Art: More Than Modern

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Effective Elixir. Maria's elixir had an instantaneous effect. They were married on June 24, 1954 in Beirut, while Stone was putting the finishing touches on his design for the $5,000,000 Hotel Phoenicia. Three days later, Stone lounged in his bathrobe on a balcony of the St. George Hotel, took a long look at the blue Mediterranean and the snow-capped mountains of Lebanon, and began his first sketch for the U.S. New Delhi embassy, a commission he had received from the U.S. State Department three months before. The sketch (see cut), done quickly on the corner of a coffee-stained Manila envelope which Maria snatched from the wastebasket afterward, may well prove to be a historic architectural document, for by almost universal acclaim, Stone's New Delhi embassy is one of the key architectural achievements of the decade. What Stone has managed to do in a single building is to reintroduce into modern architecture the quality of monumentality and stateliness that functional, stripped-down modern has long lacked. Stone's inspiration was the great temple forms of Greece and Rome, set on a podium, which in the New Delhi case also serves to shelter cars from the blistering India sun.

At the same time, Stone found in the arabesque grilles, used from the windows of Spain's Alhambra to the walls of Hindu temples, a device both ornamental and effective in filtering the sun's rays, which in New Delhi send temperatures up to 120°. By wrapping the grille around the building, Stone achieved not only a massive, highly textured façade, but also successfully reintroduced on a grand scale the element of decoration that has been one of modern architecture's taboos.

"Taj Maria." The reaction to Stone's design for New Delhi was a rousing cheer that rolled the full range of the architectural profession, from Mies van der Rohe purists to Frank Lloyd Wright ("The only embassy that does credit to the United States"). Said one U.S. architect, just back from India: "The effect is of the Parthenon, with the pierced marble screen of Delhi's Red Fort and the white of the Taj Mahal. In the sun it's going to tell a terrific story." Cracked Frank Lloyd Wright: "Why not call it Taj Maria?"

Ed Stone has made such massive use of the arabesque grille façade that it has become his trademark. Says he: "I guess, subconsciously, I have been working up to this for a long time. You can see it in the walls as far back as the Goodyear house. El Panama Hotel is full of grilles and screens. I have come to the belief that the device of the grille is warranted in most parts of the U.S. I think it serves not only to satisfy a wistful yearning on the part of everyone for pattern, warmth and interest, but also serves the desperately utilitarian purpose of keeping the sun off glass and giving privacy."

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