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An urban legacy
Joseph Allen Stein, 1912-2001
Joseph Stein, 1912 - 2001
Joseph Allen Stein came to India in the early 50s - at a
time when the full glow of the 'Nehruvian enlightenment' was influencing
the emergence of an entire new, modern India. While other famous
architects were coming and working in the country around the same time -
Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, Charles and Ray Eames, Edward Durrel Stone,
Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew -
Stein differed from them in that he had made India his home and sought to
be actively involved in the making of the new society. It was in his New
Delhi buildings - notably the Triveni Kala Sangam arts complex (1957-77)
and the ICC (1959-62) - that his full design personality emerged. In
Delhi, surrounding the IIC he
continued to build a series of buildings, which have become landmarks -
Ford Foundation, the United Nations, the World Wide Fund for Nature and
most recently the huge India Habitat Centre. If anyone could match the
Lodhis and their architecture, it is this series of buildings built by Joe
through the 1960s and 1970s.
Stein's legacy in India L-R: Triveni Kala Sangam, New
Delhi; India International Centre, New Delhi; Kashmir Conference Centre,
Srinagar; India Habitat Centre, New Delhi
JOSEPH ALLEN STEIN, the
architect, who died at the age of 89 in Raleigh,
North Carolina, on October 6, was a major icon, quiet and self-effacing.
Stein arrived in India in1952, as head of the newly formed Architecture
and Planning Department at the Bengal Engineering College in Calcutta,
little realising that he would stay on.
Born in 1912 in Omaha, Stein studied under the Finnish architect Eliel
Saarinen at the Cranbrook Academy in Detroit, Michigan, in the early
1930s. This legendary campus, designed by Saarinen and filled with
sculptures by Carl Milles, the Swedish sculptor, influenced Stein's design
philosophy. The American Midwest was the centre of a regional modern
movement influenced by the work and teachings of Frank Lloyd Wright and
Louis Sullivan. The design approach developed was very different to the
Bauhaus modernism then taking hold in Europe, which arrived on the
American shores with the immigration of Walter Gropius, Mies Van der Rohe
and others just before the Second World War. The Bauhaus tended to be
insensitive to local culture and materials of building, and advocated a
hard-edged design philosophy using industrial elements. The influence on
Stein, on the other hand, was a view, which incorporated organic
brick, stone and wood, with a willingness to decorate through texture and
volume, yet retaining a simplicity and human scale. Stein moved to
California in 1938 to work with the Austrian Richard Neutra, who became
another great influence. Neutra's spare, elegant houses were carefully
sited in the California landscape with large glass vistas blurring the
boundaries of interior and exterior. He also married Margaret the same
year, and she became not just a companion, but a crucial design colleague.
Moving north to San Francisco, Stein became a vital part of the design
scene in the Bay Area working with architect John Funk and landscape
designer Garret Eckbo, eventually opening his own office. Living in Mill
Valley, Joe Stein designed a number of houses, which became recognised as major examples of the 'California School'. As a team, they had planned and
designed a large cooperative residential community at 'Ladera' near Palo Alto, which had idealistic social aims of simplicity surrounded by
landscaped beauty in the post-War peace. Unsuccessful in raising
financing, Joe and Margaret Stein moved to Europe in the early 1950s.
Richard Neutra, who had been invited by the Government of West Bengal to
be an adviser, proposed Stein's name as head of the newly formed
Architecture and Planning Department at the Bengal Engineering College in
Calcutta. Accepting the invitation, Stein arrived in 1952, little
realising that he would stay on.
He has written of his initial reaction: "It was a very stimulating,
extraordinarily interesting time, India was almost newly Independent. It
was like coming to the United States when Thomas Jefferson was alive,
something like that. Nehru was Prime Minister, who was an outstanding man.
He had his flaws - many great men are flawed, maybe all human beings are
flawed. But he was an extraordinarily beautiful and intelligent man, and
he cast an aura over India that was very attractive. At that time the
memory of Gandhi and Tagore was fresh and bright in India, and had very
much influence among the students. So students were very attractive people
to work with... they were idealistic and dedicated."
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