midMOD monday: the matsumoto house
claass HAUS is finally back with a new post for the new year.
Happy 2018! Let's start the new year right with one of my (all-time) favorite MOD residences. No, it's not a Neutra or a Breuer or even the Catalano House (you know the one). But it's just as good, I promise.
As I've written many times, Raleigh, North Carolina, is an unexpected hotbed of modernist design. Often overlooked within the grand MODERN narrative, the unassuming southern city had a profound effect on the progression of architecture during the middle of the twentieth century. It all started with architect Henry Kamphoefner, a Wright disciple and devoted modernist, who moved to Raleigh in 1948 to establish what would become North Carolina State University's (NCSU) School of Design. In his Carolina crusade, Kamphoefner would enlist a coterie of young, charismatic architects, including George Matsumoto, Eduardo Catalano, and Matthew Nowicki, to join the new faculty. Arriving in the sleeping Piedmont town, this pioneering group quickly put NCSU and North Carolina on Modernism's map. Seriously, I'm not exaggerating when I say that Raleigh became one of the most important centers for architectural innovation during the 1950s and 60s, and what remains in North Carolina's capital city is a landscape shaped by a uniquely American (and in some aspects southern) brand of modern architecture.
Perhaps one of the most significant buildings designed by a member of Kamphoefner's original crew, the Matsumoto House survives as a polished modernist gem, a symbol of NCSU's influential ideas. The home's California-born architect, George Matsumoto (1922-2016), studied architecture at the University of California, Berkeley and Washington University in St. Louis before training under Eliel Saarinen at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Influenced by both traditional building techniques and the Modern masters, Matsumoto demonstrated a remarkable skill in integrating a kind of Bauhaus formality with the delicate features of Japanese architecture's reverence for site and surroundings. Suspended over the landscape like a delicate glass box, the Matsumoto House stands as an elegant, efficient, and economical machine for modern living.
Constructed between 1952 and 1954, the Matsumoto House functioned as the architect's residence and studio, a place where Matsumoto's theoretical ideas about space planning and the use of standard stock building materials could be put into practice. Situated on a sloping site in one of Raleigh's many wooded subdivisions, the house is a one-story, post-and-beam structure cantilevered over a concrete base. Leading to the symmetrical paneled facade, a paved and landscaped forecourt provides a transition from the public road to the private realm. With its faint Japanese-influenced detailing, the main exterior is anchored by a recessed door flanked by square panels of tempered hardboard (later replaced with a fiber reinforced cement) resembling large shōji screens. Though the street facade presents an almost blank expression, the rear of the house extends into the surrounding hillside with a series of glass windows and doors embracing the outdoor space.
Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian experiments, Matsumoto controlled the cost of his residence by utilizing standardized materials and modular construction. Laid out in a basic eight-foot module, the home is carefully divided into public and private functions and arranged to maximize space and natural light. Appearing to hover over the lot, the house melds the Wrightian approach to efficiency, privacy, and the site with a more Miesian concern for external geometry and exposed structure (not to mention the influence of Gropius/Breuer in its cantilevering). By taking a practical approach to the more formalized concepts of Modernism, Matsumoto (a true master of space and materials) develops his own meditative mode of modern architecture.
The house that Matsumoto designed for himself in Raleigh is just the first of a series of modernist homes built by the architect during his tenure at NCSU (1948-1961). Only 26 at the time he joined Kamphoefner's faculty, Matsumoto quickly made a name for himself as an innovator of an economical style of modernism. In 1957, Architectural Record wrote of the architect's home:
This good looking little house stands as vital proof that standard stock materials and equipment can---with care, thought, and a knowing touch--be combined to make a fresh, unstereotyped structure. The result has warmth and elegance of finish, and the cost was amazingly low. In plan, the house works extremely well, with a maximum of living space and as little waste as there is in the structure.
A few years after completion, the residence was selected for display in the U.S. pavilion at the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. In 1994, the National Park Service listed the Matsumoto House on the National Register of Historic Places.
A reasoned and (quietly) radical design, the Matsumoto House fulfills the practical potential of modern architecture. Combining modern ideals with traditional modular design and a sensitivity to site and place, George Matsumoto created a carefully proportioned and visually pleasing residential case study that ensured quality and affordability. At the time, the house stood as a model for standardization, and today, it still remains a graceful example of what a modest, modern house can offer in terms of efficiency and aesthetics. With meticulous attention to detail, an economy of materials, and a practical plan, the Matsumoto House helped set the tone for North Carolina's inventive and influential brand of modernism.
You can read more about George Matsumoto here.
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