Ralph Rapson’s career as an architect and designer spanned 70 years of the most formative times in American modern design. That being said, he was one of the most prolific architects in history. He always said he wanted to go out on his drafting board, and he worked until the day before he passed away, at age 93. Ralph Rapson is remembered for his unique and fanciful drafting ability, which lent a playful persona to modernism, which many deemed to be too sterile in the early days of its development.
Ralph Rapson studied at Cranbrook Academy in Chicago with the likes of other great modernist designers, such as Harry Bertoia, Charles Eames, Harry Weese, and Florence Schust (Knoll). It was here that his visionary design skills caught the eye of the program director and prominent modernist architect, Eliel Saarinen. Rapson worked with Eliel and his son Eero Saarinen, for a number of years after college, from which he gained much of his design sensibilities.
Frustrated with a lack of suitable furniture for his modern homes, Rapson began collaborating with Hans Knoll in the 1940s on a line of mass-produced modernist furniture. This period marked the beginning of mainstream modernism for the masses. Shortly thereafter, while living in Boston, Rapson and his wife opened a small store devoted to modern furnishings, which they called Rapson-Inc.
Rapson taught architecture at the New Bauhaus School (now IIT Institute of Design), at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and then at the University of Minnesota, where he became Dean of the School of Architecture. Ralph practiced as principal architect of Rapson Architects in Minneapolis from 1954-2008, and through it all, he never stopped designing.