March 14

An Appreciation of Michael Graves

“Design is a tool we use to touch people, engage their senses and enhance their lives.” Michael Graves Art & Design

Chances are that before 2000 you had never heard of Michael Graves. And if you shopped in Target at that time you might remember that its products looked very different than they do now; in shorty Target was a lot frumpier in those days. In 2000 Michael Graves was an architect who had been hired to design the scaffolding that surrounded the Washington Monument while repairs were being made. The powers that be knew that tourists flocked to Washington DC to take pictures of the monuments so they cleverly decided to make an opportunity. Target offered to donate the cost of the scaffolding and the story goes that a Target executive got to know Graves and asked him to design housewares for the retailer. This was the moment that Target began to appreciate design. Michael Graves designed every houseware you can imagine for Target and almost all of them are in our home. So all of those fantastic and affordable designer clothes and home goods you’ve bought at Target; you have Michael Graves to thank for that.

In 2003 Graves contracted a spinal cord virus that left him paralyzed below the waist. He continued to work but developed an interest in designing for the disabled. This winner of the Driehaus Prize for Architecture and champion of Postmodernism Architecture went from designing skyscrapers to designing bathtub handrails and handicap-accessible housing for the Wounded Warriors Project. Legend has it that Graves made his designers design sitting in wheelchairs so they would understand the user’s perspective. As a grad student in the 90s I got to hear Michael Graves speak. He was at the top of his game in the architecture world. But what I’ll admire more is how he “pivoted.” When faced with paralysis, he did what a great designer does; he designed for people like him. He reinvented himself, his career and his legacy. Michael Graves died at the age of 80 on Thursday.