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Architecture

The Architecture of Assassination

 

Texas Schoolbook Depository Dallas

The former Texas School Book Depository, now the Dallas County Administration Building (original image: Jim Bowen via Wikimedia commons)

On November 22, 1963, a pall was cast over the country that some people say we’ve never emerged from. It is thought to represent a loss of innocence, or at the very least, a loss of naiveté that forever changed the country in a profound way. But on a more local level, it also also changed Dallas’s Dealey Plaza – not physically, but symbolically and emotionally. It changed the meaning of the urban park.

Dealey Plaza

Study for a proposed civic Center in Dallas, Texas. Dealey Plaza at top right. (image: Dallas Public Library)

Dealey Plaza wasn’t always a symbol of loss or a sight of conspiracy. It was built in the late 1930s as a symbol of optimism, an Art Deco, automotive gateway into Dallas that was part of a larger, only partially realized Civic Center Plan designed by city engineers. Though parts of Dealey Plaza (named after an early publisher of the Dallas Morning News) are still quite beautiful, especially after a recent renovation by architects Good Fulton & Farrell, the area is forever marred by Kennedy’s assassination and visited by thousands of curious tourists each year hoping to get some insight into this particularly dark point in American history. Perhaps no other place in America has been as thoroughly documented, as exhaustively measured, mapped, modeled, photographed, and even acoustically tested.

Grassy Knoll

The ‘X’ painted in the center of Elm Street where Kennedy was sitting when he was killed. (original image: Bradipus via wikimedia commons)

A long time ago, on my own first trip to Dallas I was shocked to see a small ‘X’ painted in the road, marking the precise spot where Kennedy was sitting at the moment he was shot. At the time I thought it was an official monument but I’ve since learned that it is maintained by one of the conspiracy theorists who holds court near the assassination site. From the grassy knoll, you can see the X, the permanently open window on the sixth floor of the former Texas School Book Depository building from where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shot that killed the President. Along the perimeter of the plaza were vendors selling books, magazines and DVDs describing myriad conspiracy theories, some of which were elaborated on in posters and flyers. It seemed to me that Dealey Plaza had become a built manifestation of one of those obsessively assembled conspiracy maps that TV detectives inevitably find in the apartments of psychopaths. The only thing missing was string connecting everything together.

texas book depository

The book depository circa 1963. The giant Hertz sign that sat on the top of the building in 1963 was removed in 1978 because it was found to cause structural damage. The sign was dismantled, put into storage, and is being maintained by The Sixth Floor Museum, who recently restored the original Book Depository sign. (image: Mary Ferrell Foundation)

Every visitor to the plaza is drawn to the former Book Depository, a building that came close to becoming another casualty of Dealey Plaza. Originally erected in 1901 as a warehouse for the Chicago-based Rock island Plow Company, the seven-story brick building was built on the foundations of a previous structure that burned earlier that year. Its architect is unknown, but the masonry-constructed Romanesque building appropriately bears some resemblance to very early Chicago skyscrapers, exemplified by H.H. Richardson’s Marshall Field’s Wholesale Store and the work of Adler and Sullivan (which, though visually similar, was pioneering in its use of steel-frame construction). Rock Island owned the building until 1937, after which time it was sold and changed hands, housing a variety of tenants. By 1963 a tenant was in place in that would forever be associated with the building: the Texas School Book Depository.

texas book depository dallas

Interior of the Book Depository circa 1963 (image: Mary Ferrell Foundaiton

The Texas School Book Depository operated in the building for 7 years after the assassination, and after they moved out the building gradually fell into disrepair. For years after the assassination, there were those people who believed that the building should be razed, but the city wouldn’t grant demolition permits even as local politicians were doing everything they could to discourage further associations between the city and the assassination. Their efforts were, of course, in vain. The site was heavily visited throughout the 70s and there was intense curiosity about the building and the assassin’s perch.

In 1977 the building at 411 Elm Street was bought by Dallas County, renovated, and reopened in 1981 as the Dallas County Administration Building. But the sixth floor remained unoccupied. According to the National Register of Historic Places (pdf), which recognized the Dealey Plaza district in 1978, “it’s strong negative historical associates made it unsuitable for use as County offices.” Plus, there was already talk of opening some sort of museum to answer the questions of the many visitors while also preventing “the proliferation of private ventures” looking to capitalize on the area’s historic significance.

kenn=edy assassination book depository

The preserved sniper’s perch in The Sixth Floor Museum (image: courtesy The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza)

That wouldn’t happen until 1989 when The Sixth Floor Museum finally opened, restored and adapted under the general supervision of architects Eugene George and James Hendricks. A collaboration between Dallas County and the non-profit Dallas County Historical Foundation, the Sixth Floor Museum “chronicles the assassination and legacy of President John F. Kennedy; interprets the Dealey Plaza National Historic Landmark District and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Plaza; and presents contemporary culture within the context of presidential history.”

It is a way to partially transform the building from a place imbued with malice, regret and morbid curiosity, to a place of education, understanding… and morbid curiosity. The museum has been designed to maintain the integrity of the building and the feeling of the warehouse space, as well as the views out onto Dealey Plaza. Though no original evidence is on display, two areas–the sniper’s perch in the far southeast corner and the spot where the rifle was found–have been authentically restored to almost exactly the way they looked on November 22, 1963 using original photos and duplicate book boxes. These two areas are protected by glass walls, preserved as a piece of American history.

The assassination of President Kennedy charged the area with new meaning. Once nothing more than an ambitious piece of urban planning, Dealey Plaza and the former Book Depository building now make up the most famous crime scene in America. 50 years later it remains a symbol of a national tragedy and the failure of one of the world s greatest powers to to protect its leader. To close, this excerpt from the National Register of Historic Places seemed quite apt.

“Dictators and emperors have leveled cities and sown their ground with salt for acts of regicide. But a democracy may [face] a harder test. It may encourage the preservation of sites of pain and horror, as well as triumph and grandeur. Dealey Plaza’s sad fate is to have the former far outweigh the latter.”

 

This article originally appeared on Smithsonian.com 

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Architecture

Design Decoded: The Daring Escape From the Eastern State Penitentiary

“How 12 convicts escaped by tunnel from Eastern Penitentiary,” Diagram of the Tunnel published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, April 3, 1945 (image: Philadelphia Inquirer via Easter State Penitentiary)

Eastern State Penitentiary opened its gates in 1829. It was devised by The Philadelphia Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, an organization of powerful Philadelphia residents that counted Benjamin Franklin among its members and whose ambition was to “build a true penitentiary, a prison designed to create genuine regret and penitence in the criminal’s heart.” With its hub-and-spoke design of long blocks containing individual prison cells, ESP could be considered the first modern prison. There are many, many stories told about the prisoners that have been incarcerated here over its nearly 150 years of operation–some inspiring, some horrible, some about Al Capone–but none of them have captivated the public more than the 1945 “Willie Sutton” tunnel escape.

Photo of Willie Sutton’s in 1934; a photo taken mere minutes after his escape in 1945; Sutton’s post-escape mug shot; the wanted poster issued after Sutton’s escape from Holmesburg. At the time he was one of the FBI’s ten most wanted fugitives (image: Eastern State Penitentiary)

The most famous escape in the history of Eastern State Penitentiary was the work of 12 men – they were like the Dirty Dozen, but less well adjusted. The most infamous among them was Willie Sutton aka “Slick Willie” aka Willie “The Actor” aka “The Gentleman Bandit” aka “The Babe Ruth of bank robbers,” who was sentenced to Eastern State Penitentiary in 1934 for the brazen machine gun robbery of the Corn Exchange Bank in Philadelphia. Those nicknames alone tell you everything you need to know about Willie Sutton. He was, by all accounts (especially his own), exactly what you want a old-timey bank robber to be: charming, devious, a master of disguise, and of course, an accomplished escape artist, who in 11 years at ESP, made at least five escape attempts. Sutton’s outspoken nature and braggadocio landed him a few stories in Life magazine and even a book deal. In his 1953 autobiography Where the Money Was, Sutton takes full credit as the mastermind behind the tunnel operation.

Clarence Klinedinst in the center (image: Temple University Archives via Eastern State Penitentiary)

Though the personable Sutton may have been critical in managing the mercurial tempers of his fellow escapees, the truth is that the escape was planned and largely executed by Clarence “Kliney” Klinedinst, a plasterer, stone mason, burglar, and forger who looked a little like a young Frank Sinatra and had a reputation as a first-rate prison scavenger. “If you gave Kliney two weeks, he could get you Ava Gardner,” said Sutton. And If you give Kliney a year, he could get you out of prison.

The entry to the escape tunnel, excavated by a team of archaeologists and researches in 2005.

Working in two-man teams of 30 minute shifts, the tunnel crew, using spoons and flattened cans as shovels and picks, slowly dug a 31-inch opening through the wall of cell 68, then dug twelve feet straight down into the ground, and another 100 feet out beyond the walls of the prison. They removed dirt by concealing it in their pockets and scattering it in the yard a la The Great Escape. Also like The Great Escape, the ESP tunnel was shored up with scaffolding, illuminated, and even ventilated. At about the halfway point, it linked up with the prison’s brick sewer system and the crew created an operable connection between the two pipelines to deposit their waste while ensuring that noxious fumes were kept out of the tunnel. It was an impressive work of subversive, subterranean engineering, the likes of which can only emerge from desperation. As a testament to either clever design or the ineptitude of the guards, the tunnel escaped inspection several times thanks to a false panel Kliney treated to match the plaster walls of the cell and concealed by a metal waste basket.

After months of painfully slow labor, the tunnel was ready. On the morning (yes, the morning) of April 3, 1945, the dirtier dozen made their escape, sneaking off to cell 68 on their way to breakfast.

Two of the escapees, including Sutton (at left), are returned to Eastern after mere minutes of freedom. (image: Eastern State Penitentiary)

Like most designers, Kliney and co. found that the work far outweighed the reward. After all that designing, carving, digging, and building, Kliney made it a whole three hours before getting caught. But that was better than Sutton, who was free for only about three minutes. By the end of the day, half the escapees were returned to prison while the rest were caught within a couple months. Sutton recalls the escape attempt in Where the Money Was:

“One by one the men lowered themselves to the tunnel, and on hands and knees crept the hundred and twenty feet to its end. The remaining two feet of earth were scraped away and men rumbled from the hole to scurry in all directions. I leaped from the hole, began to run, and came face to face with two policemen. They stood for a moment, paralyzed with amazement. I was soaking wet and my face was covered with mud.

“Put up your hands or I’ll shoot.” One of them recovered more quickly than the other.

“Go ahead, shoot,” I snarled at them, and at that moment I honestly hoped he would. Then I wheeled and began to run. He emptied his gun at me, but I wasn’t hit….None of the bullets hit me, but they did make me swerve, and in swerving I tripped, fell, and they had me.”

The first few escapees to be captured, Sutton among them, were put in the Klondikes – illegal, completely dark, solitary confinement cells secretly built by guards in the mechanical space below one of the cell blocks. These spaces are miserable, tiny holes that aren’t big enough to stand up or wide enough to lie down. Sutton was eventually transferred to the “escape proof” Holmesburg Prison, from which he promptly escaped and managed to avoid the law for six years. Police eventually caught up with him in Brooklyn after a witness saw him on the subway and recognized his mug from the wanted poster.

The map of the 1945 tunnel made by guard Cecil Ingling. In his larger-than-life account of the escape, Sutton claimed the tunnel went 30-feet down. “I knew that the prison wall itself extended 25 feet beneath the surface of the ground and that it was fourteen feet thick at the base.” Clearly, that wasn’t the case. (image: Eastern State Penitentiary)

As for the tunnel, after it was analyzed and mapped, guards filled it with ash and covered it with cement. Though it may have been erased from the prison, its legend likely inspired inmates until Eastern State Penitentiary was closed in 1971. And despite the failure of the escapees, the tunnel has continued to intrigue the public.

Archaeologists use ground-penetrating radar and an auger to detect the remains of the 1945 tunnel on the occasion of its 60th anniversary. (images: Digging in the City of Brotherly Love)

The location of the tunnel was lost until 2005, when the Eastern State Penitentiary, now a non-profit dedicated to preserving the landmarked prison, completed an archaeological survey to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the escape. To find the tunnel, the prison escape preservationists created a search grid over the prison grounds near the entrance, the location of which was known from old photos. Using ground penetrating radar, the team was able to create vertical sections though the site in increments corresponding to the suspected width of the tunnel. After a couple failed attempts, the archaeologists detected a section of the tunnel that hadn’t collapsed and hadn’t been filled-in by the guards. The following year, a robotic rover was sent through the tunnels, documenting its scaffolding and lighting systems. While no major discoveries were made, curiosity was sated and the public’s imagination was newly ignited  by  stories of the prison and its inmates.

There’s something undeniably romantic about prison escapes – perhaps due to the prevalence of films where the escapee is the hero and/or the pure ingenuity involved in a prison escape. The best escape films –A Man Escaped, La Grande Illusion, Escape from Alcatraz, The Great Escape, to name just a few–show us every step of the elaborate plan as the rag tag team of diggers, scavengers, and ersatz engineers steal, forge, design, and dig their way to freedom. Without fail, the David vs. Goliath narrative has us rooting for the underdog every step of the way, even when the David is a bank robber.

The article originally appeared on Design Decoded.

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Penn Station: How Nostalgia Plays Into Our Love of Buildings Old and New

 

October 28 marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the end for New York’s old Pennsylvania Station. It took three years and countless hours of manpower to tear down what was the fourth-largest building in the world. In remembrance of the station, last Wednesday the Center for Architecture held the event, Lights, Camera, Demolition: Penn Station Recalled on Stage & In Pictures. The highlight was a reading of a The Eternal Space, a new play about the unlikely relationship between two men – a construction worker photographing the station as he tears it down and an aging professor determined to save it. Photographs documenting the entire life of Penn Station–some famous, some never seen–are critical to the play, serving as a background for the actors, silently telling the story of a changing city and offering their own compelling provocations alongside a compelling debate about progress, preservation, and of course, Pennsylvania Station.

Following a reading of the play, a panel was convened to discuss the station, its legacy, and the photographs that continue to inspire. Panelists included playwright Justin Rivers, myself, noted biographer of Penn Station Lorraine Dhiel, and renown photographer Norman McGrath, whose vast archive of personal photos includes hundreds of never-before-seen images documenting the demolition of Penn Station, photos that feature prominently in the play (and in this post).

Pennsylvania Station was designed by McKim, Mead, and White in 1902. McKim, a Beaux-Arts educated architect and co-founder of the American Academy in Rome, was the lead designer on the project which was a grand display of his idiosyncratic Beaux-Arts Classicism. He draws inspiration from the great train stations of Europe, the Baths of Caracalla, John Soane’s Bank of England, and surely myriad other sources, all artfully combined into a monumental pink granite structure. It was a testament to the our technological prowess, craftsmanship, and artistry. It was a monument to our culture; a station scaled to the ambitions of a country at the peak of its power – a modern Rome. And indeed, at times it seemed that all tracks lead to New York – or, to be more specific, Penn Station. It was to be a gateway to the city.

But times change. And cities change. By 1963, New York was a very different place and Penn Station was no longer the gateway into the city. New highways and air travel gave travelers more, sometimes better, options. And while automotive infrastructure was being built by governments, privately owned railways were going bankrupt and bleeding passengers. In a time of high speed and efficiency, Pennsylvania Station was a decadent, inspiring and expensive masterpiece. As it fell into decay and disrepair, the owners of the railroad believed they had no choice but to sell the rights to build on their valuable property, making it possible for a new, modern, and incredibly ugly Madison Square Garden to rise where Penn Station stood, while the while the waiting rooms, ticketing areas, and train concourses were pushed underground. The opposition to the demolition was led by a small but local group, but at the time the city was powerless to stop it. And it seems that few New Yorkers held the station in high regard because although the Penn Station that exists in the popular imaginary looks like this:

penn station

The station was quite a bit worse for wear in 1963:

McGrath’s color photos of Penn Station’s demolition capture the vast spaces in all its Piranesian glory and communicate a sense of its scale in an almost morbid way. The demolition may have been an ignoble end to a truly beautiful building but it was undeniably sublime.

By the time of its demolition, Penn was full of unsightly newspaper kiosks, advertisements, and an jarring, modernist ticket counter that drastically changed the circulation through the building’s waiting room. But that is not the Penn Station we remember. There’s a line in The Eternal Space about a soldier who died in World War II: “how perfect he seems in death.” The same could be said about the station. Penn Station lives on through widely distributed photographs depicting the station at the peak of its monumental grandeur, such as those seen at the top of this post. The Penn Station we miss–even those of us who weren’t even a gleam in our father’s eye at the the time of its demolition–is one that hadn’t existed for a long time. And yet, these photos create a longing.

Wednesday night it occurred to me that contemporary architectural renderings serve a similar purpose. A good rendering of a beautiful design evokes a sort of reverse nostalgia; not a longing for something that’s gone, but a longing for something to exist. They can be incredibly convincing and they can reach a massive audience incredibly quickly. Renderings have become powerful tools for architects, planners, and developers. Are they informative? No doubt. Are they manipulative? Maybe a little.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

After all, the nostalgia-provoking photos of old Penn were/are manipulative in their own way. Images of a pristine Penn Station were used by advocacy groups to sway public sentiment and garner support for new policy, eventually leading to new legislation and the formation of the Landmarks Preservation Commission – the first organization in the city empowered to protect New York’s architectural heritage.

But that’s all in the past. There’s a lot of talk these days about the future of Penn Station thanks to the recent decision by New York City Planning Commission to renew Madison Square Garden’s permit for only 10 years and a design competition recently organized by the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), who invited four prominent local architects to submit a vision of Penn Station’s future. These projects are described in length on the MAS site but I just wanted to focus on one project –one image, really– that I think really starts to get at this idea of inverse nostalgia:

This rendering from Shop feels so well thought-out. It seems to have been carefully designed to imitate the iconic photos of New York’s two great train stations. To speculate a bit, I think architectural renderings in general will become more influential as they evolve to either become 1) more realistic, and/or 2) more artistic – that is to say, able to be considered a work of art, or at the very least to be able to evoke an emotional response. I think the above rendering is more a case of the latter. The soft lighting, the sunbeams, the massive space and sense of scale. It’s beautiful. And it evokes some halcyon past. This photo of Grand Central came immediately to mind:

Images have power. Even before this recent discussion about moving Madison Square Garden, Penn Station has had a hold on New Yorkers’ imagination thank largely to its photographs. As for its future – what should a modern Penn Station be like? Should there even be a new Penn Station? Those are questions people will be asking a lot over the next 10 years. Architects will talk about sustainability and new technologies and radical formal possibilities, and civic space –all important considerations to be sure– but at the end of the day, if there is going to be a new Penn Station it should be beautiful. It needs to satiate that longing and mitigate that sense of loss felt every time we see a picture of what was or an image of what could be.

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Design Decoded: When Pepsi Allowed a Team of Artists to Wreak Creative Havoc

 

pepsi pavilion

The Pepsi Pavilion at Expo ’70 (image: Takeyoshi Tanuma via YCAM)

While Pepsico’s finger may have slipped off the pulse of youth culture when they hired Edward Durell Stone to build their corporate campus, they found it again–briefly–when commissioning designers for their pavilion at Expo ‘70 in Osaka, Japan.

Still focusing their marketing on the kids they called the Pepsi Generation, the soda maker initially planned for the pavilion to be a simple bandshell that would host the winner of a global battle-of-the-bands style competition. After all, the kids love rock & roll, right? Japanese architect Tadashi Doi of Takenaka Komuten Co., a general contractor that traces its history back more than 400 years, was commissioned by Pepsi Japan to design the basic structure. Doi’s design for a slightly distorted 120-foot diameter faceted geodesic dome was a radical departure from the rather conservative Modernist headquarters Pepsi moved into that same year. But the dome’s architecture would be the least interesting thing about it.

The battle-of-the-bands idea was quickly scrapped after some internal disagreements among upper-level Pepsi brass. In lieu of a standard rock concert, it was decided that the pavilion would house a truly avant-garde work of contemporary art. Pepsi commissioned a group of artists, musicians and engineers who collaborated together under the name Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T) to design and program their pavilion. There were a lot of wheelings, dealings, arguments, misunderstandings and fundamental philosophical disagreements surrounding E.A.T.’s collaboration with Pepsi, but let’s just focus on the design of the installation, because it’s pretty great.

pepsi pavilion osaka

Pepsi Pavilion, Expo ’70(image: Shunk-Kender via Fondation Langlois)

E.A.T. weren’t particularly fond of the space they were given, but instead of ignoring it or opposing the faceted dome structure, they created a series of highly site-specific, integrated installations that dissolved the boundaries between art, technology and space, using the dome’s form against itself to create an immersive multimedia experience they referred to as “a living responsive environment.”

The Pepsi Pavilion engulfed in a cloud of its own making (image: Fujiko Nakaya via Research Library, The Getty Research Institute)

The Pepsi pavilion was a true collaborative effort in which E.A.T. synthesized multiple artistic interventions into a single unified whole. Two of the most prominent programs worked in tandem to literally conceal the architectural design. Most visibly (or invisibly as the case may be), a system of pipes and fog-emitted nozzles, designed by artist Fujiko Nakaya and physicist Thomas Lee, cloaked the dome in an artificial cloud whose shape would change in response to local weather conditions. At times, the cloud was six-feet thick, extending the effect of the Pavilion beyond the boundaries of the dome and prompting complaints from nearby vendors who couldn’t proffer their wares in the haze. Similar ideas and themes would be explored much later by architects Diller Scofidio Renfro, whose, scaffolding-like Blur Building(2002) used spraying misters to create what the architects called “immaterial architecture,” a phrase that echoes E.A.T. member Robert Rauschenberg’s description of the Pepsi project as an “invisible environment.”

pepsi pavilion osaka

The mylar-covered interior of the the Pepsi pavilion (image:  Shunk-Kender via Fondation Langlois)

If the outside of the building was a cloud, than the inside was its silver lining. The main interior space of the dome was dominated by an enormous mirrored Mylar surface held in place by vacuum pressure. In photographs, the inverted reflections created by the mirror almost look like holograms floating in space. As Marcelyn Gow, of the research and design collaborative servo writes, the combination of the fog and the mirror “would actively work to dematerialize the architecture of the pavilion itself. They would simultaneously augment and obscure the structure.” E.A.T. hated the architecture. So, like the strange and wonderful techno-artist-magicians they were, they made it disappear.

Additional programming in the building included electronically modified recordings of natural sounds that corresponded with various floor surfaces – bird tweets might be heard while walking across astroturf, for example. Other exterior elements, visible in the above photographs, included a laser beam space-frame and interactive, sculptural “floats” that move outside the pavilion and respond to movement. Truly keeping with the spirit of the 1960s, the pavilion was a case study in collaboration and participatory design. The interior changed in response to environmental conditions and the number of visitors, who were give some semblance of control over their environment through the interactive components. It’s hard to say more about what it was like to experience the pavilion because, it really was an experience; it was a visceral union of light, sound, and space. In other words, you had to be there, man.

The pavilion was an early example of a productive interaction between arts and industry, something that is so common today we barely even take note of it – see BMW’s collaboration with the Guggenheim, for example. The first lines of the press statement released jointly by E.A.T. and Pepsi-Cola is a paean to the union of the arts and and corporate culture: “E.A.T. is interested in Pepsi-Cola, not art. Our organization tried to interest, seduce and involve industry into participating in the process of making art.” This was a provocative statement to say the least and caused quite a commotion in the art world, many of whom saw little difference between global corporations like Pepsi and the military industrial complex. It came as no surprise then, that the relationship proved untenable and the program was unfortunately short-lived. Pepsi and E.A.T. came to some insurmountable disagreements and the cola giant canceled E.A.T.’s interactive, immersive, and incredibly expensive program with a modified version of their original idea for a music venue- something that Pepsi thought was more accessible for the average visitor.

Still from Masculin Feminin

The conflict between Pepsi’s desire to capture both the revolutionary spirit of avant-garde while also appealing to a broader, popular audience, reminds me of a scene from Masculin Féminin (1966), Jean-Luc Godard’s 1964 film/essay about a wannabe revolutionary in love with a wannabe pop star, and the dialectics of youth culture in the 1960s. The pop star, Madeleine, is asked by a reporter if she considers herself to be part of the “Pepsi Generation.” Her enthusiastic reply –”Oui! J’adore le Pepsi-Cola!”– is briefly interrupted by a gunshot, which goes completely unacknowledged. Madeleine so perfectly captures the charm and beauty of the youth with whom Pepsi, since the early ’60s, has tried to associate their brand. And yet, for a brief moment in 1970, Pepsi played both roles –revolutionary and pop star– but ultimately, like Madeleine, they ultimately chose to remain willingly oblivious to the burgeoning revolution, abandoning the barricades for pop culture adoration.

via Design Decoded http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/design/2013/09/when-pepsicola-allowed-a-team-of-artists-to-wreak-creative-havoc/

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Design Decoded: The Architectural History of Pepsi, Part 2: Edward Durell Stone and the Corporate Campus

A view from the approach to Pepsi’s Purchase, New York Headquarters (image: “WhisperToMe” via wikimedia commons)

Sometime in the early 1970s, huge American companies like IBM, General Foods and Union Carbide fled the confines of the city for the greener pastures of the suburbs. The new corporate campuses built during this time were sprawling modernist complexes, designed for efficiency by some of the country’s top architects. In 1970, as the first shots were being fired in the cola wars, PepsiCo joined this corporate diaspora, relocating from their modest and much-adored 13-story building in Manhattan to a 450,000-sq-ft complex on a 168-acre former polo field in Purchase, New York. To design their new home, Pepsi recruited “modernism’s populist architect” Edward Durell Stone.

Stone’s name isn’t well known today, but he was once one of the most famous architects in the world. When he started his career in the 1930s, Ed Stone was a promising young designer and bon vivant who, it was said, “could draw anything except a sober breath.” He first made a name for himself in the 1940s, working on the designs for Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall, which led to the commission for the new Museum of Modern Art building (1939) – Stone’s first foray into International Style modernism. Stone continued to work in the modernist idiom throughout the 1940s while also serving as chief critic at the Yale School of Architecture and, during World War II, a major in the United States Army Air Forces.  Some years before the war, he befriended Frank Lloyd Wright, who encouraged the up-and-coming architect to question the precepts of the International Style, and imbued him with an appreciation for ornament and vernacular architecture. Wright’s influence would manifest dramatically in the early 1950s when Stone was commissioned to design the American Embassy in New Delhi.

Stone’s design for the American Embassy in New Delhi helped launch him to stardom (image via WNYC)

The embassy’s modern design drew equal parts inspiration from Classical temples, European modernism, and local traditions. Its most notable–and most controversial– feature was a patterned concrete screen that minimized heat and glare while still allowing plenty of light into the building. The embassy was met with wide acclaim and honored by the American Institute of Architects as an expression of “serenity and power in government in terms appropriate for the country in which it is guest.” Although the building was an enormous professional and popular success, it proved to be quite divisive among the architectural community. While commissions were pouring into his office, staunch modernists and architecture critics focused on the patterned screen, calling it distracting and decorative – a stigma that would follow Stone throughout the rest of his career. But Stone had developed a fondness for decorative details and clients were clamoring for the his ornamental, romantic modernism. With the success of the embassy and a new PR-savvy wife who helped sober him up, Stone was quickly propelled from relative obscurity to the cover of Time magazine in 1958. He was in many ways a proto-starchitect

pepsi edward durell stone

An aerial view of the PepsiCo World Headquarters in Purchase, NY (image: google maps)

However, when he got the Pepsi commission in the late 1960s, Stone’s star was fading. By the mid-1960s, he had finally moved away from the concrete grillwork that had defined his personal style for so long, but the buildings behind the screens just weren’t as exciting. However, Stone never completely abandoned his love for decorative detailing, as evidenced by his design for the Pepsi Headquarters. The Purchase, New York complex, which is still the home of PepsiCo, consists of seven nearly identical inverted white ziggurat-like structures linked at their corners and organized around a cruciform central garden. It was supposedly designed to be expanded as the company grew, in a manner similar to, though less successful than, his friend Eero Saarinen’s design for IBM’s Rochester facility. Last year plans were announced that the facility was expanding for the first time since its construction, although it’s not certain if Pepsi will follow Stone’s original vision.

A closer look at Stone’s design for the PepsiCo Headquarters. Note the patterned concrete block. (image: “WhisperToMe” via wikimedia commons)

The new headquarters met with mixed reviews. Architectural Record described it as a “skillful blending” of architecture and nature combining elements of both the urban and the rural. Pepsi reported that after moving into the building, employee morale went up and work habits had improved. However, many critics still had a hard time accepting Stone’s work. Paul Goldberger, during his tenure as The New York Times architecture critic, called it “a world of utter blandness” that “is free of major vulgarities but also free of any excitement.” Much of the rancor towards his architecture can probably be attributed Goldberger’s precursor at The Times, the venerable Ada Louise Huxtable, whose dislike of Stone’s work merited two paragraphs in her obituary.

The landscaping, on the other hand, has been widely lauded. Initially designed by Stone’s son, Edward Stone Jr., to complement his father’s structure, the PepsiCo property is a verdant, luxurious sculpture garden filled with work by the likes of Brancusi, Alexander Calder, and Claes Oldenburg. And best of all, it’s open to the public.

Edward Durell Stone retired from practice in 1974 and fell into relative obscurity – a surprising reversal of fortune for a man whose face once adorned the cover of Time. Though his name is in the history books for his early work on Rockefeller Center and MOMA, his later projects are rarely discussed. Perhaps because they’re not easy to discuss; Stone’s work defies categorization. Some people have called Stone a proto-Postmodernist; some considered him a man ahead of his time while others thought he was struggling to keep up. In either case, his design for Pepsi’s HQ wasn’t attuned to the zeitgeist like their Manhattan offices. Stone may have been many things, but was certainly not a man of the Pepsi Generation – whatever that may be.

The final part in this short series will look at Pepsi’s radical pavilion at the 1970 Osaka World Expo.

via Design Decoded