Michael Graves, Renowned Architect Who Designed Products For Target, Dies Renowned architect and industrial designer Michael Graves has died at the age of 80. Graves is perhaps, best-known for designing household objects for Target.
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Michael Graves, Renowned Architect Who Designed Products For Target, Dies

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Michael Graves, Renowned Architect Who Designed Products For Target, Dies

Michael Graves, Renowned Architect Who Designed Products For Target, Dies

Michael Graves, Renowned Architect Who Designed Products For Target, Dies

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/392845757/392845758" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Renowned architect and industrial designer Michael Graves has died at the age of 80. Graves is perhaps, best-known for designing household objects for Target. In his later years, he was paralyzed and turned to designing for the disabled.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

If while shopping at Target you've ever been delighted by those sleek, yet whimsical, toasters and teapots, you can thank Michael Graves. In the late 1990s, his sophisticated line of housewares helped give Target the nickname Tar-zhay. Graves was one of the world's most popular designers and architects. He died yesterday at the age of 80. NPR's Neda Ulaby has our remembrance.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Michael Graves left behind not just colorful spatulas and dinnerware, but hundreds of buildings, some of which are now beloved local landmarks - The Portland Building, the Central Library in Denver and a huge, outdoor amphitheater, the Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati. Back in 1984, Graves described it to NPR - its great, gray sheet of a roof, and its fantastical Michael Graves touch: the statues on top that represent musical muses.

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MICHAEL GRAVES: These are enormous figures. They're over 20-some feet high then are painted shades of gray, white and black to relieve the flatness and give some depth. This is an 18th-century tradition.

ULABY: Graves was a traditionalist and an innovator. He started off designing stark white apartment buildings in New York. But in the 1970s, Graves became convinced the human body needed to be acknowledged in architecture and design - our contours, our needs and flows. He started designing furniture, rugs, clocks and a teapot in 1985 for Alessi, an Italian kitchenware company. Thirty years later, it's still the company's best-selling item.

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GRAVES: It isn't so difficult to design a tea kettle.

ULABY: Maybe not for Michael Graves on NPR in 2002.

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GRAVES: Those things in the kitchen, you know, needn't be so abstract and serious and black and always plastic.

ULABY: Executives at Target told Michael Graves they'd been trying to copy his style for years when they asked him to design a line of mass-market housewares. Graves had never even been to Target, but he relished the idea of affordable objects that felt high-end.

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GRAVES: It's the kind of thing where you pick something up or use it with a little bit of joy actually. And there's - it puts a smile on your face.

ULABY: By 2003, Graves was a celebrity who had won hundreds of awards, including the National Medal of Arts. Two years later, Michael Graves became seriously ill. A spinal cord infection left him paralyzed in a wheelchair. Graves dedicated himself to designing for the disabled. This stark-itect entered a competition to design homes for injured veterans, as he told NPR two years ago.

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GRAVES: When I was interviewed, I rolled in in my wheelchair and I thought I had a pretty good chance.

ULABY: Graves was invited to apply by Casey Nolan, whose firm was commissioned to create some prototypes for the Wounded Warrior Home Project.

CASEY NOLAN: We weren't sure if he'd even respond. I mean, this is just but one or two houses on a military base, and he's known for building institutional buildings around the world. But Michael showed up, showed up to every design meeting and personally was doing the sketches himself.

ULABY: Michael Graves's design firm just celebrated its 50th anniversary. Last night I talked to someone who worked with him for 38 years. Architect Karen Nichols says even though Graves spent his final days in and out of the hospital, design was always on his mind.

KAREN NICHOLS: He'd be on a gurney out in some waiting room or in an emergency room or something. And he would turn around, and he would look at that environment, and he would say, it's too ugly; I can't die here. And then this morning, when he passed so peacefully in his own house surrounded by all the objects and things that he loved, we thought, you know, this is OK.

ULABY: Michael Graves died yesterday at home in New Jersey. He believed, on so many levels, that beauty can make us better. Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

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