As a firm believer in the importance of making good design accessible to the public, Michael Graves (July 9, 1934 – March 12, 2015) produced an enormous body of work that included product design alongside his architecture. Graves brought Postmodernism to the public eye through his emphasis on ornament and aesthetics, and stood firmly behind his design philosophy even as it went out of vogue.
In this essay by the British architect and academic Dr. Timothy Brittain-Catlin, the very notion of British postmodernism—today often referred to as intimately tied to the work of James Stirling and the the thinking of Charles Jencks—is held to the light. Its true origins, he argues, are more historically rooted.
I grew up in a beautiful late Victorian terrace with ornamental brickwork, shaped ‘Dutch’ gables and pretty arts and crafts stained glass windows – and so I didn’t think then, and I don’t think now, that I had much to learn from Las Vegas. It turns out that I wasn’t the only one. Of British architects who made their names as postmodernists in the 1980s, not a single one would say now that they owed much to Robert Venturi, the American architect widely considered to be a grandfather of movement.
The residence belonging to famed Postmodernist architect Michael Graves will be sold to Kean University, home to the new Michael Graves College for architecture and design, after receiving approval from its board of trustees. Following Graves’s death last year, the architect’s will stipulated that the residence, his studio, another property were to be donated to Princeton University, Graves’s neighbor and longtime employer. But Princeton University felt the buildings would be better served in another capacity and rejected the gift, allowing Kean to step in.
Michael Graves on Discovering Architecture, the Rewards of Practice and the Most Important Element of Design
When he passed away in March, Michael Graves left a design legacy stretching back 50 years and encompassing some of the most dramatic changes in architecture of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In this interview, conducted in 2012 for her new e-book "Celebrity Designers: 50 Interviews on Design, Architecture, and Life," Maria Spassov quizzes Graves on his career, from the first moment he decided to be an architect to what he believes to be his greatest achievement.
When did you first discover your love of architecture?
As a young boy, the thing I could do best was draw. My mother was very nervous that I would try to become a fine artist. She knew it would be difficult to make a living as an artist. Therefore, she encouraged me to find a career path that incorporated drawing, and she suggested engineering or architecture. I asked her what an engineer did, and after she told me, I decided I would be an architect, because I knew I didn’t want to do engineering. I was probably eight years old.
In March of this year, two of the world’s great architects died in the same week. The coincidence was unusual not because of the similarities between these two men - the advanced stage of their careers, their age and relative success - but because of the marked differences. In the few days between their mutual passing, one of the two was awarded architecture’s highest medal, the Pritzker Prize. This year’s winner, Frei Otto, had been notified of his triumph in the months prior to his death. Someone you might call his alter ego – stylistically that is – the late, great Michael Graves, died shortly after the prize was awarded to Otto.
Otto was a leading light of a particular strain of European modernism, whose most lauded works were mainly completed in his youth; on the other side of the pond, Michael Graves ran a busy commercial practice with more than 350 completed buildings, but was reviled by some for his revisionist, classical style.
In some exceptional cases, an architect can be just as monumental as the buildings they design. Michael Graves, who passed away in March, certainly had a huge influence over the architecture of the late 20th century, with works ranging from the geometric icons of early post-modernism such as the Portland Building, to the slightly more staid Denver Central Library, to the outlandish kitsch of his Swan and Dolphin resorts for Disney. Though his death brought well-deserved attention to his work, it's just as important to remember Graves as a person, and the influence he had on people throughout his lifetime. As such, Metropolis Magazine has brought together a group of Graves' friends, colleagues and collaborators to remember Michael Graves.
Brooklyn Academy of Music is showcasing five murals by the late Michael Graves as part of the institution's permanent visual art collection. All completed in 1974, the paintings were originally commissioned by Charles Gwathmey - one of the New York Five, along with Graves. And, as the New York Times reports, their "heightened use of color and ornamentation" portray a "general shift away from minimalism." Read more about the murals, here.
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum has announced the winners of its 2015 National Design Award. Taking top honors, the late Michael Graves has been honored with the "Lifetime Achievement" award for "broadening the role of architects and raising public interest in good design as essential to the quality of everyday life."
MOS Architects was also selected to receive the "Architecture Design" award. The New York-based studio, founded by principals Hilary Sample and Michael Meredith in 2005, was lauded by the jury for their "academic research [that] occurs in parallel to the real-world constraints and contingencies of practice."
This past Thursday Michael Graves, the famed member of the New York Five and one of the Postmodern movement's great icons, passed away at age 80. With a legacy spanning more than 350 buildings and 2,000 product designs for companies like Alessi, Target and J.C. Penney, Graves will be remembered as a prolific designer, but for many within the profession his 50-year career will be memorable for so much more. Since news of Graves' death broke on Thursday, tributes have been posted all around the internet, starting with his company's official statement which said:
"Since founding the firm in 1964, Michael transformed the role of architects and designers, and even the place of design in our everyday lives. For those of us who had the opportunity to work closely with Michael, we knew him as an extraordinary designer, teacher, mentor and friend. For the countless students that he taught for more than 40 years, Michael was an inspiring professor who encouraged everyone to find their unique design voice."
Read on after the break for more reactions and tributes to Michael Graves.
Michael Graves died Thursday at the age of 80. Famous for his bold, symbolic references to classical architecture and his use of geometry, Graves is also known as one of the New York Five. His work bridged the abstraction of Modernism and the Postmodernism of the current era.
“No one has made a bigger impact on the world of architecture, certainly from Mercer County, than Michael Graves," Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes said. "Some people think architects are just people who draw up buildings. They are artists in themselves, and Michael was clearly an artist. He will be greatly missed by the Mercer County community."
A statement from his practice and an interview with Graves, after the break.
On show until April 5th at the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey, Michael Graves: Past as Prologue celebrates the fifty-year career of one of the United States' best-known and prolific architects. Graves is known for his unapologetic postmodernism which often divides opinion the profession. However in this review of the exhibition, originally published by Metropolis Magazine as "Shape Shifter," Samuel Medina finds that while it is easy to criticize in Graves' design style, it is hard to find fault with the noble intentions underlying his work.
“It’s been fifty years of more is more,” says Karen Nichols, a principal of Michael Graves & Associates, reiterating an aphorism Graves has taken a liking to in recent years. She is standing in front of an exhibition board in the retrospective, Michael Graves: Past as Prologue, which is currently on show at the Grounds for Sculpture in New Jersey. Nichols joined the firm in 1977, precisely the time when her employer made the fateful and rather lucrative pivot towards Postmodernism. The text on the exhibition wall behind her pinpoints The Big Break to the same year, depicting it with two like-minded projects. The first is the built Plocek House (1977), which originated the hide-the-keystone game Graves has been playing ever since. The other, the unrealized scheme for the Fargo-Moorhead Cultural Center Bridge (1977–1978), intended to enlighten the twin midwestern communities with a dose of the Enlightenment architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux’s architecture parlante.
To hear Nichols (and Graves) tell it now, it’s as if Graves were always more Venturian than Venturi, from his earliest neo-Corbusian villas, up through the pedimented temple he built for Disney in 1988. The truth is, Graves—the Cubist, the classicist, and the caricaturist—has always had a hard time saying “No.”
The Portland Building will be saved from the wrecking ball and undergo renovation, Michael Graves, the architect behind the postmodern masterpiece, told A/N blog. “It’s going to be saved,” Graves said to AN. “They told me… They said they are saving the building and not only that but we want you to sit on a committee for the redesign. I would imagine in the next year we’ll do something.”
With their "Past as Prologue" symposium - a day of lectures celebrating fifty years of Michael Graves' career - approaching tomorrow, the Architectural League of New York is taking a look back at one of its seminal exhibitions which heavily featured Graves' work. When "200 Years of American Architectural Drawing" launched in 1977, New York Times critic Ada Louise Huxtable said "By any definition... a major show," adding "here is architecture as it comes straight from the mind and the eye and the heart, before the spoilers get to it." In memory of the show, the Architectural League has published a selection of essays and images from the accompanying book, including the work of Graves, Peter Eisenman, John Hejduk and Richard Meier.
Kean University has announced plans to open a new architecture school based on the design philosophy of Michael Graves. Following the footsteps of a man who laments the “loss of drawing,” the new Michael Graves School of Architecture will prioritize hand drawings as a key to design process.
“In our technologically savvy world, to this day, Michael Graves’ philosophy is to draw by hand first so that the students see, ‘feel’ and experience the new building spatially. Then, only after the drawing is complete will the students transfer the design to a computer so that the computer becomes an execution tool, not an ideation tool,” describes acting dean and former student of Graves, David Mohney.
Last week, Michael Graves attended a public conversation with Randy Gragg, director of The University of Oregon's John Yeon Center to discuss the Portland Building, America's first postmodern building. The discussion centered around the famed, 1980s building’s many problems - “dark, leaky and claustrophobic” interiors,” pedestrian-unfriendly parking garage, and more - asking Graves for his advice on whether the city should update it or tear it down. His response, “The whole idea of tearing the building down, it's like killing a child… I don't know how to react to that.” Read all of Graves’ responses to tenant complaints here on the Oregon Live.
An exhibition celebrating one of North America's foremost postmodern architects will open this October, marking 50 years of Michael Graves' practice. Past as Prologue maps the evolution of Graves' work in architecture and product design through an array of media including sculpture, painting, furniture, drawings and models. The comprehensive exhibition will begin with Graves' work from 1964 and conclude with works currently in progress. The exhibition will be hosted by Grounds for Sculpture with a mission to provide insight into the five-decade progression of Graves' unique design process. More on the exhibition after the break.
Today is the 80th birthday of renowned architect Michael Graves. Famous for his bold, symbolic references to classical architecture and his use of geometry, Graves is also known as one of the New York Five. His work bridged the abstraction of Modernism and the Postmodernism of the current era.
Graves started his own practice in 1964 in Princeton, New Jersey, and has taught at Princeton’s school of architecture for more than 40 years. A prolific architect, Graves has also met with considerable success as an industrial designer, producing products for companies such as Target and Black & Decker. He is highly decorated, having won such prestigious honors as the Nation Medal of the Arts (1999), the AIA Gold Medal (2001), and the Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture (2012). On the anniversary of his birth, we invite you to look over our collection of some of his best work and check out our video interview with him, after the break.
- AD Classics: Denver Central Library
- AD Classics: St. Coletta School
- AD Classics: Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort
- AD Classics: The Portland Building
In a provocative article, The Atlantic Cities explores the dilemma which Portland currently finds itself in: the Michael Graves-designed Portland Building, one of the most important examples of early postmodernism, requires renovation work to the tune of $95 million; unfortunately, most residents of Portland "really, really hate" the building - as they have since it was constructed in 1983. Should the city spend so much money renovating a building which is unpopular, dysfunctional and poorly built just because of its cultural significance? Read the original article for more.