Friday, March 13, 2015

Michael Graves

Michael Graves, the starchitect known for his cartoonish postmodernism and cute housewares at Target, passed away in his home on Thursday.

His work was contentious but consistent. He managed to elicit outrage from both the design community and the general public, a rare feat when it comes to architecture. But all of the Greats have done the same, and I don't doubt that his buildings will find themselves in architectural history books alongside Frank Furness and Willis G. Hale, two other architects not appreciated in their time.

The Princeton professor was globally renowned, but also worked in the Philadelphia area. He designed One Port Center in Camden, NJ and the Sporting Club atop the parking garage at the Bellevue Hotel. But his most notable work might be the Portland Building in Portland, OR, a building still loathed by many locals.

The Portland Building

His work is more of a commentary on the clash of modernism and classicism than anything pedestrians want to see outside of Disney World, and perhaps that's how academics will choose to remember him. Whatever the case, his legacy will make a statement. 

But his buildings also speak to an era we've all but forgotten, and are likely to revisit soon. They are the architectural embodiment of Patrick Nagel or the furniture on the set of Ruthless People. Whether his intention was to provide a social commentary or just to have fun with his space, his buildings are quintessentially 80s and 90s. They remind of us the cartoons that accompanied the theme songs of movies like Who's That Girl and Mannequin. If the Portland Building was a painting, it would be sun-faded and hanging in a nail salon, waiting to find renewed appreciation.

Like him or not, his work was notable and the world has lost a master. Whether he was a master of design or a master of marketing will be left for history to judge. Whatever you think of his work, his passion for creativity can't be understated. He was unique and ambitious, and dared to deliver art that refused to satisfy the status quo.

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