Emerging from an ingenious and prolific mind, the work of Ralph Rapson continues to be one of America’s most enduring architectural legacies. The Michigan-born architect attended the University of Michigan and the Cranbrook Academy of Art where he encountered other architectural and artistic luminaries like Harry Bertoia, Charles Eames, and Harry Weese.
Rapson began to develop a unique architectural style over the years, working for Saarinen Architects, teaching at the New Bauhaus School, as well as at MIT. His buildings came to be heralded for their stunning use of light and space, and primarily adopted a Modernist style. His work between 1945-1950 “helped define the direction of Mid-Century Modernism in America.”
He contributed many important works of architecture, including the original Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis; the United States Embassies in Stockholm, Sweden and Copenhagen Denmark; as well as the St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church in St. Paul Park, Minnesota—among others. Rapson held the position as head of architecture at the University of Minnesota for 30 years (1954 – 1984) and worked fervently until his passing in 2008 at the age of 93. Even with Rapson’s architecture-rich legacy, it’s possible as many people know him today for his innovative design principles, as seen in his beloved furniture designs below.
In a profile for Modernism magazine, writer Jane King Hession writes:
“For Rapson, it was not enough that a chair be admired for its inventiveness and beauty alone; its form must derive from its function; to receive the human body with utility, comfort and support.”
It’s this beautiful mesh of aesthetics and usefulness first introduced in 1945, which have made Rapson’s furniture only grow in popularity after his death.
Original Rapson© Rocker
It all started with this gem in 1945 for Knoll. Though many variations and iterations have succeeded this model, it’s hard to argue its classiness and subtle charm.
Rapson© Greenbelt Rocker
This elegant, contemporary chair is available in oak or maple paired with either a black or red cotton backing, or black leather backing.
Rapson© Rapid Walker
This chair had been out of production for nearly 60 years until 2011, when Rapson, Inc. brought it back to the production line. Today the chair comes in a natural or cocoa maple finish and six different fabric colors—red, spectrum blue, heather gray, light brown, black marble, and black.
These days, Rapson’s mark is everywhere, with Knoll and Rapson, Inc. continuing to produce his furniture, but even other brands like Blu Dot Furniture, manufacture innovative pieces like the Rapson© Dwell Lounge exclusively designed for them. Sites like Lumens let shoppers order the classic designer furniture for themselves.
The architectural rock star may no longer be with us, but his rich legacy in the design world is sure to prosper for years to come, as generations of people continue to enjoy his stunning buildings and furniture around the world.
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