A giant of Los Angeles architecture and one of the world’s last living midcentury Modernists has died. Raymond Kappe is gone.
To explain the impact this man’s architecture had on me and my design and teaching approach would require a book. He founded Cal Poly’s Architecture Program where I earned my degree and then quit in protest of the institutional politics he encountered and founded SCI-Arc, one of the world’s best architecture schools—to this day, it’s the most experimental, avant-garde architecture school on earth.
My personal relationship with Ray began oddly enough: I was apartment hunting in Palms so I could live closer to my job at Rachlin Architects in Culver City. I’d spent weeks driving around looking at the dismal, dark, and dingy little ding-bat flats that infect Palms like a bad rash. My main criteria for housing at the time was the answer to the question:"Will living here make me wanna kill myself?"
On and on I looked for an apartment that wouldn’t render me suicidal, or failing that, one lacking a gas-fired oven.And I almost missed it. Driving with a friend up National Boulevard one afternoon, a "For Rent" sign appeared on the front of an old apartment building. It had the same ding-bat configuration as the others—open parking below upper living quarters—but there was something different about this one. Very different.
I decided to take a look upstairs, coming up short halfway up the twisting, concrete entry stairs which wound around a small, blue fir tree."There’s something going on here," I said to my friend, who was also an architect. "Whoever the architect was, they were good. I mean, really good. It’s similar to Schindler’s work, but more refined. Reminds me of Neutra’s stuff, too, but it’s not a Neutra." He agreed.
When we got to the top of the stairs, we were greeted by a precocious girl of six or seven. I asked her if her parents were around because we wanted to look at the apartment, and she said no, but that she would show it to us because her parents managed it. (This was no ordinary little girl!)
I ventured, "Do you know who the architect of this building was?"Now, ordinarily only an idiot asks a six-year-old about a work of architecture and who designed it, but I just had this feeling.
"Sure! It’s my grandfather!"
So I asked, "And what is your grandfather’s name?"
"Ray Kappe." And then, of course, it all made sense. This is how I met Tessa, Ray’s granddaughter. Within a couple of days, I was sitting across the dining room table from Ray and his wife Shelly at the spectacular Kappe House in Pacific Palisades with my architect friend Steve Henrich, signing a lease agreement.
Needless to say, I didn’t kill myself in that apartment—despite the severe anxiety and depression I was battling at the time. Quite the opposite. No matter how bad of a day I’d had, I knew I was going to a home to live in a work of art. I lived in Ray’s building as his tenant with Steve Henrich for over five years, only moving after buying a Santa Monica condo that also didn’t make me wanna kill myself, but of course it was no match for the sublime beauty of 10565 National Blvd.
Designed in 1954, it was Ray’s very first building. He was in his twenties at the time. It usually takes decades for even the most talented architects to approach this level of design, execution, and detailing. That should give you some idea of what a towering genius the man was.
Thanks, Ray. You will be missed.
William Hogan Architecture was founded in Santa Monica in 1999 as a high-quality, client-centered boutique architecture practice. Now based in Redondo Beach, Hogan is a licensed architect who graduated cum laude from California State Polytechnic University Pomona’s school of architecture and has over 35 years of professional experience.