In a profession noted for longevity, it’s not surprising that Michael Graves, the noted architect and designer of housewares for Target and J.C. Penney, is still going strong at 79 years old. I.M. Pei is still with us at 96, Frank Gehry is 84, Frank Lloyd Wright lived to 91 and, going way back, Christopher Wren was 90 when he died in 1723.
But during the past 10 years, Graves has been confined to a wheelchair, following a nightmarish sinus infection that spread to his brain and within 24 hours left him paralyzed from the waist down. For the better part of two years, Graves checked into hospitals and rehabilitation centers as a business traveler checks into hotels. “I was in eight hospitals and four rehab centers,” he recalled in an interview here at the offices of two converted homes that house his two practices – Michael Graves & Associates and Michael Graves Design Group.
While receiving his medical care, Graves was struck by the poor designs of hospitals, health care facilities and the chairs, tables and other devices used by patients. “If it’s going to be this bad for everybody else in health care,” he said, “I should do something about it.”
And he has. The architect has designed hospitals, assisted living facilities, doctors’ offices and homes for people with disabilities. He also created a line of hospital chairs and tables as well as a consumer line of products for seniors and others with physical disabilities.
Graves says he thinks the United States is ahead of other nations in developing new people-centric health care facilities and products, but it’s still a long road, and one that is often seen “up close and personal” when traveling in a wheelchair.