RALPH E. RAPSON, FAIA (1914-2008)
Born in 1914 in Alma MI, Rapson attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and later the Cranbrook Academy of Art studying under Eliel Saarinen. In 1942 he entered private practice in Chicago while also serving as Head of the Department of Architecture at the Institute of Design. He was appointed Associate Professor in the School of Architecture at MIT in 1946 then opened an office in Cambridge MA. From 1951-1953 he worked in Europe designing American embassies. He was the youngest of nine architects selected to participate in the initial Case Study Houses Program. However, his entry Case Study House #4 was never built. Rapson is known for the former Guthrie Theater building, the Rarig Center for Performing Arts at the University of Minnesota/Minneapolis, the United States embassies in Stockholm and Copenhagen, St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Paul Park, the Riverside Plaza housing complex in Minneapolis, and the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church for the Deaf in St. Paul, among many other buildings.
Rapson also designed furniture and accessories for Knoll Furniture in the 1940s and had his own furniture line in the 1950s. Among his most noteworthy pieces was the Rapson Rapid Rocker, above. Rapson led the University of Minnesota School of Architecture from 1954 to 1984 when he retired to private practice. His papers are divided between the Univerisity of Minnesota and Cranbrook.
1938 - aka the Earth-Excavated Cave House, designed with David (Dave) Runnells while at Cranbrook. Unbuilt.
1938 - aka the 4/16 House Competition. Designed with John Van der Meulen. The day after graduation from Cranbrook, Rapson and Van der Meulen entered this competition organized by Architectural Forum magazine. It was a completely modular design based on multiples of standardized dimensional materials and techniques, including 2x4 lumber, 16 inch spacing, and 4-, 8-, and 16-inch masonry units. Won honorable mention and $50.
1938 - The Harry D. Hoey House, 5520 Metamora Road, Metamora MI. Ranch-type, single-level home with an open, horizontal floor plan. Designed with Rapson's fellow Cranbrook Academy of Art student, Walter Hickey. Built for the Headmaster at Cranbrook School for Boys in Bloomfield Hills MI. Hoey used the property as a vacation house. Sold to Pat and Jack Ogden. Sold in 1990 to Peter Gilles and Joseph Maday. Sold in 2014 to John and Kristin Mathies.
1939 - The Insulux Glass Block Small Home Competition. Rapson was given one of five awards.
1939 - aka the Fabric House, designed with David Runnells while at Cranbrook. Unbuilt. The house is an insulated tent, all roofs and walls are insulated fabric panels that allow the utmost flexibility in planning and design. The prefabricated roll fabric is placed over a skeleton of light, stamped metal. The structural members are a system of tele-pipe similar to present day airplane sections. A tele-pipe system allows an almost infinite placing of walls and roof. A mechanical package contains all the necessary bathroom, kitchen, heating and electrical requirements. Radiant floor heating panels are placed in the floor construction and are completely demountable. Electrical panel boxes, likewise, are placed in the floor. The floor is chemically treated tamped earth laid over six inches of crushed rock bed on which any floor covering can be laid. Sources: KCModern and Dave Runnell's daughter. In 1941, Rapson submitted The Fabric House for The New House 194X competition sponsored by Architectural Forum magazine.
1939 - The Mildred Schoch (Dorothy, or Dot) Hagberg Studio Residence, Okemos MI. Based on the Cave house but largely below grade. According to author Susan Bandes, Hagberg met while both were at Cranbrook and he designed this house for her. Unbuilt plan, but see below.
1940 - aka the Realistic House for Georgia. Rich's Department Store in Atlanta sponsored a national architectural competition "for the design of a realistic house for a family in Georgia" in cooperation with Progressive Architecture magazine which published the program for the competition in its October 1945 issue. Atlanta architect Henry J. Toombs and Kenneth Reid, editor of the magazine, served as advisors for the competition plus a jury of 6 architects. Hugh Stubbins Jr. won first place, Watson Balharrrie from Ottawa, 2nd, Harold Calhoun of Houston TX, 3rd. There were 568 entries. Rapson's entry was never built.
1940 - Half Moon Series, aka prefab mobile homes for Redman Trailer Company, Alma MI. According to Ralph Rapson: Sixty Years of Modern Design, "He hoped his next step after (high school) graduation might be an apprenticeship with a practicing architect, someone who could help him move from classroom exercises to real projects. There was nobody of that description in Alma, so he looked to Midland, where the preeminent architect was Alden Dow, son of the Dow Chemical Company's founder. Rapson made an appointment.
Although Dow courteously reviewed the young man's senior-year portfolio, he explained that he didn't have enough work to support an apprentice. He suggested that Rapson talk with a friend of his at the Redman Trailer Company, an Alma-based manufacturer of mobile homes. Rapson followed up. Redman wasn't ready to hire Rapson either but encouraged him to stay in touch, which he did. A few years later, the relationship bore fruit. Rapson designed a half-dozen models, named the Half Moon series, variations of which the company produced. No address or photo of these. Do you have any?
1940 - The Mildred Schoch (Dorothy, or Dot) Hagberg House and Studio Addition, 2231 Hamilton Road, Okemos MI.
1941 - The Centerline Defense Housing Project, designed with Eliel and Eero Saarinen, Warren MI. Unbuilt.
1943 - The Ronald G. and Helen Evans House, aka the Halcyon House, 112 North Grant Street, Hinsdale IL. Commissioned 1939. Rapson was working for Peterson at the time and Helen Evans was Peterson's secretary. Rapson was fired from Peterson's firm for doing this project instead of coming into work. The Halcyon house was a 1.5 story structure "stacked" on three levels. The bedrooms were up a half-level from the entry area, and the living room was a half-level down, creating a twelve-foot high living room space. Rapson used natural wood on the inside instead of plaster, and sheathed the outside with redwood siding. Destroyed by 1963.
1945 - The J. G. Lopez House, aka the Homes and Gardens Blueprints for Tomorrow House, for which Rapson won a prize. Included an open, horizontal organization of space, extensive use of glass in partitions and exterior walls, and utilization of an interior open court to serve as both a children's play area and an outdoor living room. Unbuilt.
1945 - The ABC House, a competition entry for "Design of a House for Cheerful Living." This competition was sponsored jointly by Architectural Forum and the glass and paint manufacturer PPG Industries. Rapson won third place.
1945 - The Johnson Residence, Chicago IL. Located a block from the Gidwitz House. Unbuilt.
1945 - The Deerfield Houses, Chicago IL. Unbuilt.
1945 - aka Greenbelt House, aka Case Study House 4. Unbuilt at the time, Rapson did finally get this design built in 1989 for the indoor exhibit Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study Houses at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. With Rapson, Nathan Wieler attempted and failed to launch a modular house line in the early 2000s.
1946 - The Lourie Walker House, 921 South Hale Street, Wheaton IL. Has been renovated. Sold to Jeffrey B. Brown. Sold in 2011 to Richard Cline aka Hawthorne Invests, LLC.
1946 - The Lee Gladstone House, 1700 North Richmond Road, McHenry IL. The principal architect was John van der Muelen. Destroyed sometime around 1993 and the site became an Applebee's.
According to daughter Lorna Gladstone, it was her mother's idea to go with the modern look for the house; her dad wasn't so sure about it. Her mom had a friend who worked with Knoll and Herman Miller Interiors so the house was completely furnished with their furniture. The house had a flat roof and large sliding glass winows in most rooms. Featured in LIFE Magazine.
Rapson also built a medical clinic for Gladstone on Green Street in 1956, shown below. It too has been destroyed.
1946 - The Shank House, Homewood IL. Designed with George Fred Keck. Done for a young couple on a budget of less than $5,000, Rapson designed a flat roof with a lip running the entire perimeter to contain rainwater; if water rose above a certain level, a spigot opened to release the excess into the gutters. In the summer the water cooled the house. He also incorporated a radiant-heating system beneath the floor that used clay tiles. Built. Do you know where it is?
1946 - The Willard and Adele Gidwitz House I, 4912 South Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago IL. Commissioned 1943. Years later the design was included in a traveling exhibition with the Museum of Modern Art - New York entitled "Three Post War Houses." Sold to the Leon Walker Trust around 2002.
1948 - The Rex Horsfield House, Bermuda. Unbuilt.
1950 - The Eastgate Apartments, aka the 100 Memorial Drive Apartments, 100 Memorial Drive, Cambridge MA. 29 stories. Facing a large number of World War II veterans returning to school on the GI Bill, MIT was forced to build new housing for graduate students. Rapson collaborated on the design with Vernon DeMars, William Hoskins Brown, Robert Woods Kennedy, and Carl Koch. Won the AIA First Honor Award 1951 and the AIA 25 Year award in 1976.
1950 - The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) House Design Competition. Rapson actually sent in two submissions to the competition, one under his name (top photo) and one under the name Mary Dolan, his second wife. His won second place in the nationwide division and first in one of the regional divisions. Despite its practicality, building ordinances prohibited plans in which people would have to walk through living spaces to get to a bathroom. The winning designs became the property of the NAHB which sold working drawings. A substantial number of the prize-winning homes were built nationwide.
1950 - The Schechter House, aka the House of Doors, 34 Robinson Road, Lexington MA. Rapson was asked by the Hillside School for Boys in Marlborough in Boston to design a number of small residences. The client had purchased more than one hundred insulated doors at a factory close-out sale and asked Rapson to incorporate them into the design; he did, using the doors not only for their traditional entrance and exit functions, but for exterior walls, interior partitions, and flooring. Sold in 1976 to Allen E. and Mary Armstrong. Sold in 2007 to Robert C. Weir.
1954 - The US Embassy Staff Housing, Paris, France. Designed with John Van der Meulen.
1954 - The Willard and Adele Gidwitz Residence II, 405 East Sheridan, Lake Bluff IL. Needs verification.
1954 - The Walter P. Kern House, 138 Sandy Pond Road, Lincoln MA. Renovated at some point, architect unknown. Sold in 2016 to Alex Taylor.
1955 - The David and Joan Wyer House I, Cottagewood area of Deephaven MN. Built. Rapson did a renovation in 1959. Presumed destroyed; needs verification. Do you know where it is/was?
1956 - Model House for the Southeast Housing Homestyle Center, aka Museum of Houses, aka Grand Rapids Homestyle Center Residence, Grand Rapids MI. Unbuilt. Other participants included Alden Dow, Harwell Hamilton Harris, George Nelson, and Paul Rudolph.
In 1956 Detroit realtor Jason Honigman conceived The Home Research Foundation to showcase new Modernist houses on 80 acres outside Grand Rapids, MI. The press referred to it as "an outdoor museum for houses," "the world's most wondrous village," and, eventually, "the lost theme park." The project was extensively promoted in major design magazines such as Architectural Record, Arts and Architecture, and Interiors.
The first set of 12 homes was to be designed and started in 1956, followed by 13 in 1957, and 25 more over a span of 3 years, ending in 1960. The Home Research Foundation closed its offices in May 1957 due to funding issues. The Homestyle Center was never built but the original lake around which the houses were to be built is now part of the 132 acre Fredrick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park, planned in 1982 and opened in 1995.
1957 - The William G. (Jerry) and Frances Shepard House, 2197 Folwell Avenue, Falcoln Heights MN. This was the first Rapson house in the University Grove Neighborhood. B/W photos by Joseph Molitor; built by Harold Munson; consulting engineer, John Meyer. Won a 1958 AIA Honor Award. Featured in Architectural Record Houses of 1959. Sold in 2009 to Dan Voytas and Tony Payne.
1959 - The Betty Poole House, 6699 Mohawk Drive, Chanhassen MN. Commissioned 1958. Designed with Douglas Baird Associates. Featured twice in Northwest Architecture Magazine in 1960. Sold in 2003 to Matthew and Elizabeth Tibbetts.
1958 - The Alan Thal House, 2 West Shore Road, North Oaks MN. On Gilfillan Lake. Featured in Northwest Architecture Magazine twice in 1960. Designed with Douglas Baird. Won an AIA MN Merit Award in 1960. Sold to Mark and Mary Ekblad. Photos by Bobak Ha'Eri.
1959 - The Winton House, aka White House, 4245 Bayside Road, Orono MN. Won a 1963 AIA MN Merit Award. Rapson did a kitchen remodel in 1970. Seven bedrooms and a study. Sold to Robert P. White who commissioned Rapson for an expansion that was never built. Destroyed in 1989.
1960 - The Jackson Development Co-op Apartment, Minneapolis MN. Unbuilt.
1960 - The Wayzata Housing Development, aka Knutson Wayzata Project, Wayzata MN. Unbuilt.
1958 - The Meech Residence, 630 Holly Lane N, formerly 430 Holly Lane, Plymouth MN. Won a 1959 AIA MN Honor Award. Sold in 1979 to Jerry and Maurine Shink. Although the original Meech property has been subdivided and nearly 70 houses now stand in the once pristine woods, the home still sits on 1.1 acres. Over the years, the Shinks made some modifications with Rapson's advice. They converted the study into a master bedroom and the original master bedroom into a master bath. They also covered up the original rolled linoleum floor that Mrs. Meech insisted upon. On the children's level, three bedrooms were reconfigured as two. The 1950s bomb shelter remains, used as storage. Sold in 2007. Sold in 2011 to Persio and Silvana Ravena. Sold in 2020 to B. and L. Gilmore.
1960 - The Neal L. Gault House, 1595 Vincent Street, St. Paul MN. Sold around 1962 to Morrell. Sold around 1992 to Karen Burke and Grayson McCouch. Sold around 1996 to Scott McConnell and Ann Johnson. One of Rapson's University Grove Houses. Sold in 2011 to Serguei and Amy Pakhomov. Bottom photo by Bobak Ha'Eri.
1960 - Urban Housing Development, Cincinnati OH. Unbuilt.
1960 - The Markell Brooks Residence, aka Longshadows, on Long Lake in Orono MN. Rapson was reluctant to build a Japanese-inspired home but the persuasion of widow Markell Brooks convinced him. The 6,100 square foot home integrates the Japanese modern look with glass walls, cedar and redwood built-ins, and shoji screens. He dubbed the home Longshadows after the shadows cast by the overhanging roofline. The 4 bedroom, 6 bath home sits on 5 acres on a hill overlooking Long Lake. An original studio apartment is also part of the property. Sold in 1975 to Mary Haldeman Dayton. The kitchen was updated in 2000, an existing porch was enclosed, and a heated pool added. Sold in 2010 and renovated by architect James Dayton.
1961 - The Ray and Kay Price House, 4730 Coffey Lane, Minneapolis MN. Sold in 1986 to Leroy and Monica Rosin.
1961 - The Melvin S. and Eileen Cohen House, 1703 Drummond Street, Eau Claire WI. Still owned by the Cohens as of 2016.
1962 - The Harold Kelley House, 1564 Burton Street, St. Paul MN. Commissioned around 1959. One of Rapson's University Grove Houses. Sold around 1972 to Harry and Billie Foreman. Sold in 1999 to Todd Hegg and Maribeth Mertes.
1964 - The Eleanor and Philip Pillsbury Jr. House, Ferndale Road, Wayzata MN. Commissioned 1963. In three separate but connected pavilions, large expanses of brick and glass wall floated between a sculptured white stucco roof fascia and structural platform. Featured in Architectural Record in 1963 and in Architectural Record Houses of 1966. Won the 1965 AIA Honor Award. Won the 1965 AIA MN Merit Award. Won the 1990 AIA MN 25 Year Award.
Late in 1996, Bill Cooper bought the property and, according to Rapson, dismissed any notion of preserving it, saying "It's not my cup of tea." By February 1997, the house was destroyed. Cooper built a new McMansion where he hosted fund-raisers featuring Dick Cheney and George H. W. Bush.
1963 - University Courts Housing, Minneapolis MN. Commissioned 1962. Unbuilt.
1963 - The Detroit Housing Project, Detroit MI. Unbuilt.
1963 - The Houston Housing Project, Houston TX. Unbuilt.
1964 - The Donald and Linda Butler House, 1630 Edgcumbe Road, St. Paul MN. Sold in 1973 to John G. (Jack) and Linda Hoeschler, who also bought an adjacent lot to the west in 1976, into which they expanded their nationally significant Japanese gardens. A new garage with an inverted roof was added in 2009, with the old garage converted into a library, designed by David O'Brien Wagner and Jared Banks; interior design by Meredith Wilson; built by Northstar Remodeling. Still owned by Linda Hoeschler as of 2022. A short history of the neighborhood, written by Linda Hoeschler, is available online.
1964 - The Albert and Jean Hood House I, 2160 Folwell Avenue, St. Paul MN. Sold in 1966 to Wolfgang and Marilyn Taraba. Sold in 1990 to Samuel Krislov. Sold in 1991 to Nygui Lin and Yan Song. Sold in 2006 to Chris and Jennifer Reedy. One of Rapson's University Grove Houses. Bottom photo by Bobak Ha'Eri.
1966 - The Red Cedar House, aka the Weyerhaeuser Demonstration House D-1317, aka The Mondrian, 110711 Kings Lane, Chaska MN (originally Jonathan MN). 1648 sf. It was a commission from the Weyerhaeuser Company using Weyerhaeuser products and was designed as "a house for everyman." Featured in Better Homes and Gardens.
Jonathan MN was a planned town with its own industrial, commercial, and recreational activities as well as housing. Within its 8,142 acres was to be a town center for 15,000, three industrial parks, and a central commercial complex. By 1990 the population was to be 50,000 and Jonathon was to link with the Twin cities by some type of fixed-rail rapid transit system. Jonathan is now a homeowners' association, the largest in MN with 2,300 households. It was planned by the Jonathan Development Corporation and begun in 1967 by Minnesota State Senator and real estate developer Henry T. McKnight. The development corporation folded in 1979, and Jonathan was annexed by the city of Chaska.
1966 - The Albert (Al) and Jean Hood House II, 26 Rocky Shore Drive, Iowa City IA. This was a duplicate of their house in MN because Al Hood liked it so much. Sold in 2013 to Hyungsub Shim.
1966 - The Ira M. (Gary) Gourley House, 2118 Folwell Avenue, St. Paul MN. Sold in the early 1970s to Irving and Carol Gottesman. Sold in the early 1980s to Richard Meisch and Diane Tanabe. Sold to Ken and Doreen Leopold. One of Rapson's University Grove Houses. Photo by Bobak He'Eri.
1968 - The Joseph Livermore House, 2179 Folwell Avenue, St Paul MN. One of Rapson's University Grove Houses. Top two photos by Barbara Lamprecht. Sold in the 1970s to Hochberg. Sold in the late 1970s to Joanne Eicher, still owner as of 2019.
1969 - The Scott W. Butwin House, 1101 Sylvandale Road, Mendota Heights MN. Commissioned in 1967. Still owned by Butwin as of 2019.
1969 - The Robert C. and Carmen Bell House, 807 Heinel Drive, Roseville MN. Still owned by the Bells as of 2016.
1970 - The Frederick B. and Diana Lewis House, 7564 Pleason Avenue NW, South Haven MN. On Lake Sylvia. A interesting second phase was designed but never built due to budget constraints. Deeded to Glenn Lewis. Sold in 1997 to James F. and Tarole Richards-Bottelson.
1973 - The Riverside Plaza Apartments, aka Cedar Square West Apartments, 4th Street East and Cedar Street, St Paul MN. Featured the second home of Mary Richards on the Mary Tyler Moore television show. Foreclosed in 1985. Sold in 1988 to Sherman Associates. Renovated.
1974 - The Ralph Rapson Vacation House, aka Glass Cube, 1370 50th Avenue, Amery WI. Featured in Architecture Week, August 2007. Won an AIA MN Citation.
1975 - The David and Joan Wyer House II, aka the Strampe House, 19700 Lakeview Avenue, Deephaven MN. Built by the Wyers with a stunning view of Carson Bay. Commissioned 1974. Sold in 2003 to James and Kathy Strampe. Sold in 2011 to Huagui Li and Xiaojian Shen.
1977 - The Vernon and Gloria Tew House, 4431 Eastwood Road, Minnetonka/Wayzata MN. Won an AIA MN citation in 1978. Sold in 2018 to Alexandra Fleming and Matt Crnobrna. Renovated by Charles Stinson. Top photo by Bobak Ha'Eri.
1979 - aka the Tree House. Unbuilt.
1978 - The Benjamin and Helen Liu House, 1 North Deep Lake Road, North Oaks MN. Sold in 2016.
1979 - The Fritz Rosendahl Condos, aka the Willow Run Condos, 16148 Highway 86, Spirit Lake IA. Won an AIA MN Honor Award in 1985.
1979 - The Rick and Claudia Davis House, 15612 Upper 34th Street South, Afton MN.
1980 - The Thomas (Tom) Hitchcock Summer House, 27998 Ridgewood Drive, Merrifield MN, on Upper Mission Lake NW of Lake Mille Lacs. Sold in 1992 to Roger L. Funk. Sold in 1997 to Cynthia and Paul Karos.
1984 - The Susan Lenz House, aka the Lenz-Polesky House, 4270 Glenwood Avenue, Golden Valley MN. Sold around 1989 to Herbert Polesky. Photo by Bobak Ha'Eri.
1985 - The Charles and Maryanne Lo House, 271 Twin Lakes Trail, Little Canada MN. Renovated in 2011 by Laun Sanderson with interior design by Kathryn Johnson.
1987 - The David and Mary C. Daly House, 2152 Hoyt Avenue West, St Paul MN. Project architect, Toby Rapson. Still owned by the Dalys as of 2019. Bottom photo by Bobak Ha'Eri.
1988 - The Marijo Crimont Toner House, Madrid NM. No address or photo. Do you have one?
1989 - The Heller House Remodel, 2159 Hoyt Avenue West, University Grove area of St. Paul MN. The original 1970 house was designed by Elizabeth and Winston Close, who designed 14 homes in the University Grove neighborhood. Sold to Roger and Arlene Fosdick.
1992 - The Heller House Remodel II, North Oaks MN. No address or photo. Do you have one?
1995 - The Trus-Joist MacMillan Frameworks House, Provo UT. Competition entry. Unsure if built.
1996 - The Charles Dolan House, Laramie WY. Dolan was Rapson's nephew. Photo by Charles Dolan. Do you know where it is?
1996 - The Heller Highwater Apartments, Minneapolis MN. Unbuilt.
1997 - The Erica Johnson House, Bloomington MN. Unbuilt.
1999 - The Mary Anne and Darwin J. DeRosier House, 899 Tanglewood Drive (County Road G2), Shoreview MN.
1998 - The Rose and Peter Dwyer House, Collegeville MN. Designed with Toby Rapson. Built by local builders and overseen by Dwyer.
2001 - The Jack Graff Summer House, Grand Rapids MN. Commissioned 1998. Unsure if built.
2003 - The Greenbelt 2, Sag Harbor NY. Built by Nathan Wieler. Do you know where it is?
Rapson submitted a modified version of Case Study #4, aka the Greenbelt house, to the Dwell Home Design Invitational. With assistance from his son, architect Toby Rapson, Rapson redesigned the house with a two- story atrium. Although Rapson's design was not chosen by DWELL, Wieler's development company asked Rapson to develop new models.
There is one more built somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay.
2007 - The Jodi Peterson Residence, 4729 Annaway Drive, Edina MN. Commissioned 2005. According to Midwest Home Magazine (May 2007) Peterson "called Ralph's office in May 2005 not expecting him to pick up his own phone. He agreed to do the addition as long as it was approved by original architect Jack Smuckler. When it was finished, Peterson admitted it went beyond what she had planned as a residence for her three young daughters and herself and it had become more of a work of art. She put it on the market with the intention of having Rapson design another home for her. Even the front yard sculpture garden with a reflective black-bottom pool was designed by Rapson, with Peterson's assistance." Sold to Franck L. Gougeon.
Sources include: The Ralph Rapson Collection 1935-1954 at Cranbrook Archives, University of Minnesota; KCModern; Virtual GlobeTrotting; Archiplanet; Minnesota Architects: A Biographical Dictionary by Alan Lathrop, Dianne Bertsch.