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Monday, October 10, 2011


Join us for a three hour tour...of Edward Durell Stone's SUNY Albany Uptown Campus.

Edward Durell Stone began his career as a staunch and extremely gifted modernist architect - incorporating into his designs a mixture of modern ideals and personal creativity, resulting in buildings that were true to the philosophy of the European masters yet had a sense of luxury or, better put, humanity.

They may have been machines to live in but it was clear that human beings created and occupied these structures.

Then...it all went wrong.

Stone developed a signature style that featured what modernists considered unnecessary ornament.
He rejected the restrictions of the purist ethic of the international style and was summarily exiled from modernism's country club.

It all started so well.

Stone's early career looked promising - his friendships with well-connected architects resulted in his having a major role in the design of Radio City Music Hall's stunning interiors.

Around the same time, Stone designed the new Museum Of Modern Art in a straightforward modern style, save for the whimsical "cornice" with its circular openings.
Even in this, an early modern masterpiece, his restlessness with modernism's restrictions shows through - at the top of the building and in the swoop of the entrance canopy on 53rd. Street.

Stone's perforated roof overhangs, along with the use of textured and patterned concrete block and slender "lily pad" columns, were influenced by the 1930's - 50's work of Frank Lloyd Wright, with whom he was close.

Stone would reuse these motifs in many of his mid-career designs, refining them until they were so strongly associated with his architecture that they came to be seen as his design signature and the Wright connection faded into history...

...That is, until Stone's youngest son, architect Benjamin Hicks Stone III began to sift through his own personal recollections of his father along with the mountain of information found in his father's papers to tell the full story of his father's life and architecture.

Hicks's practice runs the gamut from renovations and additions to new builds and he will be working on renovations and improvements to his father's SUNY Albany campus.

Mr. Stone was on hand for a recent tour of the campus arranged through the Historic Albany Foundation and DoCoMoMo.

Ray Bromley PhD and  college historian Geoffrey Williams were our captains on this three hour tour....

Ray begins the tour by giving us a quick retrospective of the history of the campus and the career of its architect. 

Ironically, we started the tour at a newer building on campus and one that makes no attempt at complimenting the original buildings, University Hall.

It is a wavy cube covered in a grid of reflective glass and seems somewhat out of place in such a formalist complex.

Hicks Stone, youngest son of E.D. Stone and himself an architect, came up from New York to join us on the tour, answering questions and adding details as we walked about one of his father's largest projects.

Following the tour, Hicks gave a very entertaining and informative presentation based on research he conducted while writing an upcoming book on his father's life and architecture Edward Durell Stone: A Son's Untold Story of a Legendary Architect

  A nice mixture of architects, historians, professors and enthusiasts, young and old took the tour.

The original plan called for these openings to be domed but cost cutting resulted in only three of the domes being built.

As a result water damage has taken its toll on the concrete structure.

The college is in the process of installing additional domes per the original design. 

Inflated membranes replace the rigid panels of the originals but otherwise the new domes are true to the look intended by Stone.

The bulk of the campus consists of the enormous Main Platform which contains most of the non-residential buildings. The Main Platform is surrounded with rigid symmetry by four smaller podium buildings that serve as student residential space. Their inner courts are home to identical high rise dormitory towers. Seen here is the Eastman Tower on State Quad.

The 286 foot-tall Eastman Tower comes upon you suddenly when approached from the surrounding State Quad's southwest courtyard portal.

With the modest stepped podium, it looks as if it were driven into, or sprang from the ground like a square "frozen fountain."

A view of the ceiling of the recital hall.

Hicks told us his father used this material in other buildings and referred to it as chain mail.

Lobby of Recital Hall.

The Water Tower and Carillon rises above the Main Platform and serves as a symbol of the college.

Fountain and Water Tower at Main Podium being enjoyed by students on an unusually warm October day. E.D. Stone's son, architect Hicks Stone, will update and refresh this area in the near future.
Hanging Planter-Light Fixtures, like this one, are found throughout the campus and lend an air of the exotic to the outdoor spaces.
Detail of underside flower design of hanging planter-light fixture.

A wall of glass and a concrete grid welcome you to the University Library.

Note the hanging planter-light fixtures.


The main reading room of the University Library features a space-age motif with light fixtures built into the flared tops of the columns and a tinny PA system that must be original.

Heading toward the mezzanine area in the lobby of the University Library.

One of the recent "solutions" to the problem of dome-less openings in the roof structure of the podium.


Large meeting hall has detailing in the ceiling suggestive of the cutouts in the podium roof's overhangs.

My favorite stop on the tour...the TUNNEL!

A system of tunnels connect the main buildings of the campus and provide shelter for students in the winter months.

This is the main tunnel and is equipped with a bomb shelter meant to house the governor in the event of a nuclear war.

Nelson thought of everything!

Following two hours of wandering the mega-structure's various components, including tunnels that led to Nelson Rockefeller's bomb shelter, we were treated to an hour long presentation by Hicks Stone.

Hicks went over the various stages of his father's life, both professional and personal, leaving nothing out. We learned about his father's three marriages, his problems with alcohol abuse, the influential and close relationship with his architect uncle and his collaborations with his eldest son, landscape architect E.D. Stone Jr.

I had never cared very much for his father's work. I found the gigantic towers of his later career to be relatively lifeless and cold and disliked massively scaled and somewhat banal design for the Kennedy Center.

Through Hick's presentation I came to realize that these were projects that his father did not have much control over.
The giant towers were more the work of the large, less personal firm E.D.Stone created for designing the massive SUNY campus project and Kennedy Center was to have been a delightfully sweeping curve of a PAC but arrived at its eventual form because of economics and other outside forces.

What buildings the elder Stone did have more control over came closer to his goal of incorporating decorative elements and his Wright influences into functional, economical structures and are seen as his signature designs.

Curiously, I found his early modernist work to be particularly stunning - especially the Panama Hilton, shown here - and wonder what his place in the modernism pantheon would be had he stayed within the modern camp.

Architecture is in his blood and Hicks proudly carries on the tradition today as the third generation of Stone architects. I will report on the results of his efforts to update his father's work at the campus once it is complete.


  1. Thanks for the nicely written article and the excellent photos. It was a pleasure to meet you.

  2. Thanks for coming to town to share your amazing insights into your father's work!

    A friend visited recently and we took a trip to New Canaan and New Haven to see the iconic moderns there and while he had a great time looking at the Johnson, Kahn, Rudolph and Saarinen buildings it was our trip to SUNY Albany's campus and E.D.'s work there that he enjoyed most.