the graves' ripple

Chad Alexander Smith | March 12, 2015

By the time I was a student of Michael Graves at Princeton, his Post-Modern aesthetic had fallen out of fashion. Graves taught our architecture studio along with Peter Eisenman. It would be the last time the two giants of the 20th century would teach together. Our studio class of 15 met in the afternoon. The morning was reserved for theory and the afternoon for practice, divided in the same way the great architect Le Corbusier, whom’s heavy influence can be seen in Grave’s early work, arranged his day.

Our studio studied the Renaissance Architect Bramante. For a young student who anticipated learning from these great modern masters, this was, in the beginning, a disappointment. Why study someone from so far back in the past? Graves had this great reverence for the past, for these buildings that were still standing. He would often declare, “No one learns the fundamentals anymore.” And while my friends at other schools studied the latest contemporary buildings, we were immersed in these ancient structures.

But more than the architecture, the appeal of these old buildings for Graves may have been that they were still standing, that they were remembered. The architect lived past his death and that, for him, was the definition of greatness.

During that Fall of 1997, the architect Aldo Rossi passed away. That afternoon, Eisenman reflected on how Rossi’s passing did not make a ripple in the profession. Graves commented on how when Le Corbusier died, the faculty, Graves included, tore up a copy of Le Corbusier’s Oeuvre Complete and pasted pages all over the architecture building. I imagine today there is a somber feeling around Princeton. A great ripple has occurred in architecture and only time will tell how far it reaches.