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Ray Kappe papers, 1954-2007

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Kappe (Ray) Papers

Biographical/Historical Note

The son of Romanian immigrants, Raymond Kappe was born on August 4, 1927 in Minneapolis. After his family relocated to Los Angeles, Kappe attended Emerson Junior High School in West Los Angeles, which had been designed by Richard Neutra in the late 1930s. The two-story steel-framed building with sliding glass doors for outdoor classrooms and rooftop terraces made a valuable impression on him, as did Neutra's apartments in Westwood. These early experiences with modern architecture, combined with his love of drawing and talent in mathematics and science, helped shape his career path while he was still a teenager. He spent a single semester at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 1945 before he was drafted into the postwar U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, where he served for two years as a topographical surveying instructor. After his discharge, Kappe attended the University of California, Berkeley, earning his B.Arch in 1951.

After graduation, Kappe worked as a draftsman for the San Francisco firm of Anshen and Allen, where he was involved in the design of the Eichler tract homes. Later that year, he moved back to Los Angeles to work with Carl Maston, a lesser-known but highly practiced modern architect. In 1953, the pair each designed a six-unit apartment building side-by-side on National Boulevard in West Los Angeles. The success of the project led Kappe to open his own firm, which he operated as a private venture until 1968.

Most of Kappe's early houses consisted of small post-and-beam structures with flat or shallow-pitched roofs. Inspired by the postwar housing boom in Southern California and the Case Study House program, Kappe envisioned the single-family house as the ideal medium for experimentation in prefabricated construction. The objective was to produce a prototype that could be duplicated and slightly altered to meet the needs of individual sites and clients. By the early 1960s, he had developed a structural system that rooted six or eight steel-reinforced concrete or wooden towers into the ground, effectively reducing the footprint of the home. Also, while many of his contemporaries distanced themselves from the construction process, Kappe embraced a system of design-build throughout his career. The design for Kappe's own residence, completed in 1967, typified the architect's interest in multi-level and cost-effective modular construction on outwardly "unbuildable" sites. The muscular Douglas fir composition and reliance on the surrounding landscape reflected his Bay Area training, as well as his appreciation for vernacular traditions dating to the local Arts and Crafts movement. He would echo this complex treatment of light, space, materials, and texture, along with the complete integration of site, in many of his other hillside projects throughout Los Angeles.

In the early 1960s, Kappe became interested in urban design issues. He joined the America Institute of Architects' Urban Design Committee and began working with future partners Herb Kahn and Rex Lotery on a variety of planning and design issues, including the development of new methods of hillside building. Their successful collaborations in this context led the formation of a firm. Kahn Kappe Lotery Architects Planners (1970-1973), Kahn Kappe Lotery Boccato Architects Planners (1974-1978) and Kappe Lotery Boccato Architects Planners (1979-1981) undertook a number of large-scale planning and residential projects throughout California. Concerned with energy efficiency and new state environmental laws, much of the work reveals a newfound reliance on steel and concrete construction, as well as natural light and heating elements. With the advent of postmodernism and the movement away from planning studies towards developer-driven implementation strategies in large cities by the early 1980s, however, the partners amicably agreed to dissolve the firm in order to uphold the integrity of their design philosophies.

Since 1982, Kappe has worked under the firm name Kappe Architects Planners both independently and in collaboration with others, including his sons Finn and Ron Kappe, on numerous projects. In recent years, he has returned to his interest in prefabricated modular design. In 2003, developer Steve Glenn approached him about producing a line of prefabricated, sustainable houses called LivingHomes. In 2007, he completed the first residence to be awarded the platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating of the U.S. Green Building Council through this partnership.

In addition to his architectural and planning practice, Kappe has enjoyed a long career as an educator. He entered the teaching profession in the mid-1960s as an instructor at the University of Southern California (USC). In 1967, Bernard Zimmerman, a landscape architect at California Polytechnic University, Pomona (CalPoly), approached him about creating an architecture program there. Kappe built a successful program based on the principle of experimentation, but left the school in 1972 as a result of fundamental differences with the dean. Along with a group of like-minded faculty and students, he founded the avant-garde New School, later renamed Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). Kappe encouraged invention, exploration, and criticism among his students, integrating courses in the social and behavioral aspects of architecture into the design curriculum. His central interests in urban issues, technology and environmental response concerns remained at the forefront of the program until postmodernism began to dominate architectural discourse in the 1980s. Kappe stepped down from his director position in 1987, though he continued to teach there and at USC.

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