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

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Kennedy Center Wall Sconces Anomaly

Kennedy Center Wall Sconces

[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.]

I walk along the Kennedy Center's Grand Foyer a lot. It's a very scenic way to get from place to place. At one point or another, I discovered an anomaly in the wall sconces.

From 1971 to 2004, all the wall sconces in the Grand Foyer had four strings of lights in each of their columns. This is still the case on the river side of the hall.

River-side wall sconces in the Grand Foyer.

In 2004, accessibility ramps were added along the theater side of the hall. With this, the wall sconces along that wall were shortened. With their decreasing length as the ramp gets higher, this choice seems to have been decided to avoid people reaching the sconces. When the Kennedy Center first opened up, the public went Kennedy-crazy and stole many things (from pieces of carpet to an entire wall sconce), so the reasoning is not unfounded.

One of the Opera House ramps with wall sconces of
decreasing lengths.

Which brings us to the anomaly. On the Eisenhower Theater side of the grand foyer, the sconce's lengths are 4 and 3.

Eisenhower theater wall sconces

On the Concert Hall side, the sconce's lengths are 3 & 2.

Concert Hall wall sconces

This anomaly is not very apparent because the Concert Hall and Eisenhower Theater are on opposite sides of the long Grand Foyer.

Why is it like this and not matching? I do not know. I'll try to learn why, but until then --

- fin - 

"Miracle on the Potomac: The Kennedy Center from the Beginning" by Ralph Elihu Becker

Monday, September 25, 2017

DIG! during the Great American Solar Eclipse of 2017

An artifact marble eclipse during the 2017 solar eclipse!

My latest trip to Williamsburg coincided with the 2017 solar eclipse over North America. While Williamsburg did not get a total eclipse, a partial was still exciting! I decided the best way to avoid looking at the sun was to actively look in the opposite direction -- by searching for artifacts at DIG! Kids, Dirt, & Discovery!

DIG! Progress Report August 2017: The hole grows deeper!

This brick fireplace I photographed last time. Still buried,
but there's been lots of progress!
Another brick formation starting to appear!

These new stairs are already too short! Time to replace them
for next year's DIG!

The small, plastic sand box tubs are now replaced by a large,
permanent sandbox!

For the last program of the day, when the eclipse was to occur, no one had shown up to dig. There was a program on the Palace Green regarding 18th century science and solar eclipses, so everyone was avidly heading in that direction.

For that last hour, some digging happened, of course. Other parts were trying to look at the eclipse -- safely. None of us had any eclipse glasses, so rudimentary pinhole cameras were made.



Mini-partial eclipse!

Using the pit to create a bigger eclipse shot
through the pinhole

It was pretty fun. At the peak eclipse, the sun's light got noticeably dimmer. It was a spooky effect. Shadows through the trees became crescent-shaped. 

I tried to get a shot of the eclipse through my camera, but the sun was too bright.

One of the (many) shots of me trying to get a picture of the
eclipse through my camera. It didn't work.

Some people that were passing by would let us borrow their eclipse glasses from time to time. I got a pretty good shot putting the glass over my camera lens:

ECLIPSE 2017!!!

We finished off the dig session eating Moon Pies, of course. It was a good day, and no one lost their eyesight!

DIG! is done for the year, but it will be back again next year!

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