Michael Graves is considered an icon of American architecture, lending a brilliantly colored voice to the mosaic of what we consider design. Many know him as the designer of the Portland civic center, which is considered the first postmodern building in the U.S. His greatness in design combined with a trademark whimsy reaches from Disney resorts to the scaffolding for the renovation of the Washington monument.
He felt that good design should be accessible by anyone and extended design aesthetics to everyday objects. His singing stainless teakettle has a built-in comfort
handle that is also heat-resistant (good design) and when the water boils, a bird on the spout sings (whimsy).
What many people don’t know is that Graves became paralyzed from the waist down in 2003 and was confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Graves wasn’t feeling well when he returned from a European business trip and found himself fighting a mysterious infection that led to his permanent disability.
Rather than defining him, Graves claimed the change in his life made him a stronger designer. He had a first-hand perspective of what accessible design really meant. From addressing Congress to bringing the force of his design aesthetic to everything from building to daily tools, he integrated even more accessibility into both structures and products. He was quoted as saying that good design promotes healing and bad design can inhibit it.
I believe that his focus on accessibility and designing for universal access brought a new level of awareness of those needs to the architectural and design community, not only in the U.S., but globally. And while often a controversial figure in the industry, his designs are nonetheless studied by architectural and design students around the world, training a new generation in thinking about the broader needs of the whole population.
Thank you, Mr. Graves. May you rest in peace and your legacy live on so that future generations are better served.