From towers to teapots, architect Michael Graves left a colorful mark

JUDY WOODRUFF: Finally tonight: an appreciation of an architect whose work and design for the everyday household captured the public's imagination.

Jeffrey Brown has our look.

JEFFREY BROWN: Around the world and especially in this country, Michael Graves left his mark through buildings of color, ornament, and whimsy.

The municipal building in Portland, Oregon, the Humana Tower in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Disney Corporation's headquarters in Burbank, California.

Yet he was known to many more for his smaller works, designing household goods like toasters, clocks and his famous whistling teakettle through a partnership with Target stores in the 1990s.

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Michael Graves is a rare individual who finds equal wonder in things both large and small.

JEFFREY BROWN: President Clinton awarded Graves the National Medal of the Arts in 1999.

At the time, Graves had designed the scaffolding for the Washington Monument's renovation.

He spoke to Margaret Warner about that project and his broader interests.

MICHAEL GRAVES: I have never thought that architecture is limited to, you know, making just buildings. We came through a time in the 1950s where architects became specialists. They were going to only do museums or only do, let's say, office buildings.

But small things, as well as large things, interest me a whole lot. And I don't see why to — why I should stop at the moment we reach the door.

JEFFREY BROWN: Born in Indianapolis in 1934, Graves studied architecture at Harvard, but found it too heavily influenced by the mid-century modern architecture movement. He headed to Rome for two years to study classical design, an experience that would profoundly influence his work toward what became known as postmodern architecture.

In 2003, Graves contracted a flu-like infection that left him paralyzed from the waist down. That inspired yet another phase: designing products for people with disabilities and buildings for health care facilities, like the Wounded Warrior Home Project in Fort Belvoir, Virginia.

Michael Graves died of natural causes at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, yesterday. He was 80 years old.

Some further insight now on the influence and reach of Michael Graves.

Robert Ivy is CEO of the American Institute of Architects.

We use this term postmodern, but help us understand, what was Michael Graves fighting against and what did he do?

ROBERT IVY, The American Institute of Architects: Drive through any American city today, and you see tall boxes, essentially.

We could, in gross terms, call that modernism. But Michael really broke us out of the box. What an exciting moment for — I certainly can say for design professionals, but for the rest of the world, to see color and the uses of history and even wit and irony in projects.

In the early '80s, it had a strong flowering and changed the way we look at buildings and it still has some import today.

JEFFREY BROWN: You look at things like the Portland Building, other buildings. Not everyone loved it, right?  And still — still, people — not everyone loves it.

ROBERT IVY: Those projects still elicit controversy, as much today, perhaps more, than they did then.

However, I think the flowering of architecture that we're enjoying today, an exuberance of form and a freedom, if you will, comes about in part because of the work of people like Michael Graves, who changed the way we think.

JEFFREY BROWN: And changed the way we actually live in our homes, right?  That's the other big aspect of it with him, this idea that design is for everyone.

ROBERT IVY: Design — he popularized design. Design actually has the ability to change our lives for the better.

And Michael was an early proponent of bringing design into the home. Through work with companies like Target and J.C. Penney, he worked on projects and objects of everyday life, teakettles, garbage containers, humble objects that he brought a strong sense of design to that feel better in your hands, that look better in your house, and really popularized that term design. He became at one point the best known architect in the world.

JEFFREY BROWN: The best known in the world.

Did that hurt him professionally?  Because it was so unusual for someone at his level to get involved with teakettles, perhaps.

ROBERT IVY: It's true it drew some critical work by, I would say, professional critics and even those who, perhaps, were jealous.

But, on the other hand, I think, for design, it was a great moment, because it brought design into the home. And he continued to have a thriving practice doing large projects primarily. We admire both his large and his small work today.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, very briefly, the work on the — in health care, because of his own disability, became important to him in the end.

ROBERT IVY: Absolutely.

He was stricken and confined to a wheelchair. He took on the role of design in health, which architects are taking up today, and became one of its most ardent spokespeople, appointed to the U.S. Access Board. And such a prominent person with such a pulpit actually worked for all of our good.

I think he was an inspiration for all of us for his talent and the way that he used it.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Robert Ivy on the life and work of Michael Graves, thank you so much.

ROBERT IVY: Thank you.