Biography of Edward Durell Stone

Architect of the Kennedy Center (1902-1978)

Black and white photo of American Architect Edward Durell Stone, c. 1950
American architect Edward Durell Stone, c. 1950. Photo by Pictorial Parade/Archive Photos Collection/©2010 Getty Images (cropped)

Edward Durrell Stone (born March 9, 1902, in Fayetteville, Arkansas) is well-known for his high-profile designs for cultural and academic institutions, most notably the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. It was a long journey from his Arkansas birth to his death in New York City on August 6, 1978. In 1916, a 14-year-old Arkansas boy won first prize for designing and building a birdhouse. This humble architectural achievement began the interesting career of Edward D. Stone.

In 1940 Stone drove across the U.S., met Frank Lloyd Wright, and totally reformed his ideas about urban development, beauty, and natural / organic / environmental design. After this seminal road trip, Stone rejected the modernists' International style. Stone's designs become more Usonian, establishing what some call a New Formalism, with obvious Wright influences. "From his 1940 cross-country trip to his last days," says Stone's son, "father decried what the automobile culture and commercial interests had done to the American landscape."

Education and Professional Beginnings:

Older brother James, an architect in Boston, Massachusetts, may have influenced Stone's interest in architecture but not an enthusiasm for formal education. Stone attended many schools, but never earned an academic degree.

  • 1920-1923: University of Arkansas (UA), Fayetteville
  • Moved to Boston; attended Boston Architectural Club; draftsman for Boston architect Henry R. Shepley
  • 1925-1926: Harvard Architectural School, Cambridge, MA
  • 1926–1927: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
  • 1927-1928: Rotch Traveling Scholarship. While traveling and sketching in Europe, Stone met Leonard Schultze from NYC and American tourist Sarah Orlean Vandiver, whom he would later marry
  • 1929-1930: Returns from Europe and joins Schultze & Weaver. One of his first assignments was to design the interiors of the Waldorf-Astoria.
  • 1930: Joins Corbett, Harrison & MacMurray, part of a team of architects chosen to design Rockefeller Center. Again, Stone was assigned to design the interiors, including Radio City Music Hall (with Donald Deskey).
  • 1942-1945: U.S. Army Air Force, designer of large-scale military projects

Selected Building Projects:

  • 1933: Mandel House, Mt. Kisco, New York, first independent commission
  • 1939: Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), 11 West 53 Street, NYC (with Philip L. Goodwin; International Style)
  • 1947: David Stech House, Armonk, New York
  • 1949: William and Maria Thurnauer House, New Jersey
  • 1946-1951: El Panama Hotel, Panama City, Panama
  • 1948: Fine Arts Center, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
  • 1954-1959: U.S. Embassy, New Delhi, India (video of 1959 opening)
  • 1955: Medical Center, Stanford University, Palo Alto, California
  • 1958: U.S. Pavilion, Expo '58, World's Fair in Brussels, Belgium
  • 1960: National Geographic Society headquarters, Washington, DC
  • 1958-1964: Gallery of Modern Art, 2 Columbus Circle, New York City
  • 1961-1968: State University of New York at Albany, New York
  • 1964-1968: General Motors Building, New York City
  • 1959-1971: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC
  • 1973: Aon Center (Standard Oil Building), Chicago, Illinois
  • 1975: First Canadian Place (First Bank Tower), Toronto, Canada
  • 1978: Florida State Capitol, Tallahassee, Florida

Furniture Business:

1950-1952: Fulbright Industries, Fayetteville, Arkansas. To manufacture Stone's furniture designs, the Fulbrights used the same machinery they had used to make farm equipment, such as wooden plow handles and wagon wheels. Many of the furniture designs Stone created for his friend, U.S. Senator J. William Fulbright, incorporated elements found in wooden farm implements. See exhibition photos from the Kay Mathews article Architect Edward Stone’s Fulbright Furniture is 'Ozark Modern', Digital Journal, February 16, 2011.

Personal Life:

In 1931, Stone married Orlean Vandiver, an American tourist he met in Europe, and they had two sons. After World War II, he traveled between the Arkansas furniture business and his New York City architectural office. After the failure of the furniture venture and his first marriage in the early 1950s, Stone married Maria Elena Torchino in 1954, and they had a son and a daughter. After his second marriage failed in 1966, Stone married his employee, Violet Campbell Moffat, in 1972, and they had a daughter.

Stone's Legacy:

" Clearly, father simultaneously held a traditionalist's and modernist's view of architectural beauty, one that was not only modeled on a deep appreciation for Classical and Renaissance architecture, but also for the early examples of European Modernism....Some of father's most prominent architectural motifs have their origin in Frank Lloyd Wright's work....People also forget that Wright was very much an embattled outsider in the architectural community in the 1950s, partly because of the power of modernists in academia. He and father shared this isolation, and it deepened their bond....I do think that reestablishing the connection with our architectural past that modernists had sought to break is one of father's legacies...."—Hicks Stone, AIArchitect

The Edward Durell Stone Papers 1927-1974 are held at the University of Arkansas Libraries.

Related Architectural Styles:

  • International
  • Prairie
  • New Formalism

Media About Stone:

  • The Evolution of an Architect by Edward Durell Stone, Horizon Press, 1962
  • Edward Durell Stone, Recent and Future Architecture by Edward Durell Stone, Horizon, 1968
  • Edward Durell Stone: A Son's Untold Story of a Legendary Architect by Hicks Stone, Rizzoli, 2011
  • Edward Durell Stone: Modernism's Populist Architect by Mary Anne Hunting, W. W. Norton, 2012
  • Cover of Time magazine, March 31, 1958

Sources: Edward Durell Stone (1902–1978) by Robert L. Skolmen and Fulbright Industries by Catherine Wallack, Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture (EOA), Butler Center for Arkansas Studies at the Central Arkansas Library System (CALS), Little Rock, Arkansas; Architectural Chronology, Museum of Modern Art [accessed November 18, 2013]. Life by Robert L. Skolmen and Hicks Stone; Sons, Second Chances, and the Stones by Mike Singer, AIArchitect [accessed November 19, 2013]. The Campaign to Preserve 2 Columbus Circle Chronology by Kate Wood, New York Preservation Archive Project, 2007-2008 at [accessed November 20, 2013].