A Record Year for the 2023 Matsumoto Competition

There’s a sea change afoot in North Carolina’s architecture community.

It’s evident not just in the record number of 19 entries for the 2023 George Matsumoto Prize, sponsored by NCMODERNIST.

There’s also the influx of new architecture firms entering the much-coveted competition.

Now in its 12th year, the competition has long been dominated by firms that are native to North Carolina, many of them products of the College of Design at NC State University.

That’s changing, as new firms are migrating to Charlotte, Asheville and the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area.

“I was really pleased to see these new firms, like Laura Hudson in Asheville and Sasha Berghausen of BLOK in Durham,” says George Smart, founder of NCMODERNIST. “These new architects tend not to be from NC State because North Carolina is such a great place to live, and not as expensive as New York, San Francisco or L.A. The pandemic proved they can do it anywhere.”

The competition actually consists of two separate awards: one is judged by a jury of nationally known architects, and the other is a popular vote called the People’s Choice.

This year’s jury included architects Angie Brooks, Mina Chow, Steven Ehrlich and the late Myron Goldfinger, along with critics Inga Saffron and Fred Bernstein.

Their first choice was Steel Louise by SILO’s Marc Manack, then Hensley by Laura Hudson and Cabin by Rusafova Markulis.

About 2,000 architecture aficionados voted in the People’s Choice category, and selected as winners first the Frame House by Kersting Architecture, then the Center Grove Residence by STITCH Design Shop and the Forever Home by Distinctive Architecture.

Rarely do the choices of judges and voters align. “Architects and critics look for design techniques and how the architecture hangs together – and if there’s a central idea or theme that gets expressed,” Smart says. “But when a member of the public looks at a house, they’re not looking it as a judge or juror, but as aspirational: ‘Would I like to live there or even visit there?’”

The prize is named for George Matsumoto, the revered Japanese-American architect who taught at NC State’s School of Design during its founding years in the 1940s and ‘50s. He designed a building at the school that’s named for him and still in use today.

The competition’s designed to keep encouraging North Carolina’s rich legacy of architects and clients building modern houses. “We have 5,000 in the state, built since 1948,” Smart says.

The average size of the modern homes entered is about 2,000 square feet, though that could change as the influx of architects and potential clients continues to increase here. “Our average size is fairly modest compare to the Hamptons or L.A.,” he says. “But we’ll start to see, over the next five years, some of the very large modern houses getting designed and built.”

That’s all well and good – as long as the teardowns of the early classics is kept to a minimum.

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