American architect and designer Michael Graves (July 9, 1934 – March 12, 2015) was one of the most celebrated architects of the 20th century, and was credited as a pioneering figure who spearheaded the postmodernist movement in the 1980s and ’90s.
“Good design should be affordable to all.” — Michael Graves
Spotlight on Michael Graves
Graves was born on July 9, 1934 in Indianapolis, USA, where he spent most of his youth. He studied architecture at the University of Cincinnati, graduating with a degree in 1958. Then he enrolled at Graduate School of Design at Harvard University and received a master’s degree in architecture in 1959, followed by two years as a scholar at the American Academy in Rome.
In 1962 he returned to the US and joined the faculty of Princeton University, where he started his own practice that ran for more than 40 years.
Early on, Graves was a disciple of modernism. In the late 1960s, he made his name as a member of the New York Five, a group of influential architects based in New York City along with Peter Eisenman, Richard Meier, Charles Gwathmey and John Hejduk who produced abstract designs reminiscent of the French modernist Le Corbusier. Graves was also associated with the Italian design collective the Memphis Group, organized in Milan by Ettore Sottsass in the 1980s which aimed to bring postmodernism to product and furniture design.
However, by the late 1970s, he began reacting against the strict austerity of modernist sensibilities and seeking more-diverse repertoire of architectural forms in postmodernism.
Key Points of Note
The prolific architect and designer’s postmodern imprint could be found in a number of notable buildings, including the Portland Building in Oregon (1982), the Humana Building in Louisville (1985), Walter Disney Studios in Burbank (1990), Denver Central Library in Colorado (1996), among others.
Portland Municipal Building in Oregon, 1982
The Portland Building in Oregon completed in 1982 stands as the epitome of postmodernist architecture that, laden with postmodern elements of appliqued ornamentation and bright coor.
Housing the city’s municipal offices, it is a boxy office block clad with graphic painted concrete and tile façade, which flattened elements the dominant austere static steel and glass box of the modernist architecture at the time in a bold graphical manner. As Graves explains, it’s “a symbolic gesture, an attempt to re-establish a language of architecture and values that are not a part of modernist homogeneity.”
Humana Building in Louisville, Kentucky, 1985
The Humana Building, also known as the Humana Tower, is a skyscraper in downtown Louisville, Kentucky.
The 26-story structure is headquarters of the Humana Corporation, known for its exterior construction clad in flat pink granite, fronted by a gigantic pedimented loggia and topped with a pointy hat. In 1987, the American Institute of Architects awarded the Humana Building the National Honor Award.
Disney Corporation Headquarters Building in Burbank, California, 1990
Some of his most notable designs were created for Disney.
He designed the corporation Headquarters building in California in his whimsical postmodern style, with sculptures in the shape of seven 19-foot-tall terra cotta dwarfs supporting the pediment that that visually references the Parthenon. He later designed the World Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, and the Disney Hotel New York in Disneyland Paris.
Denver Central Library in Denver, Colorado, 1996
In 1990, the City of Denver commissioned Michael Graves to renovate and expand Denver’s landmark library building which was designed in 1956 by the architect Burnham Hoyt. Designed in collaboration with Denver firm Klipp Colussy Jenks Debois, the 540,000 -square-foot structure sits adjacent to Daniel Libeskind’s Denver Art Museum, and is now the largest library between Los Angeles and Chicago, attracting over a million visitors each year.
Later in life, Graves came down with a sinus infection that then developed into an infection of the spinal cord, leaving him in a wheelchair. His paralysis turned him into a “reluctant healthcare expert,” and he began designing wheelchairs, furniture for hospitals and even hospitals themselves. “I want to do as much healthcare as I can before I croak,” Graves said in a lecture in 2014.
Graves died suddenly on Thursday at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, of natural causes on March 12, 2015.
What do you think of Michael Graves’s work?
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