Ralph Rapson dies at 93

Known for modernist designs, Rapson led the architecture school from 1954 to 1984.

Ralph Rapson, the former dean of the University’s architecture school, died Saturday evening after suffering a heart attack. He was 93.

Rapson, who was known for his modernist style, headed the college from 1954 to 1984, mentoring many young and award-winning architects.

Rip Rapson, the architect’s son, said his father invested himself deeply in the University faculty and the student body.

“He trained almost two generations of Minnesota architects,” Rip Rapson said.

Ralph Rapson is most often associated with his design of the Guthrie Theater in 1963. He designed the Rarig Center for Performing Arts in 1972 and the West Bank’s Riverside Plaza housing development. He also designed a successful furniture line.

Toby Rapson, who followed in his father’s architectural footsteps and worked with him for 30 years, said his father would want to be remembered as equal parts architect and educator.

Rip Rapson echoed his brother’s thoughts.

“He was very proud of the fact that there wasn’t a student that he didn’t know and hadn’t worked with in some way by the time he or she had gone through the school,” he said.

Before coming to the University, Rapson attended the University of Michigan and the Cranbrook Academy of Arts before heading the architecture department of the New Bauhaus School of Design in Chicago.

After retiring from the University, Rapson continued a private architectural practice, Ralph Rapson and Associates, Inc., in Minneapolis.

Rapson defined the modernist movement in Minnesota and outlived his architectural peers, Rip Rapson said.

While Rapson designed structures from cabins to embassies, Toby Rapson said his father’s favorite project was the one he was working on at that moment.

Tom Fisher, dean of the College of Design, said Rapson was drawing Saturday evening right before his heart attack.

“He worked literally up until the hour of his death,” Fisher said.

“I hope they carry me out on my drawing board. I’d like them to pile it up with models … and put me out on the river or lake or some place and set fire (to it) in the old Viking fashion,” Rapson told the Star Tribune in 2003.

Fisher called Rapson “the playful modernist” because both his designs and outlook on life were just that.

“He was a fun-loving, youthful person,” Fisher said. “He had a strong sense of humor.”

Fisher added that while Rapson was internationally known, he was extremely modest.

Rip Rapson said his dad “always had a classic twinkle in his eye” when he walked into a room.

“He loved people and immediately went about the business of getting to know people,” Rip Rapson said. “That’s something that carried through into his architecture Ö and it spilled over into his educational career.”