Ray Kappe (1927 - 2019)

John Hill
27. November 2019
Portrait of Ray Kappe by Steve Shaw

Ray Kappe, the founding director of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, better known as SCI-Arc, died on Thursday, November 21, "surrounded by family and loved ones," per a farewell statement from SCI-Arc.

That statement recounts the education and career of Kappe, which took him from Minneapolis to California and saw him found not one, but two architecture programs in the Los Angeles area. First, in 1968, he helped found the School of Environmental Design at California State Polytechnic University at Pomona. Four years later, in 1972, he banded with his wife Shelly Kappe, who celebrated her 90th birthday in May, as well as Thom Mayne, Jim Stafford, Glen Small, Ahde Lahti, and Bill Simonian to found The New School, which was later renamed SCI-Arc. This "group of faculty and students," per SCI-Arc, "wanted to approach the subject of architecture from a more experimental perspective than was currently offered by traditional institutions." This "college without walls" is one of the few independent architecture schools in the world. Kappe served as director from 1972 to 1987 but was involved as chairman and interim director into this century.

Kappe was also an accomplished and respected architect. The house he designed for himself and completed in 1967 was designated a Cultural Heritage Monument by the City of Los Angeles and was honored with the 25-Year Design Award from AIA LA and the 25-Year Award from the AIA California Council.

SCI-Arc's farewell statement includes some words from faculty and directors that followed in Kappe's footsteps, a few of them excerpted below.

Ray Kappe is a quintessentially Los Angeles, California architect. A transformative figure, he and a group of outlaws decided to challenge the status quo of what was architectural education, and changed the world of architecture forever. He did it, and he did it in spades. His legacy as an architect, city planner, and educator is absolutely unparalleled. ... I was lucky to have known Ray’s friendship, his wisdom, and his generosity. I hesitate just short of saying ‘long live the King,’ but his is a loss that is deeply felt, and his life deserves to be celebrated.

SCI-Arc Director and CEO Hernan Diaz Alonso

Ray’s originality was forged from the sum total of energies found in his multifaceted creative life. He was a great architect, activist, humble radical, entrepreneur, and teacher. When I was Director, he taught me about the complexities, and ultimately, of the joys of these roles. I will miss him.

Former SCI-Arc Director Neil M. Denari

It is fair to say he had as profound an influence on shaping my own personal and professional development as any other person I’ve ever known. I don’t know who I might have been had I not known Ray, but I am quite sure that the person I am is due, in a profound way, to his influence. I love him and will miss him deeply.

Distinguished founding faculty and architect Thom Mayne

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