Catalano, Eduardo (1917-2010)
Eduardo Catalano (1917-2010), a native of Argentina, was a distinguished modernist architect who spent a brief but important period in North Carolina, serving as head of the Department of Architecture at present North Carolina State University (1951-1956) before leaving for Cambridge, Massachusetts. His best known work in North Carolina is his own residence, the Catalano House (1954), which gained international attention for its innovative form and structure. He also designed a few other buildings in the state. His influence on the state’s architecture and architects was extensive and lasting. The following account was prepared by Jessica Serrao for the Collection Guide to the Eduardo Catalano Papers at Special Collections, North Carolina State University Libraries and has been slightly edited for length.
Eduardo Fernando Catalano was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on December 19, 1917. He attended the Universidad de Buenos Aires and graduated in 1940 with an Architect’s Diploma and honors for his coursework. Having received scholarships to pursue studies in the United States, Catalano relocated to attend the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard University. He graduated in 1944 and 1945 respectively with a Master of Architecture degree. At Harvard, Catalano studied under two masters of modernist architecture, Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer.
After graduation, Catalano taught at the Architectural Association in London from 1950 until 1951, when he was recruited by Henry Kamphoefner to relocate to the School of Design at North Carolina State College in Raleigh. Catalano is perhaps best known for his work with warped surfaces and hyperbolic paraboloids. It was during his time in Raleigh that Catalano became the famed architect of the Catalano House, originally at 1467 Caminos Drive (now Catalano Drive). Built in 1954 as his personal residence, and destroyed in 2001 after falling into disrepair, this three-bedroom house featured a 4,000 square foot hyperbolic paraboloid roof built of wood only 2.5” thick. The roof was warped into two structural curves similar to the shape of a shoehorn.
This home was also known as the Raleigh House, the Ezra Meir House, and because of its unique shape it was even referred to as the Potato Chip House and the Batwing House. The home was highly publicized and, in 1956, House and Home magazine named it the “House of the Decade.” Catalano even received high praise from Frank Lloyd Wright for the home’s design. (The Catalano House in Raleigh is not to be confused with the Eduardo Catalano House in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The 3,285 square foot modernist home in Cambridge, located at 44 Grozier Road, was designed in 1980, and Catalano lived there in his later years.)
As a young architect, Catalano won multiple awards for his innovative designs. He won second place in the 1945 General Motors design competition using a hyperbolic paraboloid, and that same year placed third in the Second Annual Small House Competition of the magazine, Arts & Architecture. Catalano’s projects were diverse and, in 1956, he received a prize for his design of an elementary school. He also won second place for his design for the Teatro Argentino de la Plata, to be located in the capital city of Argentina’s Buenos Aires Province.
Another innovative design Catalano created with Horacio Caminos in 1953 was the B. Richard Jackson House at 1317 Westfield, Raleigh, North Carolina. Also known as the Carrier Weathermaker National Prize Winning House, this was a showcase home in a moderate price range that exhibited the benefits of air conditioning, something new to home design at the time. Catalano and Caminos innovatively incorporated HVAC vents by encasing them in the concrete flooring system. For their design, Carrier Weathermaker awarded Catalano and Caminos with the first place cash prize of $5,000. The home received publicity in 1954 as a feature in Living For Young Homemakers magazine and Raleigh’s local newspaper, the News and Observer.
Catalano left Raleigh in 1956 to accept a teaching position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He retired from teaching in 1977 to pursue other life pleasures, and received a certificate of recognition from MIT for his more than twenty years of service. In addition to emeritus professor of architecture at MIT, Catalano was also an honorary professor at his alma mater, the Universidad de Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Throughout Catalano’s career, he showed diverse interests. Not only did he focus on geometrical and structural properties of warped surfaces and hyperbolic paraboloids, he also worked with buildings systems and urban design. He was known for Brutalist designs of government and corporate structures, such as the Julius Stratton Student Center at MIT, the Guilford County-Greensboro Government Center in Greensboro, North Carolina, and two United States Embassies, in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Pretoria, South Africa. His other well-known projects include the Juilliard School of Music at New York City’s Lincoln Center, the Charlestown Library (a branch of the Boston Public Library), the Ariston Club in Mar del Plata, Argentina, various other buildings at MIT, and corporate buildings throughout Massachusetts.
Catalano retired from architecture in 1995 upon closing his Cambridge, Massachusetts, practice. In 2002, he briefly came out of retirement to create one of his best known design endeavors in Argentina: the Floralis Genérica. Erected in the Plaza de las Naciones Unidas in Buenos Aires, this massive steel and aluminum flower sculpture reaches over seventy feet high. The six petals were designed with a system of motors to open and close depending on the time of day.
In 2007, Catalano received an honorary doctorate from North Carolina State University in a special presentation at Catalano’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Dean Marvin Malecha of NCSU attended. Catalano also made substantial donations to North Carolina State University. He died on January 28, 2010, in Cambridge.
Eduardo Catalano Papers, MC 00625, Special Collections Research Center, NC State University Libraries, Raleigh, NC.
- Contributors:Eduardo Catalano, architect; Horatio Caminos, architect; Ed Richards, builderDates:
1953-1954Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
ResidentialImages Published In:
Also known as the Carrier Weathermaker National Prize Winning House, this was a showcase home in a moderate price range designed to exhibit the benefits of air conditioning, something new to home design at the time. The architects won a $5,000 prize from the Carrier company for this design in 1953. The magazine “Living For Young Homemakers” featured it in the April 1954 issue. The house was also featured in the Raleigh News and Observer of January 30, 1954. Source: https://usmodernist.org/catalano.htm
1954Location:Raleigh, Wake CountyStreet Address:
1467 Catalano DriveStatus:
No longer standingType:
ResidentialImages Published In:
The stunning house with its “swooping hyperbolic roof” epitomized the venturesome structural designs of its era and gained widespread fame. Built for Catalano and his family, it was featured as the “House of the Decade” in House and Home Magazine, won an honor award from the North Carolina chapter of the AIA, and even gained praise from Frank Lloyd Wright. Catalano sold the house in 1957. It had a series of owners and suffered from damage over the years; vacant from 1996 onward, it deteriorated beyond repair and was sold to a developer and razed in 2001. The website https://usmodernist.org/catalano.htm shows images of the house from its early days to its destruction.
- Contributors:Eduardo Catalano (Eduardo Catalano and Peter Sugar, Cambridge, Mass.), architect; McMinn, Nortfleet & Wicker, architectsDates:
1969-1970Location:Greensboro, Guilford CountyStreet Address:
W. Market St.Status:
PublicImages Published In:
The Guilford County-Greensboro Government Center Complex, as planned by Eduardo Catalano and Peter Sugar’s firm, is a large-scale complex of cast-in-place concrete with stepped back solids and voids, flexible interior spaces, and courtyards, Arranged around the Beaux-Arts classical style Guilford County Courthouse (1918-1920) designed by Greensboro architect Harry Barton, the 1969-1970 complex is considered one of North Carolina’s prime examples of the Brutalist style popular in its era. (When it was built, Catalano was headquartered in Cambridge, not far from the Boston City Hall, designed by a large Boston firm, which was completed in 1968 and attracted fame and controversy as a nationally known example of Brutalism.)