World-Renowned Palisadian Architect and Innovator Ray Kappe Has Died


Ray Kappe, modernist architect and innovator, whose own Rustic Canyon home has been called one of the “finest, most inviting Modern houses in the United States,” has died at age 92.

“The world of architecture would not be what it is without him,” SCI-Arc Director Hernan Diaz Alonso said in a statement. “His legacy as an architect, city planner and educator is absolutely unparalleled.”

The longtime Palisadian died from respiratory failure due to pneumonia on November 21.

During his influential 60-year career, Kappe designed more than 100 homes, “many post-and-beam” style, inside-outside and open-plan,” according to KCRW.

Kappe was known for founding prominent architecture school SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture) in Santa Monica in 1972—one of the top architecture schools in the United States. He believed in “learning by doing,” he shared with the Palisadian-Post during an interview in 2012.

Kappe won numerous awards, including the California Council/AIA Design Award for one of his earliest works, the National Boulevard Apartments in 1954 in West Los Angeles. He was awarded the Richard Neutra International Medal for Design Excellence, the Topaz Medal (the highest award in architectural education) and in 2013, the LA Architectural Lifetime Achievement Award.

Kappe could have sold his archives but instead chose to donate thousands of his drawings to the Getty Center to make them accessible for educating.

Kappe is survived by his wife, Shelly, and their three children: Ron, Finn and Karen. The couple was married in 1950 and moved into their Rustic Canyon home in 1968.

Born in Minneapolis on August 4, 1927, Kappe’s family moved to LA in 1940, where he attended Emerson Junior High (designed by Richard Neutra), University High and one semester at UCLA.

After being drafted into the Army in 1945, Kappe served for two years in the U.S. Corps of Engineers before completing University of California, Berkeley’s architecture program with honors in 1951. Kappe opened his own practice in 1953 in Santa Monica.

Kappe chose the site for his Palisades home in 1963 and completed it in 1967 after taking two years to install the sewer system alone.

Kappe used a system of staggering floors, creating his residence in the Palisades with seven distinct levels. Kappe raised the house above the ground, “spanning the hillside with a series of bridges and cantilevers.”

It turned out to be a 4,000-square-foot house that only touched the ground on 600 square feet. Often described as an “iconic tree house,” it’s considered a “design and engineering marvel.”

Kappe passed away surrounded by family and loved ones, according to a SCI-Arc newsletter.