Long before he died in 2008, the architect Ralph Rapson began working with the then-Curator of the Northwest Architectural Archives (NAA), Professor Al Lathrop, to ensure the establishment of the Ralph Rapson Papers here at the University.
Mr. Rapson’s work can be seen every day for people working on the West Bank Campus of the University – Rarig Center is his design (the theater building), and his Cedar Square West high-rise apartments just received historic designation and a facelift. His Guthrie Theater building was recently demolished but still lives in memory as the place where many of us attended the first fabulous productions of the new theater company in the early 1960s.
Ralph Rapson, born in Michigan in 1914, began his architectural studies at the University of Michigan College of Architecture in 1938, moving to Cranbrook Academy of Art to study under Eliel Saarinen. He then joined Saarinen’s architectural practice and added furniture design to his portfolio. His work combined all the arts in an interdisciplinary approach to architecture and design. When he became Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Minnesota (now the College of Design, or CDes) in 1954 he brought this approach to his teaching and mentoring.
Rapson’s work can be seen around the world, from U. S. Embassies in Stockholm and Copenhagen, to homes in University Grove (a unique neighborhood of architect-designed homes abutting the St. Paul Campus) and hundreds of other commissions.
The Ralph Rapson Papers will be divided between Cranbrook Academy of Art and the Northwest Architectural Archive, and the year selected for that division is Rapson’s year of appointment at Minnesota, 1954.
Most of the Papers have been delivered to the NAA and Christine Avery, the lead student Archives Processor, has been working for almost a year to organize, list, and house the materials. In addition to the drawings, the collection includes models, photographs, slides, presentation boards, as well as correspondence, specifications, and other documents that support the projects.
We already know there is a lively interest in the Papers – when Christine suggested we bring on a student intern from CDes to assist in moving the project forward, she prepared a flyer to post in Rapson Hall, the home of the College. Before she even had time to return to the West Bank and Andersen Library, the NAA had already received e-mails and phone calls from students wishing to participate in the project.
Once the processing work is finished, a website will be created and linked to the NAA home page and the NAA and Cranbrook will have links to each other’s finding aids.
Barb Bezat, Northwest Architectural Archives
– Burl Gilyard, Minnesota Alumni Magazine, 2002
– Rapson, Sixty Years of Modern Design, by Hession, Rapson and Wright, Afton Historical Society Press