Cambridge Uncommon: Eduardo Catalano’s Legacy

On a recent walk through my Cambridge, Massachusetts neighborhood, I noticed that the home of late architect and MIT Professor Eduardo Catalano was on the market. A student of Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, the Buenos Aires-born architect was considered a modernist visionary whose massive concrete edifices attempted to redefine the relationship between structure and space.

Best known in the U.S. for his designs of the Juilliard School of Music and Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, it was Catalano’s hyperbolic paraboloid roofed house in Raleigh, North Carolina that first brought him to fame. Highly praised by Frank Lloyd Wright, it was dubbed the “House of the Decade” by House and Home magazine in 1956. Its unfortunate destruction in 2001 sparked a decade-long feud between landscape designers and architects over whether the revolutionary roof could be reconstructed on the grounds of North Carolina State University. At the time of Catalano’s death in January, the project’s fate was still unknown.

Catalano built his Grozier Road home in Cambridge in the 1980s. An avid gardener, he designed the dramatic three-story glass atrium to contain a mature indoor tree. Despite its proximity to some of the country’s oldest buildings, the modern structure has a wonderful sense of continuity with its surroundings. The mostly white and wood interior is bright and airy but still warm and inviting. Hopefully, the new owners will find a way to preserve Catalano’s vision while writing the next chapter of the home’s history.

Catalano’s final project was an 18-ton steel flower sculpture located on the United Nations Plaza in Buenos Aires. Every day, the flower’s motorized petals open at sunrise and close at sunset. It’s a beautiful symbol of Catalano’s unwavering belief in the possibility of harmony between science and nature.