"A Joy of Things": The Architecture World Remembers Michael Graves

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.

In his obituary for the LA Times, Christopher Hawthorn argues that "Not many architects can claim to have spearheaded a major design movement. Michael Graves played a prominent role in three." Firstly as a key figure in the postmodern movement, then as a designer for Target bringing high design to the masses, and finally, after complications from a sinus infection left him paralyzed, as an advocate for better healthcare and disability design, Graves was a key figure in altering the design landscape across a wide spectrum of concerns. Hawthorn writes:

"If there was a thread connecting that disparate work, it was a deeply felt populism, a philosophy embodied in the slogan Target attached to his products: 'Good design should be affordable to all.'

"His architecture, similarly, represented an effort to bring back all the crowd-pleasing details — columns, gables, gargoyles — that dour modernist architects, with their emphasis on flat roofs and functionalist dogma, had banished."

Hawthorn also adds that Graves' death comes just as interest in the postmodern movement he led is resurfacing:

"Architecture today is as eclectic, as devoid of certainty, as the period in the 1970s when Graves and postmodernism emerged. Periods like that always produce a new interest in history, in basics and fundamentals; this one is no different. As a result, both Graves' designs themselves and their historicist bent have begun to look fresh to designers, architects, critics and curators in their 20s and 30s."

Denver Central Library. Image Courtesy of Michael Graves Associates

For the Washington Post, Andrea Sachs writes a touching piece, having met with him just eight days before his death, saying that the article is "Graves’s final tribute to his beloved town, but it is also my appreciation of Michael Graves, who shared his talents and whimsy with the world but always kept his heart in Princeton."

And for Architect Magazine, Karrie Jacobs writes an ode to the architect in four of his most striking projects, stating that she had come to regard Graves as "possessing the best attribute that an American practitioner (in pretty much any field) can: Graves is Jeffersonian." Her selection ranges across all of the three career periods referred to by Christopher Hawthorn - with a bonus thrown in from Graves' pre-postmodern phase, when he designed the New Jersey Corridor Project with Peter Eisenman. Jacobs writes that "Considering the direction that Graves later took, it’s fascinating that he was once more Corbu than Corbu."

But it wasn't just those in the architecture and design world who held Graves in high esteem. His impact outside the profession can be measured through a scan of local newspapers across the United States, where - in addition to countless mentions of his homewares range for Target - many writers focused on the impact that he had had in their respective cities. The Pittsburgh Business Times highlighted their O'Reilly Theater; the Atlanta Journal-Constitution focuses on the Michael C Carlos Museum and the office building at 10 Peachtree Place; a news story in the LA Times focuses on Graves' collaborations with Disney, referencing his work on the Disney Corporate Headquarters in Burbank; an article in the Washingtonian argues that his 1998 solution for temporary scaffolding should be used for all future restorations of the Washington Monument; Louisville Business First and Louisville blog Broken Sidewalk both highlight the Humana Building as an exemplar of Graves' work; The Oregonian, of course, remembers Graves as the designer of the Portland Building, with a separate article reminding the city of his plea that "someone should take care of it." Finally, NJ.com offers up a list of no less than nine important works in Graves' hometown of Princeton and across the state of New Jersey.

Through an astonishing number of designs that stand out for their bright colors, bold forms and even kitsch decoration, Graves was able to mean different things to so many people. Though the legacy of Postmodernism may still hang in the balance, and in his later years Graves often spoke of wanting to achieve much more in the time he had left, he unquestionably achieved his aim of touching the lives of the masses through design.

About this author
Cite: Rory Stott. ""A Joy of Things": The Architecture World Remembers Michael Graves" 14 Mar 2015. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/609864/a-joy-of-things-the-architecture-world-remembers-michael-graves> ISSN 0719-8884

You've started following your first account!

Did you know?

You'll now receive updates based on what you follow! Personalize your stream and start following your favorite authors, offices and users.