Friday, March 23, 2012

Michael Graves receives 2012 Driehaus Award at public ceremony Saturday

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We wrote Thursday about the new documentary on architect and designer Michael Graves, shown above with narrator Geoffrey Baer.  It's being rebroadcast Friday at 8:30 p.m., Saturday at 11:30 p.m.

This Saturday, March 24th, Graves will be presented the 2012 Richard H. Driehaus Award, which has gone to so many retro-classicists as Quinlan Terry and Leon Krier that the jury citation had to explain how Graves actually fits in with what Louis Sullivan once came close to calling the Roman toga brigade: The jury selected Michael Graves as the 2012 Driehaus Laureate with the recognition that his work can often appear to diverge from what many people would define as "traditional" architecture. 
The Driehaus Prize was not created to honor replication, however, but creativity: to stand as proof that all architecture relies to some extent on the past, and that a deep understanding of the past can only enrich the creative process. While Graves may be less literal in his interpretation of history than some Driehaus Laureates, classicism informs every design decision he makes. He has used his knowledge of the past, and his love of classical ideas and principles, in all of his work, from campuses to office buildings to houses to household objects. He has instilled his respect for the past in two generations of architecture students, and he has done the same for the countless people who have used his remarkable works of product design, which like his buildings are brilliant combinations of tradition and imagination. 
And I think the jury got it right.

What sets Graves apart from the necromancers who think the apogee of human development was the time of the Roman dictatorships and the monumental architecture it spawned, Graves' architecture carries the spirit of classical architecture forward, not with tracing paper, but to mediate with the present through allusion and poetry.

Photograph courtesy Michael Graves and Associates
The most radical element of the work of Michael Graves may not even its classical dynamic, but his identity as a colorist. From his beginning as one of the members of The New York Five, a group of architects also known as "The Whites" at least in part because of a shared Henry Ford-like aesthetic in which you could get a building in any color as long as there wasn't any, Graves, when we came into his own, moved far away from raw, white-boned architecture. From the pink, brown and sea green of the 1982 Portland Building onward, Graves developed a highly individual palette that has continued to evolve.  Like Mies with modernism, Graves set the stage for Post Modernism with a distinct voice and a mastery that few of those who followed were able to equal.

If the continuum of modernism continues to be lightness and transparency, Graves's best designs have presented us with a vibrant dialectic of the solid and the grounded, of buildings not so much interested in "almost disappearing" as in finding new equilibrium's between form, color and surface.

I've always had to be taken kicking and screaming beyond my prejudices.  I hated Frank Lloyd Wright because I loved Louis Sullivan.  I hated Mies because I loved John Wellborn Root.  But give it enough time, and quality can't be denied.  Today I love them all.

photograph: Steve Morgan, Wikipedia
When I first read about the Portland Building back in the early 80's, the articles were full of controversy and outrage, but the moment I saw the pictures, I loved it.  It was a box, but not a glass box, and not stolid, but solid.  It had all those ironic, even supposedly jokey classical elements in the design, but they worked  wonderfully in subverting the usual grid-like regularity of a modern building, here not of metal and glass, but re-invented as floor after floor of a row of small windows in punctuating a facade of off-white stucco panels.  The vertical pilasters, topped by abstracted keystone capitals or a garland of circular medallions, the colorful inverted triangles, the green base, the sky blue penthouse, created a new kind of mannerism, in which the differences and interruptions keep the composition spinning, settled and dynamic at the same time.

This Saturday, March 24th, the Driehaus Award will be presented to Michael Graves at a ceremony, open to the public, at the 1926 Marshall and Fox designed John B. Murphy Auditorium, 50 East Erie, beginning at 11:00 a.m.  The event will also see author Elizabeth Barlow Rogers receiving the 2012 Henry Hope Reed Award, given "to an individual working outside the practice of architecture who has supported the cultivation of the traditional city, its architecture and art through writing, planning or promotion."  Speeches are also expected from Richard Driehaus and Michael Lykoudis, Dean of the Notre Dame School of Architecture

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