Hugh Stubbins, 94, Architect of Citigroup Center
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Hugh Stubbins, who died Wednesday at 94, was lead architect of the Citigroup Center. Opened in 1977, the building with the rakishly sloped roof was the most original contribution to the Manhattan skyline in more than a generation.
Although an urban myth held that it had originally been designed as a solar collector, Stubbins in fact settled on the dramatic, 45-degree tilt entirely for its sensational effect. He reportedly made the first drawings on cocktail napkins.
Occupying an entire city block at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue, the building set a new standard for combining offices with street life, shops, and even a church. Offices did not begin until nine stories up, and the building seemed precariously perched on giant inset piers. Nearly two decades later, it emerged that engineering miscalculations had left it vulnerable to collapse in high winds. Extensive emergency repairs, conducted in secret and completed during the newspaper strike of 1978, were needed to make it structurally sound.
Stubbins was an architect of international reputation, whose most important commissions include the Congress Hall in Berlin, the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston, and the Landmark Tower in Yokohama, the tallest building in Japan. Originally an architect of suburban homes who wrote in 1985 that he had “held Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe as great architects of our time,”he became more eclectic over the years. By the time of his last major commission, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif., Stubbins included many elements of traditional mission architecture, and even a watering trough for horses.
A native of Alabama, Stubbins received a Masters in architecture from Harvard in 1935, and went into private practice in Boston, where he would spend his entire professional career. By 1937, his reputation had grown enough that he co-wrote a 12-part series for the Christian Science Monitor titled, “Architects Look at Your Home,” a guide for the future of suburban home building in America that argued for continued vernacular touches, enhanced by the many technological advances of the day. By the time of the Citigroup Center, he would be encasing his buildings in aluminum, but in the 1930s, the most radical innovations were things like corner windows, soundproof room dividers, and bentwood furniture.
In 1946, Stubbins became associate professor at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard, where he was on faculty through 1972. His association with the university included designing its Countway Library of Medicine.
Stubbins designed buildings for several universities, including an administration center for Brandeis, and a 15-story mathematics tower at Princeton.
Not all of his designs were unqualified successes. His Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, one of those unfortunate dual-purpose stadiums created for both football and baseball, was demolished two years ago. A set of dormitories he designed for Princeton in the 1960s is slated to be demolished or radically overhauled next year, due to popular discontent among alumni.
But many more of his buildings were successes, both with critics and with the people who used them. One of his more innovative contributions to the New York area was a Volkswagen dealership on Northern Boulevard in Queens. Featuring all-glass walls and integrated sales and service departments, the dealership had everything going for it when it opened in 1959 — except cars. Volkswagen couldn’t import enough to satisfy demand.
In recent years, Stubbins split his time between Boston and Florida, where he occasionally exhibited his watercolors. He remained active, playing golf until a few months ago.
Hugh Asher Stubbins Jr.
Born January 11, 1912, in Birmingham, Ala.; died July 5 of pneumonia at a Cambridge, Mass., hospital; Married three times: Diana Hamilton Moore in 1938 (divorced in 1960), Colette Fadeuilhe in 1960 (died 1992) and June Kootz in 1994 (died 2001); survived by his children, Patricia, Peter, Hugh Asher III, and Michael, and nine grandchildren.