Obituary: Michael Plautz, a renowned Minneapolis architect and artist

  • Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 12, 2012 - 10:15 PM

The co-founder of RSP Associates was known for his elegant drawing style.

Michael Plautz

Artist, architect, athlete and fly fisherman Michael Plautz retained his zest for life to the end. In the 19 months since his liver cancer was diagnosed, he traveled to Rwanda and New Mexico, designed furniture and lighting and produced an art book. Four days before his death he was still doing what he loved best -- drawing -- with a friend from Paris who flew in for a farewell visit.

A founding partner at Minneapolis-based RSP Architects Ltd., which grew into a staff of 300 with offices in China and India, Plautz, 68, died Friday at home in south Minneapolis.

"One of the amazing things about my dad was his endless energy," said his daughter, Andrea Plautz. "A year ago on a break from chemo he was in Rwanda playing tennis three times a week with a member of Rwanda's Davis Cup team, at high altitudes."

Plautz worked at the Ellerbe Becket architecture firm for about a decade before starting RSP in 1978. He retired in 2008 but maintained an informal association with the firm. In December it hosted an exhibition of his drawings and watercolors to celebrate the publication of "Draw," a quasi-autobiographical book of his portraits, landscapes, floral and architectural images.

Target Corp. became a long-term client of RSP. The firm helped design a Target-supported addition to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 2004 and a Children's Theatre Company expansion in 2005. It has worked on about 30 Mayo Clinic buildings, produced a master plan and three buildings for Boston Scientific in Arden Hills, designed the University of Minnesota's Center for Magnetic Resonance Research, and built two hotels in Tianjin, China, among other international projects.

"Michael was pivotal, not just from a creative but a relationship standpoint," RSP President David Norback said. "He dealt with people in a really engaging and honest way."

Plautz's favorite projects were the University of Minnesota's Raptor Center and the Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center overlooking Lake Superior north of Silver Bay, Minn. He served on Wolf Ridge's board and recently donated 13 watercolors for a fundraising calendar.

"There are always curved lines and circles in his buildings," his daughter said. "Even in our house he was always cutting circles into things -- a vaulted ceiling, a half-circular window, a pass-through, a big light outside the front door."

Growing up on a Wisconsin farm, Plautz attended a three-room school in Willard, about 50 miles east of Eau Claire. In first grade, he wrote, he met "a sweet, strong-willed, brown-eyed girl" named Gloria whom he married at 21. He is survived by her, their daughter and her husband, Scott Folland, and grandchildren Zoe and Stella.

After graduating in 1967 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he won the Paris Prize, a major architectural award that funded a year of European travel. A second prize in 1977 sent the family to Japan for three months, followed by a three-month swing through Southeast Asia, India, the Middle East and Europe. For the past 25 years Plautz led Illinois architecture students on trips through Europe, teaching them the elegant Beaux Arts architectural drawing tradition.

The week before he died, he was sketching new cabinets for his family's Santa Fe home and designing a tombstone for himself and Gloria.

"He didn't show it to me, which tells me he hadn't found a solution yet that pleased him," his wife said. "Architects just really have to think about these things."

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday with a visitation one hour before at Washburn-McReavy Edina Funeral Chapel, W. 50th Street and Hwy. 100.

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431

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