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Tributes pour in for ‘bombastic’ postmodern architect Graves

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Tributes have poured in for the postmodernist Michael Graves, who died last night (12 March) aged 80

Sean Griffiths, formerly of FAT

‘Michael Graves was a highly influential if controversial architect who perhaps more than any other embodied the high point of 1980’s post modernism especially in America. Frank Gehry once described his work as ‘the architecture of Ronald Reagan’ and Graves was certainly at the centre of a highly charged debate between the modernist ‘whites’ and the postmodernist ‘greys’ that was played out in Tom Wolfe’s book about the battle of the styles in architecture, From Our House to Bauhaus.

‘The controversy around Graves was particularly intense because as a member of the New York Five alongside Eisenman, Meier and Hedjuk, he was very much in the white camp before emphatically switching sides. That this battle happened against the backdrop of significant political change in America - the collapse of the social democratic project and the emergence of Reagan - was unfortunate for Graves who I don’t think was politically a conservative but became associated with the latter.


‘Perhaps the most emblematic and notorious project of Graves’ mature period was the Municipal Building  in Portland, Oregon which used flattened pictorial architectural motifs rather than plastic form as its main form of expression. This graced the front cover of Charles Jencks’ The Language of Post Modern Architecture but drew accusations that Graves was reducing architecture to stylistic decoration although it could be argued that Graves was drawing on a long tradition of the exploration of ‘flatness’ in Modernism and American Pop Art.

Graves’ embrace of Postmodernist ideas was pretty bombastic

‘However, in my view Graves’ embrace of Postmodernist ideas was pretty bombastic and I don’t think his later work had the subtlety or ambiguity of buildings by the likes of Venturi Scott Brown or Hans Hollein.

‘Indeed many, including me, would look to the pre-postmodernist works such as Hanselmann house in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a precursor of Frank Gehry’s wrap around house in Santa Monica when seeking out Graves’ most interesting projects.

‘But whatever one’s position on the work, there is no doubt that Michael Graves was a very significant figure who had a huge influence on architects such as Phillip Johnson in the US and Terry Farrell here in the UK and his passing reminds me of a time when arguments around architectural aesthetics were strongly linked to ideological differences for which I am, perhaps appropriately in the context of Graves’ work, nostalgic.’

Frank Gehry, founder, Gehry Partners

‘He was an inspiring colleague, and I loved him. He will be missed.’

Stan Allen, acting dean, Princeton School of Architecture

‘Michael Graves was a major force at the School of Architecture for close to forty years. He was a dedicated educator who influenced generations of students, many of whom have gone on to significant careers in their own right. His impact on the field was enormous; although many know him today for his work with Target, which helped to democratize product design, he will be remembered for his seminal contributions to the rethinking of the modernist canon in the 1970’s, and the sea change that was postmodernist architecture. He cared deeply about architecture, which he saw as an ongoing conversation with a history that was still very much alive for him.’

Amanda Kolson Hurley, American architecture critic

‘Like so many people in the design community, I’m saddened by the death today of Michael Graves. His cheeky, sometimes cartoonish Postmodernism was not for everyone; it was usually (but not always) for me.

Graves left Washington better than he found it

‘Clearly, though, Graves left Washington better than he found it. The courthouse annex he designed on Pennsylvania Avenue is wonderful, a light, graceful riff on ponderous federal classicism. And who can resist the St. Coletta charter school? It is a lovable building, and there aren’t too many buildings you can say that of these days.

‘There will be other, far more eloquent tributes to Graves, so suffice it to say that his late-life commitment to universal design principles, and to bringing good design to the masses, were inspiring. RIP.

‘Now, if only the National Park Service would re-erect Graves’ scaffolding on the Washington Monument. It never looked better.’ 

Alberto Alessi, owner, Alessi

‘I was saddened to hear the bad news. The last time we met in Philadelphia, even in a wheelchair, Michael was so energetic.

‘We were thinking to organise something special for the events we are preparing around Michael-Alessi collaboration for 2015… and the new project with Michael that we will unveil shortly: the Tea Rex Kettle!

Michael, as you well know, has been for Alessi one of the leading authors and design heroes, and for me, personally, one of my most important maestros.

‘I’ll never forget his contribution to our history. Difficult to believe.’

Michael Graves kettle for Alessi

Michael Graves kettle for Alessi


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