Friday, September 4, 2009

Kawneer Store Front of Tomorrow Design Competition by Ralph Rapson and David B. Runnells

In 1939, while attending Cranbrook and working in the Saarinen offices David B. Runnells and Ralph Rapson were teaming up and doing architectural competitions. One of these competitions was the Kawneer Store Front of Tomorrow Design Competition. Their joint effort yielded them a honorable mention with the heavyweight jury, which included retail architecture giant, Morris Ketchum and Bauhaus Architect, Mies van der Rohe. My favorite part of the design was that it was to have a translucent structural plastic ceiling with adjustable louvres that were controlled by a solar electric eye and by the heating and electrical system controls. The louvers were meant to act as insulation, light and heat reflectors and blackout blinds.

The full color brochure of the winning projects reported:

Honorable Mention

Ralph Rapson and David Runnells designers, Bloomfield, Mich.

In contrast to the First Honorable Mention, the design was not only competent but brilliant to the point of fussiness. The group shopping lobby, the store front and free-standing displays, the large 'controlled lettering,' the small scale signs, the structural details, and choice of materials are excellent.

"In particular, the jury liked the detailed store front -- where the 'open-faced' shop is partly hidden by a screen wall used as a background for the show window. Often an open interior may reveal that the store is empty of customers, thus scaring away possible shoppers. Here the partial openness gives and interesting glimpse of the interior combined with a good foreground."

"However, the designers did not know when to quit. Their plan, with its elaborate system of angular walls and glazing is as 'busy' as the strained tilting of the same walls in elevations."

"The designers apparently assumed a parking lot to the western end of the store group plot; this was considered permissible within the program."

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Runnells Weekend Tours and Party Details Finalized

We are posting information about the Tour and Architect, David B. Runnells almost every day, so check out some of the older posts and keep coming back here often.

KCMODERN presents:
When Mid-Century Modern was GREEN
David B. Runnells Climate-Wise Home Tour & Patio Party

Saturday, September 19, 2009, 7:00-9:00 PM
200 W. 94th Street & Wornall Road, Kansas City, Missouri
Park at the Temple at 9400 Wornall and cross street to 94th.
Meet other Modern enthusiasts and experience a unique
Mid-Century Modern “Country Home” designed by David B.
Runnells to be sustainable in 1950. Enjoy campfire food and
yard beer at this special “recession proof” KCMODERN
event. Limited advance reservations are available for $10
per person until Thursday, September 17th. A separate ticket
is required for the Sunday tour.

Cranbrook To Kansas City
David B. Runnells Mid-Century Modern Homes Tour
Sunday, September 20, 2009, 2:00-5:00 PM
This tour will require driving to multiple homes so start early.
Start at 7300 Roe Circle, Prairie Village, Kansas.
Park at Baptist Church, 75th & Roe, walk north to Roe Circle.
Or start at 2400 W. 86th Terr. & Lee Blvd. Leawood, Kansas.
There will be limited parking on 86th Terr. Cul-de-sac.
See at least 8 cool examples of Mid-Century Modern
homes designed by Architect, David Benton Runnells.
Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 the day of the tour.
Limited tickets will be sold at the event registration tables
on a first come first served basis, so buy your tickets now!

Order Your Tickets Today
Make your checks payable to KCMODERN and send payment to KCMODERN, 5301 W. 66th Terrace, Prairie Village, KS 66208. All advanced tickets to be picked up the day of the events at the registration table. We will tour the homes regardless of weather. More info at 913.262.5056 or

KCMODERN raises awareness and promotes preservation of Modern Architecture and Design. Proceeds from this event willfund future KCMODERN events and modern activities.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Rapid Rocker by Ralph Rapson

The image above is a 1950's photo of the Ralph Rapson designed Rocking Chair that David B. Runnells owned in his home in Fairview, Kansas. If I had to guess, I would say that it is draped over with a Swedish or Scandinavian wool weaving. The rocker is still in the family and is owned by David's daughter Jill.

The rocker is even more significant because Runnells and Rapson worked on several design competitions together while they were both working in the Saarinen offices in Michigan. In fact, the earliest version of the rocker was done for The Museum of Modern Art, "Organic Design in Home Furnishings Competition," 1940-41, while Rapson and Runnells were working together on other competition projects. More on that later. One would asssume that this furniture purchase was a little homage to his friend Ralph.

Ralph Rapson. Rocking Chair for the "Organic Design in Home Furnishings Competition," The Museum of Modern Art. 1940-41. Black painted frame, reupholstered with linen webbing 32 x 28 3/4 x 39"; seat h. 14 3/4". Collection Ralph Rapson.

Manufacturer: Knoll
Name: (Rapson) Rocking Chair
Designer: Ralph Rapson
Model Number: 57 U
Production: 1945-46
Dimensions: Unknown.
Materials: Birch frame with fully upholstered seat and back
Photo by:
Ralph Rapson

The image above is photo of the rocker design as it looked when it was in production with Knoll as a part of the Knoll "Rapson Line." The rocker was one of eight products introduced by Rapson. I scanned this image from a 1945 Knoll catalog. This is the "solid wood" version that Runnells owned and the version that Knoll sold at Bloomindales. Bloomingdale's took out a full-page ad in the New York Times to promote the chair, proclaiming it an "innovative and attractive modern take on a traditional piece."

More recently, a bentwood version of the design has been released to the public and is still in production. The chair is based on sketches from 1942 that are obviously done after the MoMA design, but predate the 1945 Knoll "solid wood" production. A bentwood prototype version of the Rapsin Rapid Rocker was shown in a 1951 photograph in the book, Rapson: 50 years of Modern Design. This newer bentwood design is now available from the Wieler Store and Highbrow Furniture.
To ensure that the chair meets the architect's original standards of quality, production is being overseen by Rapson Architects of Minneapolis, MN. The maple frame is finished with two coats of clear lacquer. The seat is upholstered with a high-quality polyolefin fabric. The fabric resembles wool and is is exceptionally tough and stain-resistant. The chair's dimensions are 26.25" wide, 35" high, and 33.25" deep, with a weight of about 30 pounds.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Case Study House No. 4, Greenbelt House by Architect, Ralph Rapson

Name: Case Study No. 4, Greenbelt House
Architect: Ralph Rapson
Year Designed: 1945
Builder: Unbuilt
Year Completed: Unbuilt
Size: 1800 sq.ft including enclosed courtyard space
(living, dining, kitchen, 3 bedrooms and 2 baths)
Location: Hypothetical urban lot
Type: Residential
Style: Modern
Status: Unbuilt
Illustrations: Drawn by Ralph Rapson, found in various online sources.

Ralph Rapson was one of only two Architects from outside of California to be tapped to design a Case Study House for John Entenza's Arts+Architecture Magazine. Case Study House No. 4 was as boldly modern as any of the California designed and built studies. Unlike its siblings, Case Study No. 4 was designed for a more urban lot and thus had a more introverted design. It focused its attention to an interior courtyard space instead of focusing outwards to a great landscape or view. The house was made up of two pavilions, one for sleeping and one for living, bisected by a glass covered courtyard. Rapson named this central space the Greenbelt. The design was to have either a wood or steel frame and standardized wall panels

Light and heat were to be controlled in the glass roofed courtyard with adjustable louvers, a theme explored by Rapson with David B. Runnells a few years earlier in the Kawneer Storefront competition. Some design sketches also suggest that the roof might be passively cooled with water ponds or sprinklers, another reoccurring theme with Runnells and Rapson.

Rapson was known for adding such whimsical touches as jeeps, commuter helicopters and caricaturized people to add life to his renderings.

Rapson did finally get this design built in 1989, for an indoor exhibit, Blueprints for Modern Living: History and Legacy of the Case Study Houses at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Rapson passed away on March 29 2008. He was still practicing architecture the day before his death at the age of 93.