The Catalano House

The Eduardo Catalano House in Raleigh, built in 1954 by the young Argentinian architect for his own use and one of the few buildings ever praised by Frank Lloyd Wright, was offered by Preservation North Carolina for sale with protective covenants. Unfortunately, they did not find a buyer to preserve it, and the protective covenants proved to be worthless. The lot sold and the house was leveled to the ground.

After coming to Raleigh in 1950 to serve as a founding member of the NCSU School of Design, Catalano built his highly innovative house with a hyperbolic parabaloid roof and walls of glass. Unfortunately the house became severely deteriorated, and eventually the roof started to fall in, all the result of years of neglect and lack of maintenance. Preservation North Carolina got involved and tried to find a buyer to rebuild the roof and rehabilitate the rest of the structure. Alternately, PNC looked for a donor to provide the funds to PNC to stabilize the building and prevent its destruction, which unfortunately  failed.

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In the early 1950s, the NCSU School of Design, under the leadership of founding Dean Henry L. Kamphoefner, brought together a brilliant group of architects including Catalano, George Matsumoto, Matthew Nowicki, and others who were pioneers in the creation of new architectural concepts. The Catalano House, which epitomizes the innovative designs emerging from the early School of Design, was probably the most important 20th Century residential building in North Carolina. In fact, Catalano’s design elicited a favorable response from Frank Lloyd Wright, who was known to rarely praise the work of other architects. Wright wrote, “It is refreshing to see the service of shelter treated as in this (…) house by Eduardo Catalano.”

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The three-bedroom house featured a 4,000 square foot roof which was a hyperbolic paraboloid, built of wood and is only 2.5 inches thick. The roof was warped into two structural curves, with two corners of the roof firmly anchored to the ground and two corners soaring high into the air. Sheltered beneath the double-twisted roof is a square interior enclosed entirely in glass. The undulation of the roof provided openness in some areas and privacy and seculsion in others.

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PNC (Preservation North Carolina) has protected over 450 historic properties of all types in North Carolina and is very concerned about the fate of modern historic buildings. A recent loss was a Raleigh residence designed by George Matsumoto, which was torn down several years ago. However, PNC hopes to secure the future of similar modern historic buildings through protective covenants, such as those PNC holds on the 1950 Kamphoefner house in Raleigh, home of the former dean of the NCSU School of Design. Let’s hope that house doesn’t follow the Catalano House’s tragic storyline.

By: Ghost
20.01.2015