Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Michael Graves’ glorious ‘prototype’ of Postmodern interior design has never been displayed.
Postmodernism is starting to get the kind of attention once reserved exclusively for high Modernism. Maybe that’s due to the fact that PoMo is always in the news. Officials in Portland are weighing the fate of the city’s most famous building, the Michael Graves-designed Portland Building, which might wind up undergoing a façadectomy. Thursday, the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin called on the governor of Illinois to spare the James R. Thompson Center, designed by Helmut Jahn. At the Chicago Architecture Biennial, a panel convened to discuss the future of Postmodernism as “preservation’s new frontier.”
So you might could say that Postmodernism is on trend. Which would make a Postmodernist apartment extremely fashionable, indeed. And where else would you expect to find a retro PoMo apartment than in Brooklyn?
Michael Graves designed just such an apartment, between 1979 and 1981, for clients Susan and John Reinhold, reports the Architect’s Newspaper. But it’s no longer the Reinhold residence, or really a residence at all. The couple donated the condo they shared at 101 Central Park West on the Upper East Side to the Brooklyn Museum when they separated in 1986.
The dismantled apartment project has been in the archives of the Brooklyn Museum ever since. It’s never been displayed. It’s a shame—and not just because a project like this could potentially travel to institutions that would like to exhibit it. It’s just sitting there, waiting for me to live in it. It should be shown for many reasons, not least of which being that it occupies a small but interesting place in the career arc of the architect, who died earlier this year.
Ian Volner, an architecture journalist who is writing a biography on Michael Graves for the Princeton Architectural Press, says that Graves had already split from the New York Five by the time of the Reinhold commission. It came right on the heels of one of the architect’s most significant projects, the Fargo-Moorhead Cultural Center and Bridge.
“The Fargo Moorhead Bridge commission—which Michael Graves started working on in 1976—that was the big moment, in a lot of ways, the first of his experiments with what we'd now recognize as PoMo design,” Volner says. “The apartment then comes right after, but just before he did this experimental interior for Interior Design—they asked him to produce the ‘prototypical PoMo apartment’—which ended up being his most widely publicized interior to date. So here you have, possibly, the prototype of a prototype.”
The Fargo Moorhead Cultural Center and Bridge was never meant to be, of course. And the Portland Building could still come down, as hard as that is to imagine. That hasn’t stopped architects and architecture fans from crushing hard on Graves and Postmodernism. If the Brooklyn Museum can’t make use of an interior design by Graves, I’d be happy to find a home for it. (Or in it.)