Edward Durell Stone

Architect of Florida’s Capitol

Edward Durell Stone came into his own as an architect during the heyday of modern design. Born in 1902 in Arkansas, he got his architectural degree from the University of Arkansas. At the urging of an older brother, Stone moved to Boston in the 1920s and apprenticed at an architectural firm there.

After moving to New York City, Stone had amazing success early in his career. During the Great Depression he worked on two buildings still revered for their design: 30 Rockefeller Plaza and Radio City Music Hall in New York.

Stone’s contemporaries were architects like Mies Van der Rohe, a pioneer of the modern design movement known for its clean lines and simplicity. Gone were the fancy adornments of Gothic or Classical architecture. Its beauty was its austere design.

Like Van der Rohe, Stone gravitated toward modern design. Hicks Stone is the son of Edward Durell Stone, who died in 1978. He has written a book about his father’s career due to be published this fall. Hicks Stone said, at the time, modern architecture was considered cutting-edge and “highly controversial.”

“It was something completely alien in a way we can’t quite comprehend,” he said. “It totally contradicted a millennia of established architecture tradition.”

Stone opened up his own office in the 1930s and, except for a brief stint designing army bases during World War II, he continued to receive residential and commercial commissions. One of his first commissions was New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), which cemented his growing reputation as a talented modern architect. 

Modern design may have been underappreciated by the public, but was considered the only acceptable form of design by academic and architectural communities by the middle of last century, Hicks Stone said.

“They were trying to expunge the legacy of historicism,” he explained. “They fought it and thought they won in the 1930s.”

But by the 1950s, Stone began to separate himself from his contemporaries, gravitating more toward a hybrid of modern and classical design. When he designed the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, completed in 1954, he stuck to modern design, but included some “historical references,” such as arches or arcades, Hicks Stone said.

This hybrid design became his calling card but angered proponents of modern design. He became disliked within the academic and architectural communities, but more commercially successful. He even appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1958.

“My dad was famous for his charm,” Hicks Stone said. “And his accessibility.”

By the late 1960s, Stone was one of the top architects in the nation. Though he hadn’t done any prior Capitol buildings, Stone was selected to design the Florida Capitol.

While many Floridians now say they are disappointed Florida’s Capitol is modern and not a more traditional design, Hicks Stone said the building is merely a product of its time. “If it was the year 1980, you would have gotten a very sensitive re-creation of the existing Capitol building, but at the time (1970) people weren’t working in that kind of fashion. In fact, Dad’s settled use of historical elements was considered heretical.”

 

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