In Memoriam: Ralph Rapson


Ralph Rapson, head of the School of Architecture for 30 years -- from 1954-1984 -- has died at the age of 93.

Rapson's legacy as an architect and architectural educator will long be remembered. The School of Architecture proudly bears the mark of his leadership through the generations of students who were shaped by his teaching. His legacy is sustained through Rapson Hall, through his inclusion on the University's Wall of Discovery, and through a memorial fund in the college named in his honor.

One of the oldest, and most prolific, practicing architects Rapson worked mostly in the modernist style.

Dean Tom Fisher recalls Ralph Rapson as the "Dean of Minnesota's architectural community and the last of the second generation of modernists in America still practicing. His passing ends an era in American architecture as well as in the history of the School of Architecture, and he will be very much missed by the thousands of people he influenced."

Share your memories of Ralph Rapson in the comments.

Memorial service

The Ralph Rapson Memorial Service has been scheduled to take place at the new Guthrie Theater on Monday, April 21 at 10 a.m.

The Guthrie's thrust stage was an innovation of Rapson's and was incorporated in what was one of his most renowned buildings. Although the original Guthrie was torn down in 2006, the new Guthrie, designed by Jean Nouvel, recreated this type of stage, where the memorial will be held.


A reception will follow at 11:30 a.m. at the Rapson Hall courtyard. Arrangements are being made for shuttle buses from the Guthrie to Rapson Hall and back. The reception is co-sponsored by the College of Design and the American Institute of Architects Minnesota (AIA-MN).

The family has suggested that memorials go to the Rapson Traveling Fellowship (Minnesota Architectural Foundation) and/or the Ralph Rapson Fund, a permanent endowment in the College of Design, School of Architecture. The fund, a testament to Ralph Rapson's integrity and long teaching career, supports students enrolled in the M.Arch program through annual scholarships.

Gifts may be made online. Designate your gift to the Ralph Rapson fund in the "special instructions" text box. Checks should be made payable to the University of Minnesota Fund; designate that it is for the Ralph Rapson Fund in the College of Design. For questions about giving to this or other funds please contact Sue Danielson Bretheim in the College of Design at, 612-624-1386.

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Memories and thanks for Ralph Rapson:

As I completed my high school education and was hurtling towards my goal of becoming an architect, I was drawn to the University of Minnesota by the reputation of Ralph Rapson.
And so, after a year of construction experience in northern Idaho, I enrolled in the Minnesota (Rapson) program. The Minnesota program had an amazing reputation in the architectural community – this was largely due to Ralph’s love of the profession and his ability to convey ideas with amazing sketches and renderings.
When I began the program, I did not have much direct contact with Ralph, but his presence in the school was strongly felt and seen.
Eventually I moved to Prospect Park and would see him in the neighborhood – where we would strike up conversations.

Many years later, as I began my Thesis project, we had direct that contact that has remained with me through my many years as an Architect. Ralph was my thesis crit/mentor. It had not been planned to be so, but he was wandering through the studios late one weekend night (likely a Saturday night) and there I was - the only one working late that night.

We chatted for some time. He became engaged in my project, me and the effort I was expending.
I often recall him coming into the studio at odd hours (early mornings, late nights) and him stating that he had been thinking about my project and had some ideas.

It was an honor for me to share the drawing board with him and it provided me with the energy to get me through that thesis push.

Thanks Ralph.

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. I vividly remember these interactions from more than 40 years ago. Prof. Rapson spent time understanding what I was trying to do, then he would begin a conversation with questions and sketches, and leave me in a very different place in my design development. 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.

A lifelong fantasy of mine was that someday I could be in a position to return to Minneapolis and ask Prof. Rapson to design a house for me. I visited many of his homes in the Twin Cities as a student and these homes were simply extraordinary. I regret that I was never in a position to make that request. I envy those who have had this experience.

During the summer after my freshman year in the Architecture program at the University of Minnesota, I worked at a camp in Amery, Wisconsin. One day, my friend from the area brought a few of us out to his favorite spot--a lookout area on his neighbor's land that had one of the most beautiful views of the Wisconsin countryside I've ever seen. Knowing I was an architecture student, he mentioned the land was owned by "well-known architect from Minneapolis" and he showed me the simple and elegant glass house that this man had designed and built for his retreats from the city. I'd never seen a house so transparent and delicate, quietly resting in a clearing on the heavily wooded land.

I was excited to find out that this was Ralph Rapson's property and house, because having spent so many hours in Ralph Rapson Hall the year before, I felt an almost personal connection with the architect already! I just had to show my friends this beautiful spot and wonderful house, so we went back one Friday evening to watch the sunset.

Little did I know Ralph and his family were there that weekend--until, that is, we were discovered by one of them! How embarrassing--here I am trespassing on the land of an architect I admired! But after finding out I was an architecture student at the U, they kindly welcomed us into the house and Ralph was more than willing to talk to me about architecture, answer questions and share stories. They even invited us back the next day to swim in the river that runs through their property and to talk some more!

As a young architecture student, the experience of meeting such an honorable and brilliant man of the profession was unforgettable. I'll be forever grateful for he and his family's hospitality and friendliness, and his humor and down-to-earth nature as we chatted that weekend at his glass house.

Thanks Ralph and family for such a great memory!