Making Ordinary Extraordinary

If you have ever shopped at Target you have been effected by the work of Michael Graves. Many recognize him for his egg-shaped interpretations of ordinary household items, but a few years ago I had the opportunity to learn that his work goes far beyond that. From architecture to product design Graves has helped improve many people’s lives through design and they may not even know it.

My first job out of college was working for a museum exhibit design studio who had partnered with Michael Graves and Associates to construct the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. There I learned first hand how the vision of one designer could make such an enormous impact, yet remain transparent to the general population. Grave’s construction elegantly houses artifacts from the simple but hard working lives of those who are native to the Shenandoah Valley. Clean geometric lines give way to let the extraordinary qualities of quilts, iron work, and pottery shine through.

Museum of the Shenandoah ValleyMuseum of the Shenandoah Valley

While Graves’ work spans the globe; from a Hyatt in Egypt to a museum in Taiwan his structures can be discovered very close to home. Unknown to many of it’s daily visitors, the Alexandria Charles E Beatley Jr. Public Library is a creation of his. Since moving to the area I have admired the library’s simple lines and modern twist on classic design elements. Recently I payed a visit and found a fantastic treasure. Everything from the parking lot landscaping to the circular periodicals section makes this space feel fantastic. Light pours in through windows perched atop high ceilings that flood the aisles with warm sun rays. Often libraries can feel dark, cramp, and claustrophobic but this fantastic design creates an open airy experience.

Charles E Beatley Jr. Public Library

Those who are familiar with the work o this multi-discipline designer may not even know that he has been confined to a wheel chair since 2003 due to an illness. After becoming paralyzed from the waist down it became apparent to him that the world needed more beautifully designed measures of accessibly for the handicapped. I came across an article written by John Hockenberry that details the visionary’s current situation and what he is working to do to make the world more stylishly accessible. Graves’ initial observations upon falling ill sum up the how important well designed products are for the disabled…

“Nothing was designed. It seemed as though the makers of these objects never had to use them. There was no color, no style; nothing about any of the objects said that a human had made them. It was outrageous.” Graves said he once had his doctor come into his hospital bathroom, where he was trying to shave from his wheelchair: “?‘Who designed these bathrooms?’ I asked him. He said, ‘Experts.’ I said, ‘Oh, really,’ and I had him sit down and look at himself in the mirror, which was too high, and then turn on the water, which was out of reach. It took him two seconds to get it.”

While the name Michael Graves reminds many of his famous teapot , his upcoming product line for those with disabilities impresses me far more. Form and functionality go hand and hand and there is an audience out there who desperately is in need of it. In response to Hockenberry’s article a woman wrote…

“My 29 year old son has recently gone from using crutches to a wheel chair… I kept saying just because you can not walk you are not instantly stripped of good taste.”

And thats what design is all about. I applaud Michael Graves for being a designer who truly charges to bring elegance and savvy style to the masses.
[tags]Michael Graves, Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, Alexandria Public Library, accessible design, John Hockenberry, Charles E Beatley Jr Public Library[/tags]

One Comment

  1. — July 6, 2007