The Iron Maiden:
Michael Graves and the Trap
“Those who love too much lose everything; those who love with irony, last.” Hephaistion [The Persian Warrior], Alexander (Oliver Stone, 2004) Post-modernism in the 1980s has, without any doubt, had a lasting impact on architecture today. It is a strand of architectural thought has continued to be expanded and developed even after it’s prominence in the 1980s. Definitions of the “post-modern” are often ephemeral, post-modernism could be understood as stylistic play, using the techniques of inversion, subversion, pastiche or irony. One of the leading proponents of a post-modern architecture is Charles Jencks; he attempts to define the post-modernist: “They may not always try to heal the rifts in culture, but they do recognise the contradictory pressures at work today and aim to derive an art and politics from them. Hence their typical style – radical eclecticism hence their characteristic tone – the double voiced discourse which accepts and criticizes at the same time. It is this double-coding which makes post-modernism relatively new and not a simple compromise,” One of the archetypes of post-modernism is Michael Graves; his large catalogue of work reflects the core properties of post-modernism. Born in 1934, and educated at Harvard, Graves became a prominent young architect with a showcase of his work published in Five Architects. His work has a distinct aesthetic and encompasses a wide range of programs and functions. Potentially The Portland Building can be seen in perhaps his most well-known project, a post-modern skyscraper that overlooks the city of Portland, Oregon.
Graves’s formative roots lie in early modernism. His first works is inspired by Le Corbusier’s, where visual planes are used to construct spaces. The Hanselmann House is a good example of Grave’s free modernism. He states, “Ribbon windows were like Le Corbusier’s except they were asymmetrically disposed. Double height volumes, extended entrance and central loggia were Corbusian. The white concrete volumes were Corbusian. Their author could have been called Michael Corbusian: he could counterfeit the master’s signature.” Large units of glazing are used to create bright and warm spaces. It is clear that Graves’ has adhered to moral principles of modernism in this particular building. There appears to be an attempt to grasp a more accessible kind of architecture, for example, the bright yellow handrail leads you into the building. This kind of attitude emerges in a conversation between the architect and Charles Jencks. Where Jencks poses the question of private life and public architecture, Graves’ replies, “It’s interesting you say that. One could make fun of the transfer of energy from one thing to another. But at the end of my relationship with Gail I was designing the Rockefeller House, one of my best buildings.” The pinwheel plan, an organizational principle, allows for flexible planning and gives the potential to create the perception of space. In the context of the United States, this concept has a great moral weight, the freedom of the individual. Grave’s appears to aspire to this in his early work. The Hanselmann House first leads you up and into the house by an extended walkway, whilst inside this projecting walkway appears to lead into the distance. This kind of effect is similar to what Frank Lloyd Wright and other pre-modern architects had tried to achieve. . Graves’ continues to amplify the impression of space by using single planes that appear broken and disjointed. Colour is given profound importance in the building; the warm colours are accentuated by the abundance of white surface. Again, colours appear in strips that drag eyes outside of the building.
This public-private attitude can be seen quite starkly in Graves’ Schulman House of 1976. The house appears fractured yet playful. A classical column appears to hold the chimney up, and a...
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