How a Minneapolis band ended up making an otherworldly music video at architect Ralph Rapson’s famed modern retreat

By Joel Hoekstra

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When architects talk about space, they generally mean a realm that can be measured in square footage. When astronomers talk about space, they’re often referring to the Milky Way and beyond, a realm of incalculable dimensions. Only rarely are the two kinds of space conflated. But in a new Greycoats music video released this fall, a celebrated architectural space plays the role of outer space, at least metaphorically: It’s Ralph Rapson’s 1974 Glass Cube as the Final Frontier.

Greycoats are a Minneapolis indie band that prides itself on creating themed albums, and their songs have been featured on TV shows including Gossip Girl and Orange Is the New Black. The ensemble’s second album, released in 2013, was inspired by the 1939 World’s Fair, held in Flushing Meadows, New York—a paean to the machine age, marketed with the slogan “Dawn of a New Day.” Titled The World of Tomorrow, after one of the fair’s more popular exhibits, the album took its creative cues from the exposition’s futuristic themes.

A new album, Adrift, scheduled for release on November 13, explores similar themes as they became enmeshed in the space age, says drummer Mike Smith. And when it came time to shoot a video that captured that space-age vibe, Smith, owner of the popular Minneapolis furnishings boutique Forage Modern Workshop, knew just the place for the backdrop.

Smith had never visited the Glass Cube, located in western Wisconsin. But he had seen images of the country retreat in books and online, and he was familiar with the work of Ralph Rapson, Minnesota’s most famous modern architect. Rapson had designed the Cube—a distinctly midcentury, glass-clad box with an external structure and suspended floors—for its scenic hilltop site overlooking the Apple River. The ground floor featured wood-plank platforms that “floated” on a “pond” of marble chips. Steel tension cables and sling chairs gave the dwelling a futuristic feel, Smith thought. He approached his fellow bandmates with the idea.

“I liked the idea that the Cube itself is about dissolving barriers between inside and outside,” says Greycoats lead vocalist Jon Reine. “It synced up with our process, which is to let albums develop naturally. The Cube, where you can be inside but have a view of everything outside, seemed like a great metaphor for fluidity and transparency.”

Smith placed a call to Ralph’s son, the architect Toby Rapson, AIA, who now owns the property. Rapson and his wife Janet liked the concept, and when the architect mentioned he needed some doors repaired, Smith, who does remodeling and construction in addition to managing Forage, offered to fix them in exchange for a day of shooting. In spring 2014, on a rainy, windy day, the four-man band and videographer Nate Matson descended on the estate to shoot a video of the group performing new songs in the Cube.

But that visit was only a creative warm-up for a more sophisticated production this past spring. Greycoats, architectural photographer Corey Gaffer, and a large cast and crew filmed a richly atmospheric video for the song “Cleopatra” that debuted on architecturemn.com in October (see below).

“We wanted to capture something different for ‘Cleopatra’—we thought it’d be interesting to remove ourselves from the picture and put the spotlight back on the structure and a retro-future age,” Reine explains. “We replaced ourselves with four female scientists/explorers who find themselves stationed at the Cube, in a strange new world. There’s a moment when the entire Cube is transformed in the night through projection mapping, with light, color, and patterns dancing along the beams in response to the song. Watching it take place in real time was pretty magical.”

Performing and filming in such a unique architectural setting may lead to other creative collaborations for the band, says Smith. “We consider ourselves artists more than musicians,” he says. “We’re always thinking in a visual sense as well as in terms of music. The Cube really shaped the new album. And for someone like me, who is interested in architecture and design, it was a dream come true to experience the space firsthand.”

NOW PLAYING ON ARCHITECTUREMN.COM
If you’re a follower of @archmnmag, @greycoats, or @gafferphoto on social media, you got early glimpses this past summer of Greycoats’ video for “Cleopatra,” filmed in and around Ralph Rapson’s celebrated Glass Cube in western Wisconsin. In October, the full video debuted on architecturemn.com. Don’t miss this unforgettable fusion of ethereal indie rock and iconic midcentury architecture.