Cranbrook Archives is excited to announce the opening of the Ralph Rapson Collection (1935-1954) for research. The collection focuses on the early years of Rapson’s work, including his time as a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art. Rapson’s later work is retained at the Northwest Architectural Archives at the University of Minnesota, where he was the Dean of the School of Architecture from 1954-1984.
Rapson was born in Alma, Michigan in 1914. He earned Architecture degrees at the University of Michigan (1938) and at Cranbrook Academy of Art (1940). Upon completing his studies at CAA, Rapson set up his studio and was invited to help Eliel Saarinen with a planning project, which was to provide an analysis of the site for a new State Capitol complex in Lansing, Michigan. Following this experience, Rapson decided to focus more on architecture than planning. Between 1938 and 1942, Rapson contributed designs and drawings, and built models, for various projects and competitions for Eliel Saarinen and his associates.
Rapson (left), with Eero Saarinen and Fred James working on a competition drawing for the Festival Theatre at the College of William and Mary, 1939.
Rapson (right) plays football with Academy students at Cranbrook, Sep 1939.
While at Cranbrook, Rapson collaborated on several competition drawings with Eero Saarinen, Frederick James, David Runnells, Walter Hickey, Harry Weese and others. Rapson established an early reputation for his experimental concept houses like the 1939 “Cave House” and “Fabric House,” (both designed at CAA with fellow student David Runnells) and the 1945 “Greenbelt House” or Case Study House #4, one of the experiments in American residential architecture sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine.
Case Study House #4 for Arts & Architecture magazine, Jun 1944.
In the early 1940s, Rapson moved to Chicago where he taught under the Hungarian Bauhaus artist, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy. Rapson served as Head of the Architectural Curriculum at the Institute of Design (New Bauhaus) from 1942-1946. He left this position late in 1946, when MIT Dean of Architecture, William Wurster, invited him to relocate to Massachusetts where he taught architecture alongside Finnish architect, Alvar Aaalto.
Design for the Hageberg house, 1939.
Rapson and Maholy-Nagy’s design for the U.S. Gypsum Company booth at a national builder’s convention, 1945.
A design with Van der Meulen for the Dugan residence, 1946.
In 1951, Rapson was hired by the U.S. State Department to design a series of American embassies in Western Europe with architect John Van der Meulen. Rapson worked on several embassy projects, as well as residential projects, in the mid-1950s. In the spring of 1954, Rapson and his family moved to Minnesota where Rapson served as the Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota from 1954-1984. He continued to work in private practice in Minneapolis until his death in 2008 at the age of 93.
The Ralph Rapson Collection includes project files, research, correspondence, architectural drawings, and photographic material from many of Rapson’s embassy projects, as well as design competition materials and residential projects. In addition to the physical collection, a digital site (including drawings, photographs, and ephemera) is now accessible from our web site. The Archives staff will continue to add to this site, as more material is digitized.
– Gina Tecos, Archivist
Hession, Jane King, Rapson, Rip, and Wright, Bruce. Ralph Rapson Sixty Years of Modern Design. Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society Press, 1999.
Heyer, Paul, ed. Architects on Architecture. New York: Walker and Co. 1965.