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 fa├žade 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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