Thursday, January 12, 2017

A Funny Thing Happened on The Way To The Forum...

LA Forum
LA Forum by Charles Luckman (1967)... See what I did there with the title of the blog? I know... I crack myself up. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Mention the work of Edward Durell Stone or other New Formalist architects to a die-hard Modernist and you will likely get a lot of eye-rolling or outright scoffing. They would claim - with some reason, to be honest - that New Formalism is the polar opposite of the functionalist ethos that International Modernist architecture espoused. Its classical colonnades and marble arcades were enough to send someone like Le Corbusier into gallic fits (although he was no stranger to ornamentation later in his career...). I pretty much felt that way once, myself. But I have to say, the older I get, the more the lines have blurred for me. I now believe these two schools of design have more in common than differences. In fact, I firmly believe that New Formalism belongs in the Modernist pantheon. Plus, I'm finally ready to admit I kinda love it. 
ambassador theater pasadena 2
Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena by Daniel, Mann, Johnson, and Mendenhall in 1974. Photo ©Darren Bradley
New Formalism emerged as an architectural style in the mid-1950s and was in full swing by the 1960s. As its name suggests, the designs were meant to evoke Classical architecture - typically Greek or Roman, but sometimes even Gothic. 

United States Science Pavilion
United States Science Pavilion for the Seattle World's Fair, by Minoru Yamasaki (1962).  Photo ©Darren Bradley

They frequently employed marble and travertine (or white-painted concrete meant to mimic these materials). As I mentioned above, long colonnades and archways were common. The proportions and layouts of the buildings also had more in common with Palladio than with Gropius. 

As the name suggests, New Formalist architecture was meant to evoke a certain gravitas, and the formality of this architecture lent itself well to government institutional buildings such as city halls, embassies, and concert halls. 

city hall
Fullerton City Hall by Smith, Powell & Morgridge (1963) employs relatively modest materials. Photo ©Darren Bradley

But it was also used for banks, apartment buildings, houses, and other places that were trying to convey a sense of wealth and power. 
Bank Building
New Formalist bank building in North Charleston, SC. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Fifth Avenue Financial Center
Fifth Avenue Financial Center by Freeland, Bird & Associates in San Diego (1965). Photo ©Darren Bradley

Perhaps the best known master of New Formalism was Edward Durell Stone, who helped to define the style by fusing his classic Beaux-Arts training with International Modernist functionality and introduced *gasp* ornamentation into his designs. Stone paid dearly for his transgression - often receiving harsh criticism from the more orthodox Modernists. In fact, he was probably the most reviled architect of his day (and for many days after that, as well... still today). Ada Louise Huxtable, the infamous, respected/feared architecture critic for The New York Times, was known for her hatred of his work. In her obituary, THREE WHOLE PARAGRAPHS were dedicated to how much she disliked Stone's work. 

Author Tom Wolfe, who himself harboured no great love for Modernism, wrote this about Stone in his book From Bauhaus to Our House: 
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.
American Embassy in New Delhi by Edward Durell Stone. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts
The Kennedys so loved the design for the Indian Embassy that they asked Edward Durell Stone to design the new performing arts center in Washington, DC. The strong resemblance is probably not a coincidence. Photo ©Darren Bradley

The aforementioned Huxtable had this to say about the Kennedy Center (re-quoted in her obituary in the New York Times): 
"Albert Speer would have approved,” she said in 1971 about his Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, linking Mr. Stone indirectly to the Nazis’ chief architect. “The building is a national tragedy. It is a cross between a concrete candy box and a marble sarcophagus in which the art of architecture lies buried.”
Not mincing words there... 
Edward T. Foley Center
The Edward T. Foley Center at Loyola Marymount University, by Edward Durell Stone (1964) is often compared to the American Embassy in New Delhi, but to me the two buildings are fairly different. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Scottish Rite Masonic Temple
Stone's style was a natural fit for the Scottish Rite Temples and he did several, including this one in San Francisco and another on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
It was pouring rain when I took this shot... need to go back when there's sun. Photo ©Darren Bradley

edward durell stone eisenhower med center
Eisenhower Medical Center in Palm Springs by Edward Durell Stone. Photo ©Darren Bradley
smith pharmaceutical edward durell stone
Stuart Pharmaceutical Center in Pasadena (now mostly gone, except this facade, and converted to apartments). Photo ©Darren Bradley
cal tech beckman edward durell stone
Beckman Auditorium at Cal Tech by Edward Durell Stone. Photo ©Darren Bradley
Scripps Green Hospital
Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla (San Diego), CA, by Edward Durell Stone. Photo ©Darren Bradley
chomp edward durell stone
Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula (CHOMP) by Edward Durell Stone. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Quite scandalous, indeed. But the public loved his work - even if the critics did not - and he was never short on commissions. In fact, he even graced the cover of Time Magazine - a rare privilege for anyone - even a celebrity architect. 

edward durell stone

Stone was not alone in his desire to introduce classicist ornamentation and proportions into his designs. Other well known architects such as Morris Lapidus, Charles Luckman, William Pereira, Anshen & Allen, Welton Becket, and Minoru Yamasaki also embraced this style. 

A bit of Miami Beach in Washington, DC
Morris Lapidus is generally associated with his lavish resorts in Miami Beach, but he also designed a couple of hotels in Washington, DC, including this one.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

The Emporium
The Emporium Department Store in Santa Rosa, CA, by Welton Becket & Associates. Photo ©Darren Bradley

bradley_anshen and allen_union bank
The Union Bank Building by Anshen & Allen in Portland, Oregon certainly fits the bill for New Formalist style, by adapting Classicist styling cues such as the pedestal and the colonnade, and adapting more streamlined, swooping curves to them. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Often, the result was a sort of hybrid form that seemed to blur the lines between Googie and other sub-forms of Modernist architecture. 

Santa Monica Civic Auditorium
Welton Becket's Santa Monica Civic Auditorium blurs the lines between Googie and New Formalism. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Perhaps one of the best known examples of New Formalism are the ubiquitous Home Savings & Loan bank buildings. These banks (later renamed Home Savings of America) were owned by Los Angeles multi-millionaire Howard F. Ahmanson (1906-1968). 

Home Savings & Loan
Beverly Hills Home Savings & Loan by Millard Sheets. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Ahmanson was a great lover of the arts and architecture, and a philanthropist who supported museums and art institutions in Los Angeles. (In fact, architect William Pereira was also a close friend and was part of the racing team on Ahmanson's sailboat when they won the Transpac to Honolulu). 

Langson Library
UC Irvine Library by William Pereira. Photo ©Darren Bradley

He felt that his bank branch buildings should also showcase art and design. So starting in 1952, Ahmanson hired artist and architectural designer Millard Sheets to design bank branches around the region and eventually other parts of the country. 

bradley_sheets_hsl_pacific beach_1
Sheets-designed bank with historical tile murals in Pacific Beach, San Diego. Photo ©Darren Bradley

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Sheets-designed bank in Pacific Beach, San Diego, CA. Photo ©Darren Bradley
sheets hsl brentwood
Sheets-designed bank in Brentwood, Los Angeles. It's now a Footjoy and New Balance Shoe store. Photo ©Darren Bradley

bradley_sheets_hsl_la mesa_1
Sheets-designed former Home Savings & Loan in La Mesa (San Diego, CA. Now a city job search center. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Sheets, who was Director of the Otis Art Institute starting in 1953, integrated the works of local muralists, ceramicists, sculptors, and other artists into the bank designs. 

bradley_sheets_hsl_pacific beach_8
The artwork on the banks is frequently inspired by local themes - in this case, the San Diego Zoo. This mural, signed "SH", reminds me a bit of Mary Blair's work.
Photo ©Darren Bradley

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This mural has the San Diego Harbor as the theme. Photo ©Darren Bradley

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The Mexican Rancheros are the theme for this mural at the La Mesa branch. Photo ©Darren Bradley

bradley_sheets_hsl_la mesa_3
Local blue whales are the theme of this mural in San Diego. Photo ©Darren Bradley
bradley_sheets_hsl_pacific beach_7
Historical figures represent various periods of local San Diego history. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Alas, after several downturns, HSA was finally acquired in 1998 (by Washington Mutual - boo... don't get me started on them). In 2008, WaMu collapsed and most of the HSA assets (and Sheets-designed buildings) were acquired by Chase Bank. 

home savings loan
The Hollywood branch of the former Home Savings & Loan by Millard Sheets. Photo ©Darrren Bradley

Howard Ahmanson knew what he liked. And that was New Formalist architecture. As I mentioned, he funded many artistic and cultural institutions in Los Angeles. And you will see a common theme in the architecture of those institutions that he did support. For example, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the LA Music Center, by Welton Becket... 

dorothy chandler pavilion
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the LA Music Center. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Ahmanson also hired Edward Durell Stone to design an office complex with his namesake, the Ahmanson Center on Wilshire Boulevard. 

Ahmanson Center
The Ahmanson Center is now called the Wilshire Colonnade. Photo ©Darren Bradley

Ahmanson Center
Note the heavy use of marble and travertine, and the colonnade and arcades... all classic traits of a good New Formalist building. The security guard on the right side of the frame about to kick me out is optional. Photo ©Darren Bradley
New Formalist buildings have probably fared slightly better than most other forms of Modernist architecture - largely because the public tended to appreciate them more than most. But that hasn't stopped them from being destroyed or disfigured just like everything else. And since they have not traditionally received a lot of love from architecture critics, they didn't have many defenders when they were threatened. 

Gallery of Contemporary Art, 2 Columbus Circle
Edward Durell Stone's Gallery of Modern Art at 2 Columbus Circle in New York City (1964) employed elements of Venetian and Byzantine design. Ada Louise Huxtable, the influential architecture critic for the New York Times, called the building a “die-cut Venetian palazzo on lollipops”.
Photo by Ezra Stoller/ESTO via Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps the most well known example is the disgrace that is the disfiguring of Stone's 2 Columbus Circle today. Despite a rather vociferous campaign to save it, the Museum of Arts & Design radically altered the building. It's believed the Huxtable's disdain for its design may have been the final nail in its coffin. 

Why..? I have no words... The "renovation" was done by Allied Works Architecture. Is there anyone who really thinks this is better?
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

More recently, Stone's Busch Stadium in St. Louis is one of the latest victims. It was razed in 2006. 

Busch2 stone
The 96 arches on the roof around Busch Memorial Stadium were intended to evoke the Saarinen's St. Louis Arch. Turns out nobody cared. It was demolished in 2006. Saarinen, ironically, was also often ridiculed by architecture critics.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

That said, people these days are not really bothered by the lack of orthodoxy in the design, and even architecture geeks like myself have come to appreciate the work (especially in comparison to most of what came after it)...

Not a fan of New Formalism? Not to worry... this is coming right on its heels! Piazza d'Italia by Charles Moore in New Orleans...
Photo via Dezeen. 
While some may still claim that New Formalism was sort of a gateway drug to the Post-Modernist nightmare that followed, I would disagree. Rather than cobbling together historical tropes in random disorder (as PoMo did), New Formalist design took a rational, classicist approach to design and ornamentation, and incorporated Modernist design principles about functionality at the same time. 


Joe the Curmudgeon said...

Wow, I am not a fan of that North Charleston bank building. Seems ass-backward in scale and proportion. It hurts to look at it.

Kate said...

Thank you for this post, I really enjoyed it. Learned a lot too. And no, I do not even remotely think that 'renovation'is better than what was there before. What a confused mess!

Προώθηση Ιστοσελίδων said...

This building is one of the best designs i have ever seen.

Trevor McClintock

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Love this blog although it's going to mean an increase in my travel budget to visit all those spots! Given my interest in Stone/Breeze blocks, it was cool to see your photo of the Scottish Rite Temple building amongst others. And finally, he who laughs loudest at his own jokes, is a friend of mine!

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