Ray Kappe’s house doesn’t look like much from the street. Tucked away in Rustic Canyon in Santa Monica, the house is mostly hidden behind a jungle of trees, bushes, and ground cover all growing wild, probably unchanged from the time when he bought the lot in 1962 for just $17,000, a bargain price because the steep hillside was thought to be impossible to build a house on.

Ray Kappe Home - Adsum
Kappe Residence in the Pacific Palisades.

On one side of the biggest, most bizarre looking tree, a driveway leads to a carport where a few old Mercedes are parked. On the other side of the tree, a simple path of concrete steps leads up through the greenery to the house. Built without a traditional foundation but rather as platforms supported by a series of columns the house has a minimal footprint on the landscape, seeming to hover above and within the greenery. Strikingly beautiful for its use of redwood and enormous glass windows, open walls, spaces differentiated by staggered levels, and its overall cohesion with the natural environment, the house serves as the most shining example of an architectural philosophy that valued nature, sustainability, democratic access to fine design, and made Kappe one of the most influential modern architects in the world.

Ray Kappe Portrait - Adsum
Ray Kappe

Born in Minneapolis in 1927, Kappe spent much of his childhood among the forests and lakes of Minnesota. After moving to Los Angeles at the age of 13, Kappe went on to study architecture at the University of California-Berkeley and then returned to Los Angeles to begin his practice in the mid 1950s. His first project was an apartment complex in West L.A. that he worked on with Carl Maston, one of the fathers of mid-century modern architecture. In 1972, he founded the Southern California Institute of Architecture with the mission to advance the field in new ambitious directions.

Ray Kappe Pool - Adsum
Kappe's lap pool and pool house

Kappe himself became known for his early emphasis on environmentally sustainable housing and later in his life for his use of prefabrication –– trucking in premade components to assemble on site rather than building a house from scratch. While many view prefab houses as of lower quality or being less considered in their design, Kappe saw the potential for prefabrication to lower the cost of construction and make high end design more affordable and accessible to more people. It simply required a talented and attentive architect like Kappe to imbue premade components with the same feeling of singular intention found in a designer home. For Kappe, architecture served not to create an aesthetically striking building but to support an ideal way of living.

Ray Kappe Prefab House - Adsum
Kappe's Last Home - made with prefabricated materials and constructed in 18 hours.

Before his death in 2019, one of Kappe’s final projects was in designing a prefab house that became the first ever home to receive LEED Platinum certification, the highest mark for environmental sustainable building design.