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    Hugh Stubbins, Modern Tower

    continued

    Life in Pursuit of Modernism

    Citicorp embodies many of the architectural themes that Stubbins pursued over his long career. A native of Birmingham, Alabama, he first studied architecture at Georgia Institute of Technology and then earned his graduate degree in architecture at Harvard in 1935. Stubbins was first, foremost, and always a modernist.

    In Paul Heyer's book, Architects on Architecture, Stubbins described architecture not necessarily as just individual buildings, "but as the whole fabric of our physical environment. Architecture is the man-made world in its totality." As such, Stubbins viewed architecture as an "approach towards life. It is a social art." The architect, in his view, was the professional who could achieve coherence in a chaotic world.

    His architectural sympathies were modern in every way. Stubbins focused on function, on problem solving, on planning. Architecture had to "work," responding to the needs of human beings. Buildings should have a structural logic and expression, they should integrate with their surroundings, and be expressive of our time and the technology that achieved them.

    International Influences

    His biggest influence was the work of Alvar Aalto, whom Stubbins described as the greatest living architect of his time. As a rising star he became friends with Aalto. "He builds with a thorough familiarity with the problem and its situation," said Stubbins of the Finnish architect, "with a palette of homogeneous materials and logical structure."

    Stubbins excelled during the late-1930s and 40s as a designer of modern houses sleek compositions of solid planes and sheets of glass, along with regional materials. In 1939, Walter Gropius invited him to work as his assistant and teach at Harvard, and there in Cambridge, Massachusetts he established his own practice, now The Stubbins Associates.

    Stubbins' fascination with technology and problem solving was reflected in his service activities during the Second World War. He worked on radar-jamming devices, three-dimensional drawing techniques to train naval pilots, and heat-seeking "smart" bombs. He also designed low-cost military housing.

    After the war he continued to teach at Harvard, where he became chair of the department in 1953 and continued to build his practice, to which he devoted himself full-time after leaving Harvard in 1954.

    The 1957 Congress Hall in Berlin, now called the House of World Cultures, was Stubbins' first landmark building, with its dramatic, arched roof. He later completed a plethora of dormitories, libraries, theaters, and other academic buildings on college campuses such as Harvard, Princeton, MIT, and the University of Virginia, leading to the recognition of Hugh Stubbins and Associates as the AIA Firm of the Year in 1967.

    An echo of Citicorp, Stubbins' Federal Reserve Bank Building in Boston, which stands above the city on two gargantuan legs with floors spanning between them, earned the nickname "the washboard." Stubbins went on to design Landmark Tower in Yokohama (the tallest building in Japan) and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California a low-slung building inspired by the region's mission-style architecture.

    This late venture into unabashed regionalism might seem odd for a modernist, but Stubbins used regional materials throughout his career, and it was regionalism that he most admired in Aalto's work. But Citicorp is Stubbins' monument a building that shook modern skyscrapers out of their flat-topped doldrums, and made a place in the city that is still vibrant with light and life today.   >>>

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Michael J. Crosbie is editor-in-chief of Faith & Form, a senior associate with Steven Winter Associates, and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek.

    Also consulted for this article: "Hugh Stubbins" by Dianne Ludman Frank, in the Encyclopedia of Architecture, Design, Engineering, and Construction.

     

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    Citicorp Center by architect Hugh Stubbins, Jr.
    Photo: Edward Jacoby

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    Citicorp atrium.
    Photo: Edward Jacoby

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    The 1957 Congress Hall in Berlin, by Hugh Stubbins, Jr.
    Photo: Hedrich Blessing

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    Congress Hall in Berlin at night.
    Photo: Hedrich Blessing

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    Congress Hall, section through the auditorium.
    Image: The Stubbins Associates, Inc. Extra Large Image

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    Federal Reserve Bank Building in Boston.
    Photo: Edward Jacoby

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    Federal Reserve Bank exterior pool.
    Photo: Edward Jacoby

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    Federal Reserve Bank interior.
    Photo: Edward Jacoby

     

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