Ray Kappe, FAIA (1927- 2019)
Ray Kappe was one of the great innovators and educators in Modern architecture. His lifelong love of nature and the environment took form in designs that remain visionary to this day, and continues to inspire new generations of architects.
Born in Minneapolis in 1927, Kappe spent his early childhood around Minnesota’s parks and lakes, as well as camping on family trips to national parks. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1940, and he attended Emerson Junior High School, designed by Richard Neutra.
He graduated from UC Berkeley’s architecture program with honors in 1951 and opened his own practice in 1954. His earliest work, the National Boulevard Apartments (1954) in West Los Angeles, received an AIA Design Award and was published in Arts & Architecture magazine. Designed while he was working with architect Carl Maston, the building epitomizes post-and-beam construction and the horizontal aesthetic of Modernism.
Kappe designed numerous award-winning homes while continually experimenting with spatial fluidity and modular design. While he designed multi-family, prefab, educational, public, industrial, and commercial buildings, he is perhaps best known for his 100 custom residences.
Completed in 1967, Kappe’s own Pacific Palisades home is widely regarded as one of the finest and most inviting Modern houses in the United States. Set on a steep and challenging hillside with underground springs, the house is both a design and engineering marvel. It has been featured and visited so often that Kappe regarded the residence as his “most public, private space.”
In 1968, Kappe became a founding partner of Kahn Kappe Lotery, which became Kahn Kappe Lotery Boccato. In 1981, the firm was dissolved and he formed Kappe Architects/Planners.
Kappe taught at USC and in 1968 became the founding chairman of Cal Poly Pomona’s architecture department. He resigned from Cal Poly in 1972 and, with a few young professors in tow, founded SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute for Architecture), an avant-garde institution centered on design, urban planning, and creative dialogue. SCI-ARC is now regarded as one of the top architecture schools in the country.
He received numerous awards throughout his long career, including the Richard Neutra Medal for Excellence, the California Council/AIA Bernard Maybeck Award for Design, the Topaz Medal (the most distinguished award in architectural education), and the AIA-Los Angeles Gold Medal. In 1996, he was named the first-ever UC Berkeley College of Environmental Design Distinguished Alumnus in Architecture.
Late in his career, Kappe continued to explore new methods, including prefabrication, while using the same fundamental design principles that fueled his earlier work. Kappe died at age 92 in 2019.