Who is Architect, David B. Runnells?

Portrait of David B. Runnells taken by Life Magazine in 1950

David Benton Runnells, Architect 1913-1973

Architect, David B. Runnells traveled extensively in Europe after graduating from the University of Illinois. He was heavily influenced by the work of Alvar Aalto while traveling through, Finland and Sweden on a scholarship to the University of Stockholm.

Runnells was a student of Eliel and Eero Saarinen, studying city planning at Cranbrook, a hotbed of modern design education. Other students attending at that time were Charles and Ray Eames, Florence Knoll, Harry Bertoia, Benjamin Baldwin, Harry Weese and Jack Lenor Larsen. Runnells worked in the Saarinen offices during part of World War II and did competitions with co-worker and Case Study House Architect, Ralph Rapson.

Runnells eventually settled in Kansas City sometime around 1941 as head of the industrial design department of the Kansas City Art Institute. He was a director of planning with the Kansas City Planning Department from 1943-46. He became an architect in 1946 and partnered in Runnells Clark Waugh and Matsumoto Architects. Together, they did one of his best known projects, the new Art School building for the Kansas City Art Institute. The only other project known to have come from that partnership is the James I. Clark Residence.

After the partnership dissolved, with Waugh and Matsumoto leaving to teach, Runnells went on to do merchant home builder designs and custom homes, many of which were built by modern builder, Don Drummond. The Revere Homes are his best known merchant builder design. The Reed Residence is the best surviving example of his large custom residential work. The two custom personal residences that he designed for himself and for Don Drummond have both been demolished. His 1966 design for the Alpha Kappa Lambda Fraternity in Lawrence, Kansas has also been demolished.

Who is George Matsumoto and what does he have to do with Kansas City?

Name: Matsumoto Residence
Architect: George Matsumoto
Year Designed: circa 1951
Builder: Frank Walser
Year Completed: 1952
Size: Unknown sq. ft. (3 bedroom, 1 bath)
Location: 821 Runnymede Road, Raleigh, North Carolina
Type: Residential
Style: Modern / International Style
Status: Good
Photographer: Joseph W. Molitor

George Matsumoto was a partner with David B. Runnells in Kansas City for one year at the firm Runnells Clark Waugh and Matsumoto Architects. We know that the firm did at least one house and the first new building then called just, "The Art School," for the Kansas City Art Institute, There may have been a Doctors Office done as well. It is unknown if the Doctors Office is still standing and if it was done by all four partners or with Matsumoto alone. Waugh and Matsumoto left the partnership to teach at University of Oklahoma with Henry Kamphoefner. They immediately left Oklahoma to start the new school of design at North Carolina State University in 1948.

The photo above is the house that Matsumoto designed for himself in Raleigh, North Carolina. He won many awards for this design and went on to complete many residential commissions.

The folks over at Triangle Modernist Houses have also done a great job of documenting the career of George Matsumoto in North Carolina. The Matsumoto Tribute from and exhibit they did over at the North Carolina State Library has some good info too. Here is the George Matsumoto Group Pool on Flickr.

Below is and excerpt from from the National Park Service Website about the Matsumoto House
The Matsumoto House is one of several Modernist houses built in Raleigh from the 1940s to the 1960s. These houses were the manifestation of architectural concepts embraced by the faculty of the School of Design, established in 1948 at North Carolina State College (now North Carolina State University). Dean Henry Kamphoefner recruited several Modernist architects as faculty members, and was instrumental in influencing other Modernists to come to North Carolina to practice. He also brought internationally known architects to the school to lecture and to lead studio workshops. The faculty designed several residences for themselves, other faculty members, or for a small group of clients interested in new ideas in architecture. Built for the most part on relatively ample, wooded suburban lots,located on what then were the outskirts of the city, a key element in most of the designs is a careful integration of the house with its site.

In 1952, faculty member George Matsumoto began construction of his own house on a steeply sloping tract adjacent to a small stream. Its design shows the same attention to economical, post-and-beam modular construction and careful detailing as is seen in his earlier Richter House design. However, the young Japanese American architect was also strongly influenced by the work of Mies Van der Rohe, and the Matsumoto House demonstrates a Miesian concern with exposed structure and a sense of suspension generated by the use of lightweight wall, floor and ceiling planes to articulate its internal space. The sloping site allowed Matsumoto to put a lower level built of concrete block under the house, a space which contained his studio and which forms a base for the frame box cantilevered above it. The rectangular, flat-roofed mass of the main living areas is reached by a small bridge rising from a Japanese-influenced outdoor court. While the street side of the house presents a mostly-blank facade divided into panels, all of the rooms along the back of the house open with glass doors and windows onto a cantilevered, screened rear porch, extending the living space visually into the wooded hillside beyond. The Matsumoto House is a designated Raleigh Historic Landmark.

The Matsumoto House is located at 821 Runnymede Rd. It is a private residence and is not open to the public.

James Ingraham Clark Residence by Runnells Clark Waugh and Matsumoto Architects - Architects House Themselves

The James Ingraham Clark Residence won a mention in the P/A (Progressive Architecture) Awards in 1947. Below is an excerpt, including captions, from a Progressive Architecture article in April, 1949, pp 66-69. This is one of a few buildings known to exist from the Runnells Clark Waugh and Matsumoto Architects partnership. The others are the Kansas City Art Institute Art School Building and a possible Doctors Office that may not exist anymore. The first two photos are by Gene Hook all others by Fred Gund.

This is the home of one of the architects – James Ingraham Clark. -- looking south down the slope

House: Leawood, Kansas
Runnells Clark Waugh & Matsumoto Architects

PROGRAM: Suburban residence for a growing family. Space provided under present bedroom wing for duplication of facilities on upper level.

SITE: Land at end of cul-de-sac street; one acre sloping toward the south; stone ledge under most of actual house site.

SOLUTION: Plan organized to turn its back to the street side and open out to the east and south. Design developed to have advantages of prefabrication although built on the side. Ledge proved both solid and flat; hence, prefabricated heating panels and foundations were laid directly on the stone; footings needed under bedroom portion only where rock ledge ran out. Plan worked out on a 4’-1/4” module – the 4’ to take standard sheets of plywood; the ¼” to allow a space between sheets, eliminating any fitting or butting at the joints. Dry construction throughout.


CONSTRUCTION: Framing: wood. Walls: no footings; stone foundations on solid rock; native stone. Interior finishes: Douglas fir plywood; exterior: 5-ply waterproof plywood. Floors: wood sash: double-insulating glazing; glass block (bathroom only). Insulation: acoustical; cement-impregnated wood-fiberboard exposed on ceilings; thermal’ double-thick expansible blanket; flameproof cotton: glass-wool batts: blown-in wool type. Partitions: frame. Surfaced both sides with plywood. Doors: birch-surfaced hollow core; solid flush exterior doors.

EQUIPMENT: Heating: hot-water radiant panel, zoned for three areas; gas-fired boiler; automatic controls; attic fan. Kitchen: electric stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, garbage disposal unit, deep freeze, and exhaust fan. Special equipment: water softener.

front door - (looking south)

view from street (utility rooms, left, bedroom wing, right)

bedroom wing, additional bedrooms to be added later at lower level

view from east (living rooms left, outdoor living, right center, service right

living room and porch (right); glazed stairwell (left)

(first floor plan)

south window of living room and stair hall to bedroom wing

fireplace corner of living room with east porch beyond

master bedroom with cantilevered deck outside southeast window wall

wall between dining area and kitchen

same wall, opened up

James Ingraham Clark Residence by Runnells Clark Waugh and Matsumoto Architects

Name: James Ingraham Clark Residence
Architect: Runnells Clark Waugh and Matsumoto Architects
James Ingraham Clark, Project Designer
Year Designed: circa 1947-48
Builder: Don Drummond
Year Completed: circa 1948
Size: Unknown
Location: Leawood, Kansas
(Greater Kansas City Area)
Type: Residential
Style: Modern
Status: Good
Photographer: Gene Hook
Photos scanned from and article excerpted from: The American House Today : 85 Notable Examples Selected and Evaluated by Katherine Morrow Ford and Thomas H. Creighton, Reinhold, 1951, pp 134-135


Built for one of the partners in an architectural firm, this house of the James Ingraham Clarks is planned carefully for expansion as the family grows. It turns away from the street – originally a quite thoroughfare which has since became much more busy, partly because people come to see the house – and faces towards the south and southeast on a sloping site which ends in a wooded creek bed. When the house was built there was one child; now there are two, and family plans are for two more. Hence it was desired that the house could grow both in bedroom accommodations and in living space. Facing the street is a “core” which will not change: utility rooms, kitchens, laundry and garage. Past these rooms as one enters the house is a living room which is at present reasonably large, but certainly not oversized. In the future, as the plan indicates, this room will be extended, and even may have a porch on the end as a final expansion. The solution to the addition of bedrooms is made possible by a steep drop of fifteen feet in the site at the point where the bedroom wing breaks from the main house. Under the present two bedrooms there is now an open terraced space which, can, when the family has grown, be converted into a lower bedroom floor with three rooms. Mr. Clark is thoroughly objective about the value or lack of value of a number of ideas that went in the house. Orientation for sun control, studied mathematically, has worked out excellently. Plans to use a certain amount of site prefabrication – panels constructed on the property and raised into place – did not work so well, because of unfamiliarity of the available labor with this system. There is “nearly too much: storage space in cupboards, drawers and shelves. These are minor troubles, however. In general the dry-wall construction, the acoustic ceilings, the efficient kitchen layout, and the orientation have worked very well.


David B. Runnells House Tour and Party - Save the Date for Our Mid-Century Modern House Tour

KCMODERN's David Benton Runnells House Tour and Party will feature at least six Modern Houses by the architect. The dates of the events are
September 19, 2009 for the Runnells House Party and
September 20, 2009 for the Runnells House Tour.

Kansas City Art Institute - Art School by Runnells Clark Waugh and Matsumoto Architects - Part 2

Name: Kansas City Art Institute - Art School
Architect: Runnells Clark Waugh and Matsumoto Architects
Year Designed: circa 1945-46
Builder: Unknown
Year Built: circa 1947-48
Size: Unknown
Location: Kansas City, MO
Type: Education
Style: Modern
Status: Fair with multiple additions that obscure major parts and concepts of the original building
Photographed By: Fred Gund
Photos Scanned From: Progressive Architecture February 1949. Art School, Kansas City, Missouri. pp 62-65.

The design concept for the Kansas City Art Institute's new Art School was all about securing natural north light for all of the studio classroom spaces. The studio classrooms were placed on the west side of a single loaded, "display corridor" that acted as a north-south spine. Display alcoves were naturally and artificially lit and placed opposite the studios on the east side of the spine. These alcoves were expressed as projecting boxes on the exterior of the east side of the building. The display alcoves are no longer visible on the exterior or naturally lit because of a recent addition.

The studio classrooms were the programmatic heart of the building. Each studio classroom had an exterior courtyard space between it and the next studio. These could be used as outdoor work spaces in fair weather. This exterior space between studios allowed natural diffused light to enter each of the studios through a large north facing window wall from the courtyard. Natural ventilation entered through louvers and exited through clerestories. Southern clerestories let light in from the south, while the west facades of the studios were blank brick walls to protect the rooms from the low western sun. Today these courtyards have been filled in to create more interior space.

The studio roofs were raised higher than the surrounding corridor and service spaces to accommodate clerestory windows and give that portion of the program a sense of hierarchy. The building was framed in concrete with some steel bar joist roof construction. The frame was then filled with concrete block walls and the exterior of the building was rendered in a vocabulary of red brick, concrete block, limestone and corrugated asbestos cement panels. The interiors were mostly concrete and lightweight concrete block left in a raw unfinished state.
The north end of the spine was punctuated by a two level classroom wing, with a full level below the main floor. The classroom wing housed industrial design studios upstairs and painting, typesetting and service areas downstairs. These rooms all had large north facing windows.
The south end of the spine was marked by the main studio, a life drawing studio done in a sculptural form of contrasting limestone. The stepped trapezoidal plan and section segments allowed for multiple north facing clerestories to light the large complex space, which was designed for 150 people. Today the clerestory windows are covered with sheet metal siding.

The main stepped form of the life drawing studio was likely inspired by some of Alvar Aalto's work in Finland. We know from Runnells sketch books that he traveled to Finland and certainly would have been familiar with the work. Runnels and Matsumoto's body of work certainly was closely related to Aalto's use of light and "Aaltos Red Brick Period."
The transplanted Finns, Eero and Eliel Saarinen were also very influential on this design. This was because the partners of this firm met at Cranbrook and came out of the Saarinen studio and architectural offices. The plan definitely used the Saarinen designed Crow Island School, with is courtyards between studio classrooms, as a precedent. And there was some relationship to the unbuilt, competition winning, Smithsonian Art Museum design. Even the signature Runnells-red brick chosen for the classroom portion of the building was a nod to the Cranbrook campus.

Besides relating to Cranbrook the red brick with limestone trim was also a tribute to Vanderslice Hall. The limestone cladding of the life drawing studio related to the cladding of the nearby Nelson Atkins.

A 1949 Progressive Architecture article gave this project a P/A Award Special Citation.

This article was written to familiarize our readers with the work of Architect who will be the featured in KCMODERN's David Benton Runnells House Tour, which will be held on September 20, 2009. Watch for more details soon!

Kansas City Art Institute - Art School by Runnells Clark Waugh and Matsumoto Architects - Part 1

Name: Kansas City Art Institute - Art School
Architect: Runnells Clark Waugh and Matsumoto Architects
Year Designed: circa 1945-46
Builder: Unknown
Year Built: circa 1948
Size: Unknown
Location: Kansas City, MO
Type: Education
Style: Modern
Status: Fair with multiple additions that obscure major parts and concepts of the original building
Photographed By: Robert McLaughlin

Runnells Clark Waugh and Matsumoto Architects were hired to do a master plan for a new Kansas City Art Institute Campus. At the time, Vanderslice Hall, the former August R. Meyer mansion housed the entire Art Institute just west of this building. After a master plan was done, the firm was hired to do the "Art School," the first in a series of new buildings. The site chosen was a narrow slice of land running north and south between Vanderslice Hall and Oak Street. The building consisted of classrooms, studios, workshop and exhibition spaces for students of life drawing and the commercial and industrial arts. The building was rendered in a vocabulary of red brick, limestone and corrugated asbestos cement panels. The most notable feature of the building was the limestone clad life drawing studio with its stepped limestone forms and multiple north facing clerestory windows.