Another George Matsumoto gem on claass HAUS today.
An unexpected hotbed of Modern architecture, Raleigh, North Carolina, is often overlooked within the greater narrative of twentieth-century modernism. But the unassuming Southern city had a surprisingly profound effect on postwar architecture, in large part due to Henry Kamphoefner, the Dean of North Carolina State University's (NCSU) School of Design, who arrived in the sleepy capital looking to well, shake things up. During his Carolina crusade, Kamphoefner enlisted a group of young, charismatic architects, including George Matsumoto, Eduardo Catalano, and Matthew Nowicki, to help put Raleigh on Modernism's map.
A member of Kamphoefner’s original crew, California-born George Matsumoto produced some of the period’s most elegant and livable translations of the Mieisan language. Matsumoto 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. Starting his career at the offices of Saarinen and Swanson and Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM), Matsumoto was only 26 years old when he accepted Kamphoefner's invitation to join the NCSU faculty.
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. Shortly after relocating to Raleigh, the architect designed a small home for his own family (find it here), an elegant and efficient glass box suspended over the suburban hillside. Built between 1952 and 1954, the Matsumoto House had significant influence on local architecture, its embrace of the landscape, honest structural expression, and modern materials a clear deviation from the area’s more conservative housing stock. During his time at NCSU, Matsumoto continued his residential experiments, designing a handful of innovative homes across the region.
Completed just two years after Matsumoto's own residence, the Poland House is another meditative take on Miesian modernism. Designed for Dr. George Poland, the head of NCSU's modern language department, the modest but highly-stylized home expresses many of the architect's signature design elements- the incorporation of low cost, standardized materials, an exposed structure, the flexible arrangement of space, and a reverence for the site. But the house is also an exercise in customization with the small two-bedroom home carefully tailored to the client's needs.
An example of the architect's “box on basement” form, the Poland House is a small, one-story post and beam structure cantilevered over a concrete base. Like Matsumoto's own home, the exterior of the Poland House is composed of consecutive modules, each crowned by a narrow strip window emphasizing the separation between roof and wall. With its faint Japanese-influenced detailing, the front façade consists of a solid wood door flanked by sidelights, the adjacent asbestos panels resembling large shōji screens. Hovering above the ground, the cantilevered ends of the structure are sheathed in vertical cypress siding (originally pine), a subtle contrast to the horizontal lines of the rectangular box. On the rear, the house opens to the landscape with a long expanse of windows establishing a connection to the site. Inside, space is carefully divided into public and private functions and arranged to maximize flexibility and natural light. With the absence of traditional hallways (another Matsumoto hallmark), partition walls define the flowing interior with exposed structural elements and built-ins offering further delineation.
Delicate in appearance but deliberate in function, the Poland House is an impressive small house solution. Using affordable standardized materials and the functional organization of space, Matsumoto masterfully combined the formal concerns of Modernism with the practicality of modular design. It is an impressive residential experiment, the radical form and honest structure balanced with the practical and economical concerns of the client. In fact, the project proved to be so successful that Dr. Poland remained in his Matsumoto-designed home for the rest of his life- the structure remaining largely unchanged for nearly fifty years.
When the Poland House was constructed during the early 1950s, Raleigh was a relatively quiet Southern capital. The home's original lot, overlooking the picturesque Crabtree Valley, offered Dr. Poland a retreat from busy university life. But the valley soon became Raleigh's front line for suburban growth, and by the 1970s, the quiet landscape developed into one of the area's most important commercial corridors (complete with a major shopping mall). By the time Dr. Poland passed away in 2000, the house was no longer situated in a viable residential context, so when his heirs donated the home to Preservation North Carolina, there was immediate concern for the landmark's survival. Fear of losing the house (Raleigh's iconic Eduardo Catalano House was demolished during this same period) prompted preservationists to sell the home on the condition that it would be relocated to a more appropriate site. And after finding a willing buyer, the Poland House was loaded onto a truck and moved to a rural tract near Bahama, North Carolina.
The move (across the county line) took a nail biting four hours. But after completing the 30-mile journey, the Matsumoto gem arrived on its new site in one piece, its original relationship to the landscape restored. Following its relocation, the owner did make several alterations to the structure (most notably finishing the basement to accommodate more living space), but the changes were sympathetic to Matsumoto's original vision, and in 2004, the Poland House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
You can read more about the Poland House here.
claass HAUS will be back next week with all new posts. Have a good weekend!
Image at top:
Poland House (after relocation). Preservation North Carolina Historic Architecture Slide Collection, 1965-2005 (PNC slides), North Carolina State University Digital Collections.
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