George Matsumoto (1922-2016) was a Japanese-American architect and educator best known for his award-winning modernist designs and influential teaching. Greatly admired by his colleagues and students, he was an outstanding figure in the development of modernism in North Carolina. A native of California, Matsumoto moved to Raleigh in 1948 to become part of the initial faculty at the School (later College) of Design at present North Carolina State University, where he continued until returning to California 1961. He is regarded as one of the most important early faculty members at the School of Design, both as a practitioner and a teacher.
This brief account is drawn from the Finding Guide to the George Matsumoto Papers at Special Collections, North Carolina State University Libraries. The building list is only a sampling of his work. Information and images for many more projects may be found at https://usmodernist.org/matsumoto.htm and in the George Matsumoto Papers at North Carolina State University Libraries, from which numerous drawings and sketches have been digitized. A fuller account of his career is in preparation and will be posted when it is completed.
Matsumoto was born in 1922 in San Francisco, California, and was raised in San Francisco’s Nihonmachi Japantown. At age sixteen, he left San Francisco to attend college at the University of California at Berkeley. With the outbreak of World War II, his undergraduate education was interrupted, as he was forcibly removed from his home and sent to the “Poston War Relocation Center.” He was granted permission to leave the “Poston War Relocation Center” after a month in order to finish his undergraduate degree. In 1943, Matsumoto earned a B.A. in Architecture from Washington University, and in 1945 he completed his M.A. at Cranbrook Academy of Art, where he studied under prominent architect Eliel Saarinen. After graduating with honors, he worked for the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in Chicago. In 1946 he joined the firm of Saarinen and Swanson.
After a year of private practice in Kansas City, Missouri with Runnells, Clark, Waugh and Matsumoto, Matsumoto accepted a position as an instructor at the University of Oklahoma in 1948, where Henry L. Kamphoefner, a devoted modernist, headed the architecture program. In that year, Kamphoefner was appointed first dean of the School of Design at North Carolina State College (now North Carolina State University). Matsumoto, along with other faculty members and students, left Oklahoma with Kamphoefner and joined the modernist program Kamphoefner was developing at the School of Design. The school had a major role in shaping the development of modernist architecture in North Carolina and beyond. Along with teaching, Matsumoto like others of the faculty members, designed buildings that are still celebrated today.
During this time, Matsumoto established his own architectural practice and office based in his own George Matsumoto House. Matsumoto was influenced by such leading modernist architects such as Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer, as well as Frank Lloyd Wright. During his tenure at the School of Design, Matsumoto won more than thirty awards for his residential work, and his achievements in design were widely published. Some of his residential designs, such as his own resident, displayed a simple geometry reflective of the International Style, while others represented the informality and natural materials in the spirit of Frank Lloyd Wright. All made skillful use of natural light, related the interior to the surroundings, and showed care and economy in the use of materials and workmanship.
On a few projects he collaborated with other architects. Early on, he worked with Henry Kamphoefner, a great admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, on the design of the dean’s own residence: the Mabel and Henry Kamphoefner House, which embodies many elements of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian house concept including its small size and natural materials. In other projects he collaborated with G. Milton Small, Jr. They designed the spectacular Gregory Poole House and the Gregory Poole Equipment Company Building in the 1950s, both of which have been lost. Matsumoto also designed the subtly detailed IBM Office Building on Raleigh’s Hillsborough Street as he was moving to California; it was completed by Small in 1965 and still stands.
Most of Matsumoto’s residential projects in North Carolina were constructed by builder Frank Walser, whose skills and collaboration were essential to the achievements of the distinguished mid-century modernist architects in Raleigh. In contrast to the work of some of his fellow modernists, Matsumoto’s houses tended to be relatively modest and economically built. Although many of his contemporaries’ works have been lost, a substantial proportion of Matsumoto’s buildings still stand, most of them treasured by their owners and residents and admired by many.
After thirteen years in North Carolina, Matsumoto and his family returned to California in 1961, settling in Oakland. In addition to teaching at the University of California at Berkeley, Matsumoto continued to practice architecture. He stopped teaching in 1967 but continued his practice until 1991. He was inducted as a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1973. Matsumoto’s post-teaching work comprised primarily of community centers and collegiate designs.
Even after he left Raleigh, Matsumoto was much admired in North Carolina, especially at North Carolina State University and in the state’s architectural and preservation communities. Over the years, both David Jackson of Special Collections at North Carolina State University Libraries and David Hill of the College of Design conducted interviews with him. In 1997 a celebratory exhibit of his work was held at North Carolina State University, accompanied by the catalog, Simplicity, order, and discipline: the work of George Matsumoto from the NCSU Libraries’ special collections (1997). The extensive George Matsumoto Papers are an important part of Special Collections at North Carolina State University Libraries. His fellow architect and former student Robert P. Burns wrote that “The ideas that mattered most to George Matsumoto as a designer and as a teacher were those that served as the focal themes of the modern movement: strict adherence to functional demands, clarity of plan, structural logic and expression, economy of means, perfection of detail, and the rationalization of construction processes tending toward industrialization.”
George Matsumoto Papers, Special Collections, North Carolina State University Libraries.
Simplicity, order, and discipline: the work of George Matsumoto from the NCSU Libraries’ special collections (1997).
“George Matsumoto, FAIA (1922-2016),” US Modernist. Available at https://usmodernist.org/matsumoto.htm.
1959Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
2745 Lakeview Dr., Raleigh, NCStatus:
No longer standingType:
ResidentialImages Published In:
North Carolina Modernist Houses, http://ncmodernist.org.Note:
The unusually large and elegant modernist residence was featured in Architectural Record of March 1960. It was sold in 1991 and soon razed to make way for one of Raleigh’s largest houses, which burned before it was completed. A subsequent immense residence has been built on the property. See ncmodernist.org for details and images of all three houses.
- Variant Name(s):
Junior League of Raleigh HeadquartersDates:
1965Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
711 Hillsborough St., Raleigh, NCStatus:
The tan brick building was designed by George Matsumoto as he was moving his practice to San Francisco. Small and Associates assisted in completing the construction documents and in the construction administration. It was altered by Small Kane for the Junior League Headquarters in 2007 with George Matsumoto’s blessing.
1950Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
3060 Granville Drive, Raleigh, NCStatus:
Drawings of the Kamphoefner House are in the Henry Leveke Kamphoefner Papers, Special Collections Research Center, North Carolina State University Libraries, Raleigh, North Carolina. In 2003, owners, Daniel and Virginia Petrocella renovated the interior and added a room to the historic Kamphoefner House. The addition was designed by architect Robert P. Burns, with David J. Ballard of Ballard Construction, Inc., Research Triangle Park, serving as contractor.
1952.1954Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
821 Runnymede Rd.Status:
ResidentialImages Published In:
Architectural Record, 1957; Victoria Ballard Bell, Triangle Modern Architecture (2020)Note:
Designed by the architect for his own residence, this was the first of several Miesian-influenced houses planned by Matsumoto during his time at present NCSU. According to David R. Black, it showed the architect’s assimilation of Wrightian and Miesian influences and an interest in economical design expressive of structure. The innovative modernist house is a flat-roofed, one-story house cantilevered to accommodate its sloping, suburban site. It employs an eight-foot bay module and is built with post and beam construction. Like many suburban residences of its era, it is oriented toward the rear rather than the street; it features a full-width glazed rear wall and rear porch. The house received a North Carolina AIA Honor Award in 1957 and was featured on the cover of Architectural Record Houses of 1957. Source: David R. Black, Matsumoto House National Register of Historic Places Nomination, 1994.