We in the newspaper business often judge people by a different standard from that held up by others. Sometimes we tend to view most favorably not the person with the greatest accomplishments but rather the person who is most accessible, the person who takes the time to share the process of his or her endeavor as well as the one that can explain it most clearly.
Architects in this town have always struck us as extraordinarily open professionals, more so than most business executives or medical practitioners. Perhaps because their most successful projects end up being exposed to all the world, architects have always been patient to answer our questions and sit for photographs.
In his 50-plus years of studying, teaching, and practicing architecture and design, Michael Graves, who died March 12 at the age of 80, earned many awards and much praise. He earned a place in the national spotlight in the 1960s and 1970s as one of the “New York Five” that espoused “modernism” in architecture with a minimal use of ornamentation and color.
For Graves modernism gave way to post-modernism, and his buildings began to incorporate color and decorative treatments. The Portland, Oregon, municipal building built in 1982 was a leading example. More playful designs played out at the 1990 Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin hotels in Florida. In his hometown Graves’ work is represented by the Miele headquarters on Route 1 North and the Arts Council building at Witherspoon and Paul Robeson Place in downtown Princeton.
For us at U.S. 1 an early and lasting impression was made in the fall of 1989, when Graves, a national celebrity, agreed to squeeze in some time for one of our reporters. He was taking a train to Washington and it was agreed that the reporter would interview briefly at the beginning of the trip. Barbara Fox’s interview lasted all the way to Baltimore. Graves was passionate about what he did, and he was always ready to share.
#b#To the Editor: Disabled People Lose a Champion#/b#
As New Jersey mourns the loss of Michael Graves, Enable Inc. notes that this revolutionary architect was a leading advocate for accessibility for people with disabilities as well. Graves was serving as chair of Enable’s 25th anniversary gala scheduled for Saturday, May 2. Graves will be honored at the event, proceeds from which benefit Enable’s services that make it possible for people with disabilities and seniors to live independently, in their own homes, in the community.
People with disabilities have lost a champion. Michael Graves understood at the deepest level the challenges they face and used his design genius to improve the lives of millions of Americans. Not only were his designs functional, they also brought beauty and dignity to the day-to-day life of people with disabilities. While Graves’ post-modern architectural masterpieces are well known, many do not know how he turned his own disability into one of the crowning achievements of his career.
After a spinal infection in 2003 left Graves paralyzed from the waist down, he used a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Graves then began designing for people with disabilities, creating items including a wheelchair, heating pads and bathroom handrails, hospitals and rehab centers.
“Since my paralysis did not take away my ability to design, and in fact has, if anything, made me a better designer, I remain whole and now I wake up every day with a full appreciation for life, and with a passion to use my ordeal and newfound perspective to make a lasting contribution,” Graves told the Washington Post in 2014.
Graves believed that well-designed places and objects could improve healing, while poor design could inhibit it. His work for people with disabilities was based on the premise that good design made the work of caregivers, whether professionals or family members, easier. A key to the success of many of his designs was that they assisted people with disabilities in being self-reliant. He insisted that his design team spend a week in a wheelchair to understand the physical implications of non-accessibility.
Graves designed accessible, one-story homes for the Wounded Warrior Project featuring low windows, adjustable counters, floors (without rugs) for people using wheelchairs, halls and rooms wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass each other, sliding doors, and wheelchair accessible bathrooms and showers. He also created rooms that could be made dark and quiet for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Graves was named one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in Healthcare Design by the Center for Health Design in 2010. In 2013 President Obama named Graves to the United States Access Board, a private agency created to develop design criteria and enforce access for the disabled to federally funded facilities. Graves was honored that year at Enable’s Gala Benefit.
Chief Executive Director,
Enable Inc., 13 Roszel Road