THE TRICKY THING about being ahead of your time is that there’s no sure expiration date for obscurity. Not a 70th birthday. Not an obituary, or dozens of them. Not a centenary or the passing of your antagonists. So, how about the second monograph? Sure it’s not a conventional marker, but when nothing else has worked, anything seems worth a try. This moment of possibility has arrived for Edward Durrell Stone, the subject of Mary Anne Hunting’s Edward Durrell Stone: Modernism’s Populist Architect.
Hunting’s work is not only the second volume on Stone in as many years, following 2011’s Edward Durrell Stone: A Son’s Untold Story of a Legendary Architect by Hicks Stone, it’s the second volume on Stone ever (he wrote several books about his work in his lifetime; these are all unsurprisingly out of print). Hunting’s is thus, fairly astonishingly, the first book on the architect of the Kennedy Center, the original building of the Museum of Modern Art, the American Embassy in New Delhi and countless other prominent buildings not written by a Stone. There is no possessive executor à la Stephen Joyce foiling research, nor are flights to New Delhi all that expensive; no, the short answer for why Stone’s tale has been so long in coming is simply that much of the architectural community hates him.
This is, of course, hardly news. Stone, like Antonio Salieri, is best known, if at all, from a single book in which no other character likes him — Tom Wolfe’s From Bauhaus to Our House. The prose in Wolfe’s scabrous put-down of architectural Modernism hasn’t aged a day, though some of the points have, with the towering exception of his portrait of Edward Durrell Stone’s disfavor within the temples of the International Style:
The moment the New Delhi embassy was unveiled, Stone was dropped like an embezzler by le monde of fashionable architecture, which is to say, the university-based world of the European compounds. Gold here and luxurious there and marbled and curvilinear everywhere […] How very bour— No it was bourgeois ne plus ultra. There was no way that even Mies himself, master of the bronze wide-flange beam, could have argued his way out of a production like this one. What made it more galling was that Stone didn’t even try. He kissed off the International Style.
Wolfe’s timeline is more than a little glib, but his observation has proven enduringly accurate — Stone’s fall from favor was not nearly so automatic, but it was precipitous, and history has been rather slow in amending his status as a person willfully forgotten. Other architectural “apostates” in Wolfe’s essay have been duly rehabilitated into polite design society: Eero Saarinen and even Morris Lapidus; Stone has unquestionably lagged. Just earlier this year, the New York Times obituary for architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable devoted two whole paragraphs to her distaste for Stone. Hicks Stone, in the introduction to his book, notes that classmates in a Harvard School of Design course actually hissed in response to the appearance of his father’s Indian Embassy.
Yet it’s unlikely that even Stone’s fiercest critics would disagree with Hunting’s suggestion of his “legacy of effec...