Ralph Rapson Design: St. Peter's Lutheran Church

In the post-war period, many Minneapolis/Saint Paul citizens moved to the newly expanding suburbs for the better life they were promised in the advertisements and news. Families were drawn by the abundance of new houses with large front lawns for their young children. The Bar-B-Que became a new neighborhood past time and shops sold everything from red checked table clothes to bocce ball and horseshoe sets. Husbands joined bowling leagues, fraternities and golf clubs. Women enjoyed the modern ammentities in their kitchens and modern style of their homes. Much like the scenes of The Help, they volunteered in the community, attended school meetings and met for bridge tournaments. Schools and churches saw overwhelming membership growth in these years, and many opted for a new building in the modern style to suit the modern tastes of their young members. 

I have come across the Ralph Rapson designed St. Peter’s Lutheran Church a number of times in print, but this past Monday, I finally went to see it in person. Toby Rapson had warned me of some insensitive changes made to the building over the years, so my mild disappointment wasn’t unexpected. The sanctuary was still wonderful, even on an overcast grey day. The 8 peaks of the octagonal plan let in floods of bright white light, illuminating the pulpit and the whole sanctuary. Much like a theatre in the round, the space is democratic, with no seat is too far from the centre.

My disappointment lies in the space around the sanctuary. Crowding the sanctuary, the space is dark and uninspiring. Looking back to photos after its construction in 1957, I see that originally, this space was lined with large floor to ceiling exterior windows. One wall of the sanctuary was also open to this surrounding space, creating a nice open flow. Now it feels as if the sanctuary is a mismatched piece squeezed into the wrong puzzle. Regardless, the sanctuary is one of a kind and is definitely worth seeing.

[photo credit: Rapson Architects]                                 

Also of note in the area is the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, located at 48th and France. Built during the same period, the sanctuary is similar to that of Christ Church Lutheran by Eliel Saarinen, however it reminded me of a Viking long hall with the heavy wooden plank ceiling and paintings. Its a beautiful space with notable artwork throughout. 

[all other photos credits to: Caroline Engel]

Caroline Engel for Rapson-Inc.


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