Raphael Soriano was an influential architect and educator who helped define a period of 20th century architecture that came to be known as Mid-century modern. Soriano pioneered the use of modular prefabricated steel and aluminum structures in residential and commercial design and construction.
Born in Rhodes to a Sephardic Jewish family, Soriano attended the College Saint-Jean-Baptist there before immigrating to the United States in 1924. After settling with relatives in Los Angeles, Soriano enrolled in the University of Southern California's School of Architecture in 1929, from which he graduates in 1934. In 1930 Soriano became an American citizen and in 1931 he secured an internship at the practice of Richard Neutra, working alongside fellow interns Gregory Ain and Harwell Hamilton Harris. This was followed by a brief internship with Rudolph Schindler in 1934, but Soriano quickly returned to his unpaid position at Neutra's office.
With America in the midst of the Great Depression, upon graduation Soriano managed to find work with the County of Los Angeles on several WPA projects such as the famous "Steel Lobster" located in the county and with a local architect's office. By 1936 he had completed his first commission — the Lipetz house, which was included in the 1937 International Architectural Exhibition held in Paris.
With U.S. residential and commercial construction largely curtailed by America's involvement in the World War II, Soriano took up lecturing at USC and contributing designs to various competitions and publications featuring proposals for post-war housing. Of these, Soriano received Third Prize in the Postwar Living Competition sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine in 1943 with his "Plywood House" prototype. With the end of the war Soriano found no trouble in securing commissions, and now it was his built houses receiving the awards, with his Katz house in Studio City picking up an award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Southern California Chapter Three in 1949. 1950 found Soriano completing a residential design for friend and renown architectural photographer Julius Shulman one of the few Soriano structures still standing today, and along with the 1964 Grossman House, the last that was occupied by the original commissioning party.
Invited by John Entenza of Arts & Architecture magazine to participate in the Case Study Houses program, Soriano completed his entry in 1950. It marks a turning point for the program with its pioneering use of steel in residential construction, culminating in Pierre Koenig' s Case Study Houses #21 and #22. Soriano's Colby Apartments of 1951 were distinct not only for their modern design but also for their extensive use of steel, and were recognized, receiving the National American Institute of Architects Award for Design, the VII International Pan American Congress Award, and the AIA Southern California Chapter One Honor Award.
In 1953 Soriano relocated from Los Angeles to Tiburon, in Marin County, across the bay north of San Francisco, where he lived with his wife Elizabeth Stephens(Betty) and her two daughters Margaret and Lucille Coberly. By 1955 Soriano designed the first mass-produced steel house, built by developer Joseph Eichler in Palo Alto. His work with Eichler would garner two awards from the Northern California Chapter of the AIA.
Soriano was made a Fellow by the American Institute of Architects (FAIA) in 1961. In 1965 Soriano started a venture to design and build prefabricated aluminum houses called Soria Structures, Inc.; the structures were marketed as "All Aluminum Homes." The last designs of Soriano's to be realized were eleven All Aluminum Homes on the island of Maui, Hawaii, built in 1965.
From 1970 to his death in 1988 Soriano focused on traveling the world as an architectural lecturer, writer and researcher. Soriano was recognized by the AIA with a Distinguished Achievement Award and by USC with a Distinguished Alumni Award, both in 1986. Shortly before his death he served as a Special Sessions Instructor at the College of Environmental Design at Cal Poly Pomona.
Of the 50 buildings of Soriano's built, only 12 remain standing, the others suffering poorly from southern California's wildfires, earthquakes, and demolition. Of those remaining, a number suffered from unsympathetic make-overs and additions. The several that remain intact and unmolested now benefit from municipal preservation codes. A collection of Soriano Documents are kept at the College of Environmental Design Resource Center at the California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
· Lipetz House- 1936
· Shulman House-1949
· Case Study House-1950
· Colby Apartments-1951
· Eichler House-1955
· Adolph’s Laboratory and Office