Michael Graves, the prominent American architect who was one of the fathers of postmodern design, died on March 14 at the age of 80. Although he designed more than 350 buildings around the world and a host of elegant everyday household items, he is less well known for his commitment to mobility equipment and health care design.
In 2003, Graves was paralyzed from the waist down as the result of a spinal cord infection. During his rehab, he was surprised to discover that he could not turn on a faucet, open the medicine cabinet or reach the electrical outlet to plug in his electric shaver.
His response was to dedicate himself to the design of hospitals, rehab centers, hospital furnishings and housing for disabled people, including wounded veterans.
Graves required the members of his design team to spend a week in a wheelchair so they could see the world from that vantage point, and design from a patient’s perspective. Among the results of their work is a Michael Graves hospital suite with an ingenious over-bed table, bedside stand and a patient chair with curved arms that makes it easier to stand up or sit down.
Graves also designed a bath seat with a broader back and telescoping legs to make it more stable; his design team created a collapsible cane that folds into a purse-sized bag. Other designs include illuminated bed rails and a shower-head that can be adjusted without gripping the handle.
Summing up his attitude, Graves once said: “I believe well-designed places and objects can actually improve healing — while poor design can inhibit it.”