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Edward Durell Stone, one of the foremost architects of the mid-twentieth century, established an international reputation and designed buildings throughout the world. Though he lived in New York City for most of his life, Stone made a lasting contribution to the architecture of his native Arkansas.
Edward Stone was born on March 9, 1902, in Fayetteville (Washington County) to Benjamin Hicks Stone, a merchant and businessman, and Ruth Johnson Stone, a former English teacher at the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville. The youngest of three children, Stone attended Fayetteville’s public schools but was not a serious student. His mother encouraged his talents for drawing and building things and allowed him to have a home carpentry shop. At age fourteen, he won first prize in a countywide birdhouse competition, the judges of which included an architect and the president of UA.
Stone attended UA from 1920 to 1923 before moving to Boston, Massachusetts, where his brother was an architect. While studying at the Boston Architectural Club, Stone met Henry R. Shepley, one of Boston’s leading architects. Shepley hired him as a draftsman and became his mentor. Two years later, Stone won a special scholarship to Harvard Architectural School (1925–26), after which he attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1926–27). Though he would receive honorary degrees from several institutions, including UA, he never graduated. He won the prestigious Rotch Traveling Scholarship in 1927 and spent the next two years in Europe.
Stone returned to the United States in 1929 and settled in New York City. He married Orlean Vandiver in 1931, and they had two sons. Stone was enthused by the new buildings he had seen in Europe and became an early proponent of International Style architecture. His first designs, built primarily in New York, include the Mandel house in Mount Kisco; the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, designed in association with Philip Goodwin; and the Goodyear house in Old Westbury. During World War II, Stone served as chief of the planning and design section of the U.S. Army Air Forces.
After the war, he returned to Arkansas to design the Fine Arts Center at UA, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Medical Center in Little Rock (Pulaski County), the Sigma Nu Fraternity house in Fayetteville, and several private residences. At the request of his childhood friend Senator J. William Fulbright, he designed a line of furniture that was manufactured by Fulbright Industries of Fayetteville in the early 1950s.
Stone served as visiting critic at the state’s first school of architecture, which opened in 1947 at UA as part of the College of Engineering. He helped the school obtain accreditation and employed many of its students in his New York office. Fay Jones, a member of the school’s first graduating class, credited Stone’s friendship for showing him what an architect from Arkansas could accomplish in the wider world.
Stone’s first marriage ended in divorce. In 1954, he wed Maria Elena Torchio, and they had a son and a daughter. This marriage coincided with a change in his architecture. Austere modernism was replaced by the ornate formality exemplified by his design of the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, India. The embassy’s admirers included Frank Lloyd Wright, who called it “the only embassy that does credit to the United States.” For the next twenty years, Stone designed buildings intended to reflect universal and timeless values rather than the “transient enthusiasms” of modernism.
Stone’s principal works include El Panama Hotel in Panama City, Panama; Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, California; the U.S. Pavilion at the World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium; the Gallery of Modern Art in New York City; the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington DC; the State University of New York at Albany, New York; the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC; the General Motors building in New York City; and the National Assembly and Presidential Palace in Islamabad, Pakistan. The building he designed for the Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico won the International Design Award of Honor from the American Institute of Architects in 1967.
Stone’s second marriage also ended in divorce. He married Violet Campbell Moffat in 1972, and they had a daughter. Stone retired from active practice in 1974. The next year, he donated his professional papers and drawings to UA.
Stone died on August 6, 1978, in New York City after a brief illness. His ashes were interred in Fayetteville’s Evergreen Cemetery, beside the graves of his parents and his brother.
Stone’s early buildings are important examples of modern architecture, but some critics dismissed his later works. In their view, Stone became a “conveyor of banality” who produced “a plague of dreadful buildings.” Others praise him for breaking from the mainstream and seeking to restore a sense of history to architecture.
For additional information:Emanuel, Muriel, ed. Contemporary Architects. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980.
Everett, Derek R. “Modern Statehouses for Modern States: Edward Durell Stone’s Capitol Architecture in North Carolina and Florida.” Southern Historian 28 (Spring 2007): 74–91.
Hunting, Mary Anne.Edward Durrell Stone: Modernism’s Populist Architect. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2013.
———. “Edward Durell Stone: Perception and Criticism.” PhD diss., City University of New York, 2007.
———. “From Craft to Industry: Furniture Designed by Edward Durell Stone for Senator Fulbright.” The Magazine Antiques (May 2004): 110–121.
Stone, Edward Durell. The Evolution of an Architect. New York: Horizon Press, 1962.
Stone, Hicks. Edward Durrell Stone: A Son’s Untold Story of a Legendary Architect. New York: Rizzoli, 2011.
“What Should We Do With 2 Columbus Circle?” Preservation (November/December 2004): 20–25.
Robert L. SkolmenPalo Alto City Library
Last Updated 1/11/2013
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