MODERNIST MONDAYS: WILLIAM KATAVOLOS

Welcome back to #ModernistMondays! At TTC, we are constantly inspired by modernist architects and artists from past and present. To showcase some of our favorites, we launched #ModernistMondays, where we highlight one modernist a month to explore with ten quick facts. You can keep up with #ModernistMondays on the TTC Blog, or our Instagram page! This month, we are diving into the legacy of futurist architect and furniture designer William Katavolos with ten quick facts! 

William Katavolos 1924-2020

1. After spending his youth on Long Island and studying at Pratt, Katavolos served in the medical corps unit in the Philippines during WWII. Inspired by the body’s architecture and structural systems, he began to make connections between biology and design, which later inspired his work.

2. In the 1940s and 50s, he collaborated with fellow Pratt graduates to create a modern furniture collection, which is now featured in museums such as the Louvre and MoMa. The most popular piece? The instantly recognizable T-chair. 

3. Katavolos developed new partition systems for the Time-Life Building in Rockefeller Center in the late 50s, and, with George Nelson Associates, developed a suspension ring system for the 1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow.

4. Katavolos was a believer in developing new outlooks for building. He often stated that the only two eras of architecture have been Greco-Roman and Gothic, and proposed that the next era would be marked by “organic,” biology-inspired thinking; he envisioned “buildings that swell and shrink like lungs, where wastewater is forced through filters like blood through kidneys, where the mass of a house is a warm fluid pushed by a heartlike pump.”

5. Katavolos involved his students at Pratt in his work, and allowed them to pioneer new ideas along the way. When he and his students discovered a defunct 10-foot-wide satellite dish on the roof of the school, they turned it into an experimental dome filled with water, studying the ways that liquid can play a role in design. 

6. In 1961, he published his essay, “Organics,” which, inspired by recent developments in the world of chemistry, suggested that manmade materials and methods were the future of design. In the essay, he states that “man must stop making and manipulating, and instead allow architecture to happen.”

7. He aimed to create architecture that not only served human life, but the natural world around us.  In the 70s, he was sketching and building prototypes that make large, useful buildings out of little more than fresh water, and designing entire communities around reservoirs that, in addition to supplying the building material, would grow fish and water vegetable gardens.

8. Katavolos was by some turns a futurist, with most of his architecture being nontraditional, forward-thinking prototypes and sketches. It is said that he was always writing or drawing on any paper he could find; some of his sketches were on the back of envelopes or scrap pages of notebooks. 

9. During his days teaching at Pratt as both an industrial designer and architecture professor, he occupied a basement in the Brooklyn campus, where he worked with large hydraulic contraptions. Many of them were made using materials found in the basement when he took it over. He described it not as “low budget research” but “no budget research.”

10. One of his visions for a water-based futuristic home included filters in the walls to take salts and acids out of urine, a mulch pile beneath the house for kitchen scraps and excrement, and rooms that grow and shrink–bedrooms that blow up at night and shrink up during the day. Many of his forms were inspired by jellyfish and other sea life.

Katavolos taught at Pratt until 2008 and passed away this October at the age of 96.

SOURCES: Discover Magazine, “Aquatecture”; Joost Rekveld, “Light Matters”; Pratt, “PRATT MOURNS VISIONARY ARCHITECT WILLIAM KATAVOLOS”; ArchPaper, “William Katavolos, visionary architect and Pratt Institute faculty member, dies at 96”; images from Chris Arabadjis on Instagram; images from WKatavolos on Instagram; Eric Buluc, “Liquid Villa”