The legacy of Ralph Rapson

Rapson held the belief that architecture could transform the way people live.

Ralph Rapson, who died Saturday night after a heart attack, has left the University and the Twin Cities communities with a legacy of work and ideals to remember.

Rapson served as the head of the University’s architecture school from 1954 to 1984, and the College of Design’s architecture building on Church Street also bears his name. Since his time at the University, he continued to serve the area through his private practice in Minneapolis, Ralph Rapson and Associates Inc.

Projects we are most familiar with include the old Guthrie Theater, built in 1964, which was replaced by the new Guthrie in 2006, and Riverside Plaza near the West Bank campus.

The Riverside Plaza project was the first federally funded housing project of its kind and was Minneapolis’ first attempt at a massive urban renewal project. Rapson designed it to be a community within the city, where individuals and families of a diverse income range would live closely nestled together with the amenities they needed and the cultural experiences they wanted, all within short range of the city’s center. The design principles for Riverside Plaza exemplify Rapson’s belief that architecture could transform the way people lived.

“We had the dream that modern or contemporary design was going to really revolutionize and change the way we lived and thought about society. I think we thought we were part of a revolution that was going to change things considerably. We always had the notion that we could do something that would make the environment better for mankind,” Rapson said of his architectural philosophy in a 2006 interview regarding his 60-year retrospective.

While his name and his designs will live on through the physical structures we find around us, his ideals and architectural philosophies will live on to influence many young architects and how we reflect on our experience with architecture in our lives every day.