Today on midMOD Monday, one of the most celebrated works of domestic Modernism- the Catalano House.
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, 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. He later studied under Harvard's Walter Gropius before relocating to London to teach at the Architectural Association. 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 Julliard 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 of the structure spanned 4,000 square feet and warped into an elegant saddle-like form anchored at opposite corners. Under the dynamic lines of the winged roof, 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 architecture. 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 and a cautionary tale regarding the uncertain legacy of Modern architecture.
The unfortunate end to the Catalano House story doesn't take away from the impact of the residence on American architecture. Structurally innovative, skillfully designed, and stunning in appearance, Eduardo Catalano's Raleigh residence is one of the finest examples of mid-twentieth-century architecture and an imaginative and optimistic statement on the potential of housing design during the Atomic Age.
Photo (Top of Page)- Eduardo Catalano House. House and Home, 1955. Credit: Preservation North Carolina, Historic Architecture Slide Collection, 1965-2005.
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