"I've always sought out the
edges, the views, and a feeling
"I was once asked what I think
are the ten most important principles
that helped make me a successful
architect, planner, and educator...
(1) Think positively, not negatively.
(2) Accept structure but know that
it is to be questioned and broken
(3) Always be willing to explore,
experiment and invent. Do not
accept the status quo.
(4) Know yourself and keep your
work consistent with who you are
and how you think.
(5) Maintain good moral and social
(6) Be humble, honest, compassionate,
(7) Have conviction about your work.
(8) Be open and say yes to most
ideas and requests. The good ones
will be valuable, the bad ones will
cease to exist.
(9) Allow employees and fellow
workers freedom and the ability
to work to their strengths. Avoid
(10) Money should be the residual
of work, not the goal. But do not
compromise your worth."
Ron Kappe on his father:
"Ray is an architect's architect.
My father loves to do 3-dimensional
spatial problem solving. He will
a problem in his mind and work on it
very early in the morning, or be
absorbed in it while driving his car.
On an airplane, he has his note pad
and is continuously sketching ideas
for projects he has on his drawing
board. For his building
his early sketches many times
come out quickly and the concepts
seem to be whole, integrating
structural and aesthetic concerns
always had a fascination
for developing new building systems
and for determining how to incorporate technological advances into his
One example of this is the early
energy efficient designs he did in the embryonic days of the
design movement. Another example
was his early modular housing
designs, bringing scientific space
technology down to use on earth.
educator, my father will always
challenge his students to do things
they never thought they could do.
Sometimes this can be very scary
for students, but for those willing to
leap in with both feet, it has its
Students at SCI-Arc:
Family: son Ron, daughter Karen,
Ray, wife Shelly, & son Finn
An internationally recognized architect, urban planner, and educator
since 1953, Ray Kappe's much awarded and published work is considered to
be an extension of the early Southern California master architects:
Wright, Schindler, Neutra, and Harwell Hamilton Harris.
Ray Kappe, Kappe Architects/Planners
715 Brooktree Rd., Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
+ May 2015
article about how Ray Kappe used custom homes over a 60-year
career to pioneer techniques for mass housing
+ November 2012 LA Curbed feature
with 45 color photos
+ September 2012 Palisadian-Post article
+ October 2011 interview
in The Architect's Newspaper.
+ Ray has a Spring 2011 feature
in CA-Modern magazine.
+ Ray conducts a video
tour of his own home in Pacific Palisades.
+ Ray is given the Lifetime Achievement Award in "Stars of
Design 2009" at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood,
Designer of a Cultural Heritage Landmark
Kappe's 1967 house remains a landmark of nature-friendly modernism."
— Brad Dunning, New York Times
"Ray's own home may be the greatest house in all of
Southern California." — Stephen Kanner, President,
A + D (Architecture + Design) Museum, Los Angeles
Suspended levels (left), Step-down living room (above)
Reference books —
& Variations: House Design Ray Kappe Architects/Planners
New Houses: Adventures in Southern California Living
(Global Architecture) Houses
Other links of interest —
Collaboration with son Finn,
Kappe designs one of "AIA Top Ten Green Projects 2007"
2006 modular project (1st
LEED® Platinum Home)
Kappe's life's work of drawings + models to be archived at the Getty Research
Institute + secondary article
show of a Pacific Palisades residence
Collaboration with son Ron, Project
Home featured in:
- 2002 movie "One Hour
Photo" starring Robin Williams
2007 TV show "Shark"
starring James Woods
2007 TV show "Californication"
starring David Duchovny
- An ad run during the Tour de France 2016
Collaboration with son Ron, Project
+ Design Museum, Los Angeles: Ray Kappe Retrospective
Excerpt from Residential Architect magazine's
2004 Leadership Awards article online —
Hall of Fame: Ray Kappe, FAIA
"Ray Kappe reinvented the house on the hill
and architecture education as we know it... [He] is an
enormously accomplished architect with a vast portfolio of diverse
achievements. But after 50 years of enviable professional successes,
there's one task he hasn't yet pulled off: He can't seem to fully retire.
Well, you see, people keep knocking at his door with interesting projects
in their pockets. There's a prefab community in the California desert and
a Modern house in Mexico. And there's a client whose house merits a
25-Year Award because she's kept Kappe working on it for nearly that long.
The house is so gorgeous, it's in constant demand as a backdrop for
television commercials. Still, it's a work in perpetual progress. So, too,
is Ray Kappe.
The Los Angeles-based architect has never
been one to rest on laurels, even though his collection is ample. Among
them are lifetime achievement awards for himself and 25-Year Awards for
his house from both the American Institute of Architects California
Council and AIA's Los Angeles Chapter. AIA National and the Association of
Collegiate Schools of Architecture honored him with their Topaz Medallion
for his work founding and directing the Southern California Institute of
Architecture (SCI-Arc). And the walls of his [office] are chockablock with
design awards. He certainly deserves to sit back and enjoy the accolades,
and he fully intends to after he finishes these few projects on the
boards. Yes, indeed.
Kappe started experimenting with housing in the early 1950s, the height of
mid-century Modernism. Some architects of the time zeroed in on a style
and proceeded to hone it over a lifetime, but Kappe has continued to
experiment, always excited to try something new. That's why he eschews the
label of Modernist. He doesn't wish to be pigeonholed by a word that now
represents in the public mind a fixed period on the architectural
timeline. He doesn't mind being called a modern architect, however, with
that lower case "m" signifying an ongoing desire to try
innovative ideas, technologies, and materials.
With his disdain for typecasting, Kappe
hasn't attracted as much attention for his design work as some other Los
Angeles-based architects have enjoyed. He's also designed largely in wood
and has done a few pitched roofs, no-no's for some Modern purists.
"Some of my clients wanted pitched roofs, so I experimented with
long, low gables. And most of my clients didn't want steel," he says.
Despite the trespasses, his houses are just as beautiful as those Case
Study tours de force, perhaps even more so because they're far more
livable. They marry Modernism's love of open floor plans, indoor-outdoor
connections, and manipulations of space for dramatic effect with a deep
respect for the site and the intimate relationship between human beings
and their built environments. "You know, architecture doesn't have to
do it all. The natural layer should show through too," he says.
After graduation from the University of
California, Berkeley in 1951, Kappe cut his housing teeth working for the
San Francisco firm of Anshen + Allen, a designer of Eichler houses, and
Los Angeles-based architect Carl Maston, with whom he designed apartment
buildings. But he soon hung out his shingle as a solo practitioner, eager
to tap the post-World War II housing boom and its remarkable tolerance for
new ideas. He settled in Sherman Oaks and built his first houses in the
San Fernando Valley. They were open-plan, post-and-beam suburban houses
designed to exploit Southern California's temperate climate. Bedrooms were
small, with most square footage applied to living areas that opened to
patios. "They were all about getting as much feeling of space as
possible," he says. "As a kid, my mother would find me sitting
in the open window of our apartment building. I've always sought out the
edges, the views, and a feeling of expansiveness. That's the common
denominator in my architecture."
Kappe has completed some 100 single-family houses over the years, but his
tour de force is his own house in Pacific Palisades. Built in 1968, it's
the best example of his strength as an architect: his ability to answer
complex design problems with inventive, beautiful buildings. The biggest
problems on the project were a steeply sloped site and a running stream.
His answer was a series of six concrete tower supports and a bridgework of
laminated beams. The house tiptoed over the site, sparing trees, stream,
and the delicate beauty of the topography. "Developers at the time
were cutting hills to make pads. I'd been working on the idea of a system
of modules to get buildings above grade," he says. "Many of my
houses ended up using this system because it required the least amount of
Throughout his career, Kappe has explored
many avenues of interest to his inquisitive mind, all the while continuing
his residential practice. He was especially drawn to urban planning and
co-founded a collaborative, Kahn Kappe Lotery [Boccato] Architects
Planners, to work
on those projects and others. He taught design at the University of
Southern California and in 1968 founded the architecture department at
California Polytechnic State University at Pomona (Cal Poly). After a
falling out with Cal Poly's administration three years later, he left with
a few of his teachers, some of his students, and his wife, Shelly, also a
teacher and his great partner in life, to start SCI-Arc. He directed the
school—which quickly became famous for its free-thinking and freewheeling
Somehow during his trailblazing work in
architecture education, Kappe still found time to design houses. "I
think it's easier to do a lot than a little," he explains. "You
use your support better. And I always designed quickly. Houses were a
great laboratory for experimenting with design and construction
ideas." Over the years, he's employed and trained many SCI-Arc
students who've gone on to make names for themselves, among them his sons
Ron and Finn, both residential architects. And today he works on his own
again, a one-man shop just as he was in 1953. "I'm no different in my
mind than when I first started," he says. "I'm doing the kinds
of things now I would have done 50 years ago. I feel like a 25-year-old."
Ray Kappe, Kappe Architects/Planners
Phone: 310.459.7791; Email: