Playing With Space - Page 4

Over a 60-year career, architect Ray Kappe used custom homes to pioneer techniques for mass housing

The Kappes always had an idealistic streak. Ron remembers Shelly playing guitar and singing Pete Seeger Civil Rights songs with friends. "We had a fairly typical '50s household," he remembers, complete with little league games and family trips to visit national monuments and Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesen.

Ray remains a devotee of fine cars, sports of all sorts, and jazz. He enjoyed tennis and still swims, and he and Shelly have traveled the world. And he hasn't quite retired. He recently designed an energy-efficient prefab home for New Orleans' Ninth Ward as part of Brad Pitt's and Global Green USA's effort to rebuild that flood-shattered neighborhood.

And Kappe designs modular homes for LivingHomes, doing the design and then passing the work to project architects who handle details and working drawings. One has been built along the beach in Santa Monica, another high in the hills in Brentwood.

A Kappe prefab is costly -- $325 a square foot -- but Kappe expects the price to drop. "If there is acceptance at the higher income level, it's easier to sell the idea to lower-income or middle-income buyers," he says.

The homes have won much praise. "I think all the prefabs I've ever seen look lousy, like boxcars tied together," says William Krisel, the architect behind the Alexander homes of Palm Springs and the San Fernando Valley. "The only good one is the one by Ray Kappe in Santa Monica here."

Photos: John Eng, Grant Mudford, Everett Fenton Gidley, Marvin Rand (courtesy Marvin Rand Trust); and courtesy Cory Weiss and Ray Kappe archive


• 'Ray Kappe: California Modern Master,' a 30-minute video documentary produced by the Checkerboard Film Foundation (a nonprofit that makes films about architecture and art) is available on DVD from

• 'Ray Kappe: A Retrospective, 1953-2003,' a catalog that accompanied a 2003 exhibition of Kappe's work at the A+D Museum in Los Angeles, is available at some libraries and book dealers.

• 'Themes and Variations: House Design, Ray Kappe, Architects/Planners,' a 1998 book by Michael Webb, is also available through libraries and retailers.