It is rare for an architect to become a household name or designer spawning a line of housewares, but Michael Graves. of Humana and Target fame who died today, was unusual. His flare for design incorporated practicality and whimsy, which made his household goods very functional and popular.
The Indianapolis-born Graves died Thursday at his Princeton, New Jersey, home of natural causes, according to his firm Michael Graves Architecture and Design. He was 80.
Graves was one of the best-known contemporary architects. He is largely known for his postmodern designs in buildings, household items and hospital rooms.
Graves won hundreds of prizes in his field. Those include a National Medal of Arts awarded by President Bill Clinton in 1999, and the American Institute of Architects gold medal, its highest architect award, in 2001.
Graves received his training at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University. In 1962, he began 40-year teaching career at Princeton University. Since that time, he designed more than 400 buildings worldwide. But it was in the 1980s that he made his name as a postmodernist architect. Some of his best-known buildings are the Humana Building in Louisville, Kentucky; The Portland Municipal Building in Oregon; the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport in The Hague; the Team Disney building in Burbank, California; the Swan and Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World and the NCAA Hall of Champions in Indiana. Typical of his emphasis on and the scaffolding for the Washington Monument when it was renovated in the late 1990s so it would remain attractive throughout the work.
The second phase of his career involved quirky teakettles and colanders. One of the more popular was his Alessi stainless steel kettle with a red bird on the tip that sang once the water boiled.
His Target line was one of their early designer collaborations. Graves himself was in the ads, which promoted the philosophy that “Good design should be affordable to all.” His Target line featured easy to hold blue handles long before other utensils began to think ergonomically. His mixing bowls had feet to make them sturdy, a pouring spout and a handle for ease of handling.
He also added a Michael Graves line at JCPenney. He also developed products for Disney stores and Black & Decker.
Then, in 2003, Graves focus changed again, prompted by his own needs. Graves was paralyzed from the chest down after an illness that started as a sinus infection. With his eye for functional design, he looked around the hospital and decided: “It’s far too ugly for me to die here.” As he recovered, Graves sketched ideas for more functional hospital rooms and more user-friendly hospital furniture patients. He commented later, “Your room should make it easier for the doctors and the aides and the patient.
Later, a wheelchair bound Graves started designing items for people with disabilities, including a better wheelchair, more accessible home designs, bathroom handrails and more. To ensure his staff thought from the end-user perspective, he liked his designers to spend time in wheelchairs so they would better understand the challenges and design needs. At the time he died Michael Graves may have been an influential architect for buildings and had a highly successful designer Target line, but at the population ages many of his later designs, like bathtub handles, will continue to show good design should be affordable and practical.
By Dyanne Weiss