A design leader: Michael Graves

Written by Lou Lenzi, Director of Industrial Design for GE Appliances

The design and architecture world lost a leader and a gentleman with Michael Graves‘ passing last week.

Michael Graves

Michael Graves, 1934 – 2015

While others can provide a more comprehensive and scholarly assessment of his body of work and it’s impact on the built environment, I’d like to share my thoughts as an industrial designer and someone who had the good fortune to work with Michael on a building project. The 20+ year friendship that came from that collaboration will be valued by me most of all.

What I found remarkable about Michael was his ability to incorporate classical architectural design elements – with integrity – within the constraints of today’s buildings. Clearly his two years at the American Academy in Rome studying architecture in the early 1960’s provided a sound foundation. Working with Michael on the design of the headquarters building of Thomson Consumer Electronics, the home of RCA and GE branded home electronics products, might seem an unlikely setting for Michael’s classical design sensibilities. And yet it worked well beyond everyone’s imagination. His design created an environment that was warm and approachable, and despite the massive size of the space, it had human scale. Literally constructed in the middle of an Indiana cornfield, the building’s exterior details reflected its surroundings and created a sense of belonging.

The former Thomson Consumer Electronics Headquarters, now St. Vincent Health.

The former Thomson Consumer Electronics Headquarters, now St. Vincent Health.

As an industrial designer, I’m personally grateful for his partnership with Target stores. By bringing high-style – with a touch of whimsy – to everyday objects at affordable price points, he democratized design and raised awareness of the value of good design for generations of consumers. Our work as designers is better understood and appreciated through these modestly priced and widely available products.

In my role as Design Director at GE Appliances, I hope to inspire in my team Michael’s work ethic, design principles, and graciousness in the same manner he’s inspired me.

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