Monday, March 31, 2008

Everything That Rises Must Converge
Jean Nouvel Wins Pritzker, Ralph Rapson Leaves Us

Word over the weekend went out that Jean Nouvel, the brilliant and and inventive French architect, had won the Pritzker prize for architecture, one of the profession's greatest honors.

And then we learned today that over the weekend our own Ralph Rapson had died. Ralph Rapson was the architect for the old Guthrie theater, the original one that he worked on with Tyrone Guthrie to complete. I loved the Guthrie and its open, thrust stage. Many wonderful plays were done there. It was deeply disturbing to see it destroyed; further evidence of our throwaway culture.

The old Guthrie was torn down to be replaced by...what? Meanwhile the new and enlarged Guthrie went up in the mill district. A massive erection points toward the Mississippi and the building contains enough theaters that the rest of the Minneapolis theater community is worried about finding enough actors to put on their own shows. There is also an escalator system that reminds me of the ones that feed the tubes in London.

Don't get me wrong. It is a great building and has been mentioned as one of the pieces of Nouvel's work that was cause for the Pritzker. There are some huge pictures of famous playwrights, including August Wilson. Those of us who know the history of the old Guthrie and Wilson enjoy the irony.

Ralph Rapson did many other buildings in the Twin Cities including on the university campus. He also did homes. To my great regret I once had the opportunity to buy a Rapson house and passed on it. Truly one of the stupidest things that I have done.

But there was some kind of a weird, cosmic, connection between the works of Rapson and Nouvel that I can't quite identify. The thrust stage in the new Guthrie is eerily reminiscent of the one in the old Guthrie. Great architecture by people like Nouvel, Rapson, Gehry - he did the U of M Weisman museum - (Julie) Snow, and I.M. Pei, for example, are awe-inspiring and remind us how lucky we are in Minneapolis to have so many fine buildings.

To Ralph Rapson: An architect is the drawer of dreams

Rapson's son [Rip] described his father as a "Forrest Gump" of architecture, explaining that his father was born with a birth defect that eventually resulted in the loss of his right arm. However, his disability did not prevent Rapson, who was artistically inclined from a young age, from pursuing a love for drawing.

From Jean Nouvel: "Each new situation requires a new architecture."

Looking at pictures of many of the Nouvel buildings from articles about the Pritzker, it is striking how different they are. It is a lot easier to spot a Gehry, or Rapson, or Philip Johnson building than it is to positively identify a Nouvel.

Ciao, Bonzo

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