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Hugh Stubbins Jr., 94; Architect Designed Landmark Buildings

July 12, 2006|Claire Noland | Times Staff Writer

Hugh Stubbins Jr., a prolific architect who designed the Citicorp Center in New York City and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library near Simi Valley, has died. He was 94.

Stubbins died July 5 of pneumonia at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass., where his practice was based.

Although the Citicorp tower in midtown Manhattan, with its sharply angled cap atop shimmering horizontal bands of aluminum and glass, became an icon of the New York skyline, Stubbins was also known for the sweeping, curved roof of the Congress Hall in Berlin, the washboard face of the monolithic Federal Reserve Bank in Boston and the flared corners of Japan's tallest building, the Landmark Tower in Yokohama.

He also generated controversy during the planning of the Reagan library for its original site at Stanford University, because of his offhand comments about the "very ugly" sandstone buildings on campus and his desire for a red tile roof that would "have a better tile on it than most Stanford buildings."

His remarks fueled a community debate over the university's proposal, opposed by some politically liberal faculty, to establish a research facility dedicated to a Republican president. A few months later, the foundation charged with paying for the library withdrew the plan, and Stubbins' design for a low-slung complex in the California Mission Revival style wound up being built in Ventura County.

"It's not an ostentatious building," Stubbins said when the preliminary design was unveiled in 1987. "It's one we hope reflects the personality of the president."

Reagan reportedly told the architect, "I like it. It reminds me of my ranch" near Santa Barbara.

Born Jan. 11, 1912, in Birmingham, Ala., Stubbins received a bachelor's degree in 1933 from Georgia Institute of Technology and his master's two years later from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

He went to work for an architectural firm known for its Cape Cod Colonial homes and helped introduce a modernist element. He returned to Harvard to teach at the invitation of the great Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius and set up his own firm, Hugh Stubbins and Associates, which designed and built a range of structures for schools and universities, churches and businesses.

Not all of Stubbins' designs were hailed as aesthetic achievements. Though Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia was praised when it opened in 1971 for its ability to house both football and baseball fields and their differing seating configurations, by the time it was demolished in 2004 it was derided for its sterile, "cookie-cutter" form.

But the Citicorp high-rise, built in 1977 at 53rd Street and Lexington Avenue, was applauded for its functional public space at the base filled with a landscaped plaza, shops, restaurants and St. Peter's Lutheran Church.

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger, writing in the New York Times, said the skyscraper ushered in "a new era of expectation" for "even the most conservative client."

Stubbins, who was married three times, is survived by three sons, a daughter and nine grandchildren.

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