Ralph Rapson, celebrated architect and head of the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota from 1954 to 1984, died at his home on March 29. He was 93. One of the last of the second generation of modern architects in America still practicing, Rapson was at the drawing board the day he died.
As the architect of many important Twin Cities buildings, including the original Guthrie Theater (1963), the Philip W. Pillsbury House (1965), and Cedar Square West (now Riverside Plaza, 1973), Rapson had a national and international reputation, designing award-winning buildings across the United States as well as the American embassies in Stockholm and Copenhagen. He also designed single- and multi-family housing, churches, and institutional buildings, such as the Rarig Center for the Performing Arts (1972) on the Twin Cities campus and the Humanities Fine Arts Center (1973) on the Morris campus.
"Working up to the day he died, Ralph did what he loved to do, and that may be one of the greatest lessons he could teach any of us."
Thomas Fisher, College of Design dean
"I have had many great teachers in my life, but Ralph Rapson stands out from all of the others because of his powerfully insightful and generously shared crits of my modest design efforts. He was gifted in design, that many can see, but I believe his students saw another side as teacher that others may have never known.
Tom Mortenson, BArch '70
Rapson's achievements as an educator included ushering in a new era of modern design at the University of Minnesota, a dramatic departure from the Beaux Arts tradition that had formerly characterized architectural education at the University. Rapson's vision of an integrated approach to design led him to establish the program in landscape architecture and to advocate bringing all of the design disciplines into one unit, something that the University achieved with the College of Design in 2006. Rapson Hall--home of the college's School of Architecture, Department of Landscape Architecture, and other units--is named in his honor. Rapson also helped establish the Ralph Rapson Traveling Fellowship, which enables University graduates and local architects to travel and continue their architectural studies.
In addition to heading the architecture school, he established the firm Ralph Rapson and Associates, Inc., in Minneapolis. His architect-son, Toby, who graduated from the University of Minnesota and is now the firm's president, eventually joined Rapson. Recent projects by the firm include the Minnesota Centennial Building, the Mixed Blood Theater, and the conservatory at the University of Minnesota's Landscape Arboretum.
A memorial service was held April 21 at the Wurtele Thrust Stage of the new Guthrie Theater. The stage is a recreation of the thrust stage that Rapson designed in the original Guthrie. A reception followed the service in the courtyard of Rapson Hall, the space in which he worked for 30 years.
Photos from the memorial service are posted on the CDes MEMO weblog.