Just in case you missed this claass HAUS favorite, here's another chance to check out one of the most celebrated works of domestic Modernism.
A version of this post was originally published on April 17, 2017.
You might recognize this photo. Perfectly encapsulating the optimism, technology, and innovation of the postwar era, the iconic photograph focuses on a group of children lounging next to a dramatic, sweeping, shoehorn-shaped residence. The photograph, much like the structure at its center, the Catalano House in Raleigh, North Carolina (1954), has become a symbol of the Atomic Age, all flight and freedom, swoop and swagger.
Argentine-architect Eduardo Catalano came to the United States to study architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. Later a student of Walter Gropius, he earned a master's degree at Harvard before relocating to London to teach at the Architectural Association (AA). In 1951, Catalano moved to Raleigh after the Dean of North Carolina State University's School of Design, Henry Kamphoefner, recruited him for a teaching post. After five years in Raleigh, Catalano moved to Boston to teach at MIT and went on to have a successful career designing the Juilliard School of Music, the U.S. Embassies in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Pretoria, South Africa, and MIT's Stratton Student Center. But it's really just one house that made Eduardo Catalano. The architect will be forever known for one daring and imaginative building- his own 1,700 square foot residence situated on a wooded lot in a perfectly unassuming Southern city.
In a 1957 feature about advancing technology in design, Life magazine called the three-bedroom Catalano residence the "bat wing" house because of its dramatic hyperbolic paraboloid-shaped roof. A feat of engineering, the twisted roof spanned 4,000 square feet and warped into an elegant saddle-like form anchored at opposite corners. Under the dynamic lines of the winged canopy, a simple glass pavilion contained an open and flexible living space that seamlessly blended the warm interior with the natural landscape.
Innovative in its geometric precision, inventive form, and charismatic lightness, the Catalano House earned praise from Frank Lloyd Wright, who in an uncharacteristic letter to House and Home magazine called the design "imaginatively and skillfully treated." Highly publicized (House and Home named it the "House of the Decade") during the 1950s, the residence continues to be one of the most recognizable American houses, a staple in design magazines and books focused on modern domesticity. But after a succession of owners, a period of neglect, and several missed opportunities for preservation, the Catalano House fell victim to the wrecking ball in 2001. The destruction of Eduardo Catalano's masterpiece remains a catastrophic loss for the history of American Modernism, a cautionary tale regarding the uncertain legacy of Modern architecture.
The unfortunate end to the Catalano House story doesn't take away from the design's impact on American architecture. Structurally innovative, skillfully designed, and stunning in appearance, the Eduardo Catalano house exemplifies the mid-twentieth-century aesthetic and remains an optimistic statement on the potential of domestic architecture during the Atomic Age. You can read more about Eduardo Catalano here.
Photo (Top of Page)- Eduardo Catalano House. House and Home, 1955. Credit: Preservation North Carolina, Historic Architecture Slide Collection, 1965-2005.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.