a close professional friend of mine that encouraged me and my students to express their dreams about architecture.
one of the last things he said to me was “none of it matters” you do your own interpretation, but my take away was that all the awards, money, publicity, buildings, sci-arc, etc did not compare to living. he on his last legs and struggling to survive, i asked whether he wanted to live and his answer was “yes”. his advice, ‘ get it while you can”. he did it his way. like no hand rails on his challenging steps in his house attest. telling me he never got the final building department inspection.
at the same time he said he had lived a good life, and was happy with his accomplishments. sitting in his historical monument house in rustic canyon enjoying the space and natural surrounding.
ray was ten years older than i , he was raised in west los angeles and graduated from university high school like i did. we both worked at anshen and allen in san francisco, so we shared common interests and history.
allen demanded that ray work for him and not anshen. ray the revered draftsman and talent in the office.
i graduated from the university of Oregon in 1961 where the dean was trying to create a bauhaus and hired a bunch of young heady passionate professors . alvin boyarsky was my professor that ended up the director of the AA in London in it’s glory days with peter cook, ron herron, zaha hadid, jan kaplinsky, rick mather etc.
after 3 years of banging around after graduation in 10 different architectural offices i figured the answer was to become a professor to do architecture with integrity. many an architect took that path. so off to cranbrook academy of art 1965 sponsored by an eliel Saarinen scholarship for masters of architecture degree,where i was allowed to pursue my interest of designing the ideal city to replace existing cities which resulted in the vertical city to replace Detroit along with a lot of publicity for urban planning projects for Detroit. augmented by teaching at Lawrence institute of technology university in Southfield Michigan for three years..
in 1968 i returned to my roots in los angeles to make a go of it with my young family, and ended up with an architectural private practice in venice with Miguel Flores doing developer multilevel split level apartments for marina del rey. a low point for me financially and i not up to the task of making the projects sophisticated. i sought out a teaching position and was referred by ucla to ray kappe, the new chairman of the architectural department at cal poly pomona school of environmental design.
the interview was in the old santa monica library renovated to ray’s office of kahn kappe latery. ray was a visual architectural genius, who was interested in all aspects of seeking better environmental solutions at all scales. ray later stating i was the most talented person he had ever interviewed. he got it. ray a systems man like i was raised on grids and modulars that gave cohesiveness and rational reasoning. nature an element to celebrate that we both shared and incorporated in our designs.
the talent of ray was to hire exceptional architects and let them do what they wanted. i hooked up with ahde lahti that was an industrial designer artist that could draw, print and build anything. we ran first year projects for the students that were community oriented that the students designed , built , and occupied . one project ending up on pisomo beach with a folded plate system built out of cardboard for a weekend. ray attended with shelly . the LA TIMES doing a full color spread. but the climax of out efforts was a project that i initiated of five classes of first year building a portable permanent student community out of stacking rhombic dodecahedrons called community 72 . . the whitakerr foundation putting up money to make it happen and were prepared to go all the way with the next stage.
community 72 stopped when ray was fired as the chairman of architecture department after a confrontation with dean bill dale over how to run the architectural department. i had been offered an associate professorship, a life time tenured cash cow . which i did not accept. community 72 became the graphic symbol of the new school that the faculty of glen small, ahde lahti, james stafford, thom mayne and bill simonian proposed and ray kappe accepted the challenge to direct. the conception of the institute started with the faculty banding together at jim staffords girl friends ceramic studio to come together to start the new school. bill simonian finding the santa monica warehouse campus. ray putting up the security deposit for the new school , later to be called southern california institute of architecture and abbreviated was sci-arc. we verbally agreed for tenure of all core faculty to assure employment for this wild adventure . ray was 10 -17 years older than the young faculty and financially secure . his beard made him look mature, which helped.
we were searching for a liberated self motivated educational policy, but soon structured the curriculum for guidance, but still allowed for professors and student freedoms. ray sensitive to the varied needs and desires of students and faculty. providing students multiple ways of instruction to graduate. ray often directed students to me that were ostracized by other faculty. the core board of ray kappe, shelley kappe, glen howard small, ahde lahti, james stafford, thom mayne and bill simoniian. terry glassman and eric moss were added in 1974, plus student representation of undergraduate and graduate students ran sci-arc from 1972 to 1987 when ray stepped down .
ray somehow made it all work. the tuition was affordable and the professors augmented their low salary with architectural practices to stay financially solvent.
it was an exciting time where a ton of architects lectured, taught, and interacted. the students responding with abundant creative projects. sci-arc was the school for creativity. free to explore without the shackles of a university.
i and ahde lahti bombarded the school with heavy duty publicity in the los angeles times of student work. sci-arc was the place to go. the parties, dinners and lectures being fun informative times captured the spirit of the times that anything was possible.
ray had a sterling architectural reputation and the aia and architectural profession gave their blessing with 5 year accreditation soon after opening.
sci-arc was synonymous with cutting edge architectural design.
the passion of the professors and hunger of the students to learn resulted in innovation on all fronts.
the diverse professors brought different points of view that students were exposed to.
but as the school grew the faculty became more mature, and their differenced created friction and hostility.
TURF TOWN , SOLAR ZONING AND ECO HIGH RISE FOR LA. ARCHITECTURAL SCHOOLS COMPETITION FOR LOS ANGELES VERTICAL STUDIO STUDENTS AND GLEN HOWARD SMALL PROFESSOR SCI-ARC
ray’s idea for eric and i to teach a studio together. carlos ovalle went to nicaragua with me.
ray had a wide range of architectural interests that were not commercially oriented. the green movement was not main stream and scoffed at by corporate architects. computers were shunned as well. ray was into social , ecological, technology causes like : architects for social responsibility, doing a tv interview with me on my green machine, building a solar house. etc.
ray and like minded faculty started the futurist program IFS SCI-ARC and co signed for a loan to purchase property in the santa monica mountains to do experimental structures. each faculty specializing in their expertise: homeless housing, saving the santa mountains susan nelson, computer technology ched reeder, wind mills technology ahde lahti , outer space david nixon and terry glassman, initiating santa monica mall 3 street. promenade terry glassman, self sufficient cargo container ahde lahti and david nixon. maintainer tony gwilliams, earth shelters nadar kalili etc.
the futurist program received numerous grants, got awards, and won competitions . but was undermined by the division of faculty and changing of times. micheal rotundi, thom mayne and eric moss took over.
now the green movement is profitable and desired, the computer is god, and ecological and homeless problems rampant. ray told me recently “the solutions blocked by establishment lobbyist”.
COPY CATS, VERTICAL STUDIO COMPUTER HIGH RISE BY JOHN WOOD, GLEN SMALL PROFESSOR
in 1986-87 i took a sabbatical in nicaragua to do large scale urban planning and structures. i gave ray my core board vote to run the school.
michael rotondi the new director was elected by the core board in 1987 with ray’s blessings., michael immediately dissolved the governoring core board and increased the board of directors with his people to facilitate his desires.
the verbal agreement of tenure for founders was not honored and glen small, ahde lahti and terry glassman were fired. the three of us did a law suit to honor our tenure, but were slammed with the corrupt legal system that is governed by money. ray stating in the movie my father the genius, by my film maker daughter lucia small, ” that it was unfair of rotundi to do so”. and ray told me that thom mayne was the negative instigator. but to be truthful, ray did not come to our defense. he threw us under the bus. ray confessing to terry glassman in recent years that it was unfortunate how we were treated. we all moved on, but have significant scares.
thom mayne telling me recently,” ray was the last and best of his era, but ray had to go”. the future was represented by the venice beach photo of thom mayne, frank gehry, coy howard, robert muguiran, craig hoggets, fred fisher, erik moss”.
thom mayne calling me “the outsider” in my father the genius film and at ray’s memorial, thom mayne telling me ” he thom was the outsider”, i said, “oh no thom, you are the corporate architect.”
ray kept close to sci-arc and was influential in keeping sci-arc solvent. but it took it’s toll on him and in the end, just the mention of eric moss sent ray into a rage.
ray after turbulent times with thom mayne did embrace thom , saying thom was like him. in the real world building buildings. ray respected and admired thom mayne’s career and awards.
i have been consistently shunned in my attempts to recover financial loses owned me by sci-arc and my desire to give lectures and do work shops by the directors after ray’s departure. erik moss gave me a gallery show and put me on a jury, but refused my pitch for a visionary research studio. ray writing me glowing letters of recommendations for teaching positions.
sci-arc lives on, not what ray envisioned, ray stating in his silver tongue manner during a tribute lecture with present director hernan diaz alonso, “that social and green issues could be strengthened”. he stating privately sci-arc was teaching how to do stage sets. not architecture. ray was glad that sci-arc survived and that he was honored and respected. ray buying an expensive dinning table for the founding faculty at the 40 anniversary of sci-arc a few years back.
ray had the gift of designing in 3d., he just drew it up, because the solution was solved in his head.
ray was visual, he saw everything. when he started writing all his correspondence in CAPITAL LETTERS it was a visual choice, it looked great and i agreed, and still agree, but the digital world took it as shouting. just a matter of times, but i will stick with the visual, it lasts forever. ray abandoned the capitals, whereas i stuck with that look and i am criticized for that decision, but lately writing everything in lower case. so they got to me as well.
his many architectural gems of buildings, , attest to his greatness and genius. he telling me the wealthy, after purchasing his houses, felt entitled to change things. he stating the last payment on his commissions the hardest to collect. the clients talking to their lawyers and complaining about some leak etc. to withhold payment. so even ray had issues with clients.
ray’s modular housing has gotten the most publicity of his professional career , ray pointing to a table covered with magazines featuring the housing, stating his desire was to make the modular housing affordable with mass production. but just the opposite happen, the trades seeing the publicity , jacked their prices up. housing for the rich, not ray’s desire, but he accepted.
ray was my sponsor for a FAIA fellow for the aia. the jury turned me down. ray saying ” the faia jurors did not have the right to hold my pencil “. ray contributed to me financially when i asked friends to save me from going broke.
ray and shelly always came to my parties, lectures , gallery shows and family functions. ray up for my low cost buffet restaurants lunches. ray and shelly visited me in oregon. we were close.
ray liked to discuss a variety of things with me : sports , politics, family, sci-arc, the profession, and life. the last telephone conversation with him i had to cut him off, he wanting to talk more and i feeling he needed to rest, because of his difficulty speaking.
i can not think of any architect that does not respect ray kappe
ray was fortunate to have shelly as his wife and partner. both adamant with love and respect for each other and their life together. ray’s sons ron kappe and finn kappe worked closely with their father. ron and finn having the highest respect for their dad and both having architectural talents of their own.
he will be missed by many. i loved him.