Photo Courtesy Michael Graves Architecture & Design
Populism Portland building (top) started postmodernism. Swan Hotel graces Walt Disney World.
Photo Courtesy Michael Graves Architecture & Design

Michael Graves, who more than 35 years ago kicked off the postmodern movement in architecture with his then-controversial design for the Portland Public Service Building, died of natural causes on March 12. He was 80.

In 2001, when Graves won the American Institute of Architects' Gold Medal, he talked about "populist architecture" and his aim to delight the soul through buildings—from windows to washrooms.

"The livable city is the goal," he said. To accomplish this, "several forces have to be in concert," including city officials, planners, developers and architects, he said.

Graves' livable-city model is Portland, Ore., where he received his first major commission: the Portland building.

He formed his eponymous firm, with offices currently in Princeton, N.J., and New York City, in 1964. Its motto is, "Humanistic design equals transformative results." Graves also taught for 40 years at Princeton University.

"He was a great architect and a delight to work with because he didn't take himself too seriously," says Vincent DeSimone, founder and chairman of DeSimone Consulting Engineers International and the structural engineer for many Graves' buildings, including the Portland building (ENR 10/9/80 p. 16) and the much-lauded Humana headquarters in Louisville (ENR 11/22/84 p. 30). "Michael had a great sense of humor," adds DeSimone.

Graves took some heat for his populist designs, first for the Portland building—derided as a giant jukebox—and then for his mass-produced household items, from teapots to toilet brushes, sold at Target stores.

"I like to think of my practice as a Bloomingdale's shopping bag" brimming over with all kinds of things, he said in 2001. "I like to domesticize space" and create psychological comfort, even in a boardroom, he added.

The architect was known for designing everything on the inside and outside of his buildings, down to interior paint colors (ENR 9/26/90 p. 25). He even designed a scaffold shroud for the exterior restoration of the Washington Monument in the U.S. capital. Major commissions included the Denver Central Library (ENR 3/9/92 p. 23) and the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, near Orlando (ENR 5/12/88 p. 38).

"For those of us who had the opportunity to work closely with Michael, we knew him as an extraordinary designer, teacher, mentor and friend," says a statement issued by Michael Graves Architecture & Design.