Obituary: Ray Kappe, 1927-2019
California modernist and founding director of SCI-Arc, Ray Kappe, died Thursday, November 21, 2019, at the age of 92.
Born in Minneapolis in 1927, Kappe graduated from UC Berkeley’s architecture program in 1951 and founded his own practice in 1954. He was especially known for his residential architecture, which has been described as the “apotheosis of the California Modern House.” Over the course of his career, he experimented with prefabricated building methods; his recent projects—a series of modular, steel-framed houses in Santa Monica—continued techniques he developed for his own 1965 Pacific Palisades residence, which was designated a Cultural Heritage Monument by the City of Los Angeles.
Sustainability and social concerns were hallmarks of both his practice and his mantra as an educator. He began teaching at the University of Southern California in the early 1960s before being selected as founding chairman of the Architecture Program at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona in 1968. He established SCI-Arc in 1972, along with Thom Mayne, Jim Stafford, Glen Small, Ahde Lahti, Bill Simonian, and his wife Shelly Kappe, as an alternative to traditional architectural programs; it was originally called “The New School.”
Described by SCI-Arc director and CEO Hernan Diaz Alonso as a “transformative figure” and “outlaw” who “challenged the status quo of what was architectural education, and changed the world of architecture forever,” Kappe received several awards for his work at SCI-Arc, including the AIA’s Topaz Medallion and the Lifetime Achievement in Education Award.
In a poem commemorating Kappe’s innovative spirit, former SCI-Arc director Eric Owen Moss wrote: “Ray Kappe: The toughest task. Make something. From nothing. Not many do that. SCI-Arc, No, To SCI-Arc, Yes. An aspiration. Realized. Teach it. Draw it. Exhibit it. Lecture on it. Build it. Make it new. Ray Kappe. SCI-Arc. From nothing to something. History became the history he wrote.”