it is still stunning!
Maria Rodriguez and Lauren Holland, for all of my image rights questions and always-needed moral support.
The University of Arkansas' Special Collections, for all of the help provided and allowing me permission to use the National Cultural Center illustration. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Edward Durell Stone in LA

Claremont School of Theology's Colwell Building
Designed by Edward Durell Stone

I took a vacation from the Edward Durell Stone masterpiece I work at, and visited some of his other works in the Los Angeles area. It was like I never left!

Washington, D.C. only has three Stone buildings (The Kennedy Center, National Geographic Society Building #2, and Georgetown University Law Center's Bernard P. McDonough Hall (which has since been renovated)). Los Angeles is full of them!

I had a lot of fun viewing these works in person. You can read all the books and see all the pictures, but I have found nothing can compare to experiencing a site in person. I went to a total of 8 of his designed environments, here's a review of my favorites:

Stuart Building (1958)

The Stuart Building

The Stuart Building, originally a pharmaceutical lab, has been converted into apartments and a community theater [The theater section was closed during my visit]. The lobby and grounds have been lovingly-restored to their original look. The old lobby now functions as the leasing office.

Stuart Building lower lobby

This was my first time experiencing a Stone building that used his New Delhi-style grillework, so I was pretty excited. This grillework design was a particular favorite of Stone's. He would use it numerous times, covering his buildings in it. Here, the grillework hides private office balconies and unifies the front of the building. I can see its appeal. It is simple, yet busy/full enough to block the view of the other side.

New Delhi grillework! Those dull brown
circles in the corners are gold when polished.

Along with the grillework, the front facade is interesting in that there is no building behind half of it. The ground sinks down to a swimming pool. It creates this modernist environment protected from the outside world (Which is fair, the view it hides is of a generic shopping center).

Stuart Building facade and pool

In the lobby, they have wall displays on the history of the building, from its creation and neglect, to its restoration. They took its historic preservation seriously, and it paid off. It looks fabulous.

They're really serious about that historic preservation.

Sprinkers in the ceiling were introduced during its restoration. I initially took them as an original design feature until I looked at some old photographs. They were blended in quite nicely.

Sprinklers in one of the ceiling's intersection points

The placement of overhanging garden planters, lit orbs, and the custom pill-shaped wall design pattern give the lobby a touch of spontaneity, whimsy, and freshness. This follows outside with the eccentric column embellishments. It's an enjoyable feeling to come from a Stone building.

Planters hanging in the lobby.

Columns out front. This building also "floats"

The Stuart Building is a pleasant building and I love how easily it seems to have been re-purposed. If I moved to Pasadena, I would definitely consider living there.

Beckman Auditorium (1963)

Beckman Auditorium

The Beckman Auditorium is at the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech), the setting of The Big Bang Theory. Terrible comedy sitcom aside, the actual campus is GORGEOUS. The campus has a mix of beautiful buildings from many different architectural eras, surrounded by lots of foliage. The slightly hilly campus lends itself to a man-made stream running between buildings. There's even a turtle pond! It sounds unreal, but it's everything I would ever want on a college campus.

Prominently placed at the center of campus is the Beckman Auditorium. The word most apt to describe the building is "Cupcake." It's a delicious building, inside and out.

The exterior hanging lights remind me of balloons.

It features probably my favorite Stone columns. They seem to stretch and melt. The building's overhang has half-circle cutouts instead of Stone's regular rectangular ones. I like how this change reiterates the shape of the building.

There's a lot of outlines on this building. Diagonal lines crisscross the main exterior. The top of the column's shape is repeated to the left and right of each column on the overhang. The cutouts are outlined. The roof is covered in dots grouped together to outline a larger circle. It's a tattooed building!

Always look up! Beckman Auditorium

After passing through the lobby, you enter the nucleus of the building, the auditorium itself. The auditorium is one of Stone's more lavish. It's very similar in design to the Kennedy Center's Opera House, yet on a smaller scale. Here is Stone's circus tent design in a circular hall with billowing walls and ceiling. The color palette incorporates some of Stone's favorite colors: White, gold, and red (red is featured on the seats and carpet).

Interior overview of Beckman Auditorium

That golden meshwork ceiling is an unforgettable centerpiece. There are lights scattered above the mesh that twinkle on and off. It couldn't get more perfect than that.

Golden Ceiling of the Beckman Auditorium

Every surface inside has a pattern. They're very unusual patterns and shapes for Stone to use.

Thin, white grillework walls

The balcony railing cover and meshwork ceiling.

Is it too sweet? For such an architecturally-varied campus, it doesn't seem to fit in well with its surroundings. Maybe because it is a circle with a pointed roof in a sea of rectangles with flat and gable roofs. Maybe because it is flanked by two matching gloomy brutalist buildings. Who knows. All I know is, I always have room for dessert when it involves the Beckman Auditorium.

(The previous night, CalTech had been simulcasting the
Saturn Orbiter Cassini's Final Moments)

The Beckman Backside!

Edward T. Foley Building (1964)

Edward T. Foley Building

The Edward T. Foley Building is located on the lovely Loyola Marymount University campus. It holds the Strub Memorial Theater, as well as the school's drama department offices and classrooms.

Shapes dominate the building's exterior. Painted circles cover the building's concrete pathways. The building is very boxy. Hexagons cover the walls, and are the shape of choice on this building's overhang cut-outs. The whole exterior reminds me of latticework.

Shapes and Columns - Edward T. Foley Building

The column arches are an interesting choice. They make me feel uncomfortable. Are they really able to hold up the roof? Many New Formalism buildings have columns that expand towards the top, but everything's filled in. Even though their chosen form is different from the norm, their solidity is reassuring. Here, there's negative space, and the columns are not directly under the points of the roof they support. I am not doubting their strength, them standing since 1964 is proof enough. It just feels wrong to me. Maybe because I am not used to this.

The entry shares the same design as the Kennedy Center and the Beckman Auditorium. It is a glass entrance with windows rising all the way to the overhang level. The whiteness of the building emphasize the blackness the windows appear as during the day. It definitely helps to make the door stand out so there is less confusion how to get into the building.

The lobby is a small oval. It's hard to photograph in one shot. It contains a huge religious mural and curving staircases on either side.

Foley Lobby

Edward T. Foley Lobby Mural

The Strub Memorial Theater inside is pretty small. It's also the most unremarkable Stone theater I have ever been in. I did enjoy the circle motif in the ceiling, which harkens back to the perimeter paths' pattern. Ties everything together.

Strub Memorial Theater. This was shot from the back

The rest of the interior was nothing to write home about. That is, until I stumbled upon the hidden roof oasis. On the third floor, through a set of double doors, was an outdoor patio! Who knew?? This was an idea that Stone had wanted to use at the Kennedy Center, but on a larger scale. I am glad he was able have at least one built.

The hidden outdoor patio on the third floor!

The hexagon pattern continues up here, surrounding the windows. The colors are atrocious, I'm assuming they are not original. The floor used to have painted circles like the other paths, according to this photo I found.

What an interesting building.

Claremont School of Theology's Kresge Chapel (1973)

Claremont School of Theology's Kresge Chapel from the front of campus

Edward Durell Stone designed the Claremont School of Theology's master plan and front buildings in 1957. These buildings are fairly standard Stone style, with flat roof overhangs and rectangular cut-outs.

The Colwell building. This U-shaped building's overhang
extends to create a complete rectangle with open air plaza.

[I accidentally overlooked peeking at their campus theater space, also designed by Stone, so I unfortunately cannot comment on it]

In 1973, Stone's Kresge Chapel was completed. It is the centerpiece of campus, and it's one of the most alien buildings I've seen from Stone. There is no overhanging roof or surrounding columns. It stands starkly alone on a podium in pure white. While not a traditional New Formalist building, The Los Angeles Conservancy states that:
"Kresge Chapel is stripped to the very essence of New Formalism. It is a simple vertical volume with a façade composed of other vertical features, like a fluted column made of fluted columns."

For a structure built this late in Stone's career, it's a bold choice.

Kresge Chapel

When I walked through the doors, my jaw dropped. The chapel's outside is nothing compared with its inside. The inside has one main room. It's hard to tell from the outside, but every window has abstract stained glass. I came on a cloudy day (most of my LA trip oddly composed of cloudy days), so the light came through each window very softly. The effect took my breath away.

Kresge Chapel interior - wow.

Close-up on one of the window columns
in Kresge Chapel

I wish I could have sat in here for hours watching the different ways the sun lit the room.

Kresge Chapel

The ceiling is very geometrical. Sort of reminds me of the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, but with squares instead of hexagons.

The banners are unnecessary and should be taken down ASAP. Clutter never bodes well with modernist buildings.

This is an iconic chapel. It has a powerful, quiet elegance. This is probably my favorite Edward Durell Stone building. 

Other EDS buildings I visited, but didn't have as much to talk about:

Harvey Mudd College (1956)
Stone helped create the master plan for this school. I'm not sure if he helped to design any of the actual buildings. Lots of squares everywhere. The design's so revolting, I love it.

Harvey Mudd College

Home Federal Savings/Pacific Mercantile Bank Building (1961)
It's in Beverly Hills! It used to have plants hanging from each windowsill. I like that the parking structure behind the building also has the same style.

Home Federal Savings/Pacific Mercantile Bank Building

University of Southern California's Von KleinSmid Center (1966)
It's red brick! Woah! Calm down there, Eddie!
I made the mistake of visiting this building while a USC football home game was happening. Parking was terrible. I wish I had had more time to better explore this complex.

Von KleinSmid Center

Wilshire Colonnade (1967)
I like these twin buildings because they follow the early skyscraper tripartite design scheme, which bases itself off of classical columns.

Wilshire Colonnade

So now with even more architectural insight, did I learn some more things Edward Durell Stone likes to do?

When Stone does a series of buildings together, there is usually a defining tower structure. You get this at the Von KleinSmid Center, Claremont School of Theology, and SUNY Albany.

Von KleinSmid Center (mostly blocked by trees) and tower

Most Prevalent Shapes
Circles, Squares, and Hexagons are used again and again. I wonder why he doesn't use triangles?

What is it with Edward Durell Stone and theaters? What draws him to build theater after theater? Is it the theatricality? Something else?

Photo to showcase the interesting curtain wall at the
Beckman Auditorium.

Edward Durell Stone likes having little things that play with you. Floating buildings. Making a building's height incalculable. Hidden open-air patios. There are elements of play that he throws in that make the designs fun. They are easy to overlook -- the devil is always in the details.

Playing around with a pill-shaped pattern at a
pharmaceutical company building- The Stuart Building

Unmistakably Stone
I was driving to Loyola Marymount University. While changing from one highway to another, I caught a glimpse at a white-colored building with a huge overhang and cut-outs. There was no way it wasn't an Edward Durell Stone building. Sure enough, when I looked it up later, he did design it! (It's located at 10801 National Boulevard)

It's very generalizing and a put-down/write-off to say Stone's buildings all look the same. What is more accurate is he uses the same wheelhouse of building features and patterns. It's like he has a lot of interchangeable puzzle pieces that he can use for each build, and makes a deliberate choice which he chooses to feature. Every building he creates is still a unique building.

I would argue that excitement can still be found through how Stone reuses his ideas and how they are adapted to a different plan.

Should we fault a man for choosing things he knew worked and reused them again and again? Do we fault actors and actresses that play the same character every time? Do we look at a painting by Piet Mondrian or Jackson Pollack and say, eh, all looks the same? If we can still find ways to celebrate their works, surely we can celebrate Stone's.


I had a great trip, and I enjoyed seeing a different side of Los Angeles than I am used to. Edward Durell Stone definitely showed me he was a lot more versatile than I had assumed.

This roadtrip through Stone's LA would not have been possible without The Los Angeles Conservancy website and the indispensable "Edward Durell Stone" by Mary Anne Hunting

A Couple Reads I found while surfing the internet: 
The Most Hated of Architects: On Edward Durell Stone
The Day the Fountain Ran Dry: An Indian Duck Tale