Postmodernity buried Michael Graves, and it’s hard to find another architect who has dropped so fast from splendor to shame. Admired during the figurative floruit and reviled in the 1990s return to order, Graves (1934-2015) is now unknown to young architects, but this book may somehow help revive his figure and part of his oeuvre.
It follows the canonical scheme of the anglophone biography. The author makes extensive, rigorous use of sources to produce a highly readable text where emphasis is on the subject and his circumstances. The story captures the complexity of an architect who started out as a devoted follower of Le Corbusier and a worshipper of white, to end up an unbiased promoter of the Disneyland aesthetic.
In between is the ebb and flow of the ideas and forms of a supergifted architect who also drew exquisitely and designed furniture and other objects. A journey Volner describes with special attention on three highlights of his career: the stint at the American Academy in Rome, which opened his eyes to the timeless beauty of classical language; being one of the Five Architects, which gave him visibility in American architecture; and the Portland Municipal Services Building, which made him an architect admired and imitated worldwide.
The reader will decide which Graves to come away with: whether the refined avant-garde, or the successful, colorful, commercial Graves; the friend of abstraction or the accomplice of the figurative.