Raphael Soriano was born in 1904, and raised in Rhodes, Greece, where he studied at the College of St. Jean Baptiste. In 1924, at the age of 17, he came to America to stay with relatives in Los Angeles, and studied French Literature and music. He enrolled in the USC School of Architecture in 1930, and soon after became an American citizen. While pursuing his degree, he worked as an intern in the offices of Richard Neutra, who along with Rudolf Schindler, was emerging as a dynamic force in the new Modernist movement in Southern California. He worked along side of Gregory Ain and Harwell Hamilton Harris, who would go on with him to form parallel careers and notoriety, as 3 of the most important architects associated with Mid-Century Modern movement in Los Angeles and Northern California.
After graduating in 1934, in the midst of the great depression, Raphael Soriano found work on WPA projects for LA County. He also concentrated on lecturing and submitting designs to publications and competitions, promoting his ideas using new and innovative materials, such as his “Plywood House”, for which he won an award from Arts and Architecture magazine. When WWII ended, and the demand increased once again for original design, he started a private practice, which flourished, due to his visibility and credentials. Referred to as “an Architect’s Architect”, he took advantage of the new technology coming out of California’s aerospace and steel industries to pioneer the use of modular pre-fabricated steel, aluminum, and plywood materials in his designs. His innovations won many awards and accolades, including the AIA award in 1949 for the Katz House, and 2 AIA awards in 1951 for his Colby Apartments. He was also invited by Arts and Architecture magazine to participate in its famed Case Study House program. His submission would prove to be a turning point in the program for its use of steel in residential construction, inspiring the later submission of Pierre Koenig. Along with Koenig, Charles and Ray Eames and Craig Ellwood were inspired by, and capitalized on, Raphael Soriano’s use of steel and plywood design.
Of the designs built in this period that have endured, most notable are the Grossman House, and the home he built for his friend Julius Schulman, who became famous for his photographs not only of Soriano’s work, but all the best examples of Mid-Century Modern architecture being built in Los Angeles.
In 1951, Raphael Soriano, who had ruffled some feathers in the construction and development community with his minimal use of materials, chose to re-locate to Tiburon, in Northern California. It was here that he forged an important partnership with the visionary developer Joseph Eichler. Together, they would build the first mass produced steel house, which won them two AIA awards in 1955. Soriano went on to produce many of these homes, called Soria Structures, in 1965, including 11 on the island of Maui.
In his later years, he was recognized by the AIA with a Distinguished Achievement Award, and by USC, with a Distinguished Alumni Award. He traveled extensively, lecturing, writing and researching until his death in 1988.