Charlotte falls short of Michael Graves’ ‘real humanism’

As an architect and designer, Michael Graves maintains the same tenet for his buildings as the household objects found on Target’s shelves.

“I think of the human being first,” Graves said. “That sounds kind of sappy, but it’s body-centered. It’s real humanism.”

Graves is in Charlotte as the guest speaker for The Mint Museum Uptown’s F.O.O.D. conference on Thursday and Friday. He is well-known for his line of household items designed for Target. His kitchen timer, tray, trivet and tea kettle are among the pantry and table items on display through July 7.

Graves arrived in Charlotte on Wednesday to check out the uptown architecture. He found it wanting.

“I came to Charlotte a day early to see old Charlotte,” Graves said. “I wanted to see the original buildings, whether they’re 18th century or 19th century, whatever they are. Charlotte did, like so many towns, tear down its heritage and build modern skyscrapers. I didn’t go to any of them. I didn’t want to.”

With new high-rise buildings populating Tryon Street, Graves felt Charlotte’s uptown lacked character.

“If the skyscraper is on one side of the street,” he said, “you know it’s not going to have anything for sale … or anything like that. It’s just anti-urban.”

In the Mint’s exhibit, several kettles sit beside one another. During a Thursday tour, Graves pointed out that his tea kettle is positioned next to the kettle that gave him a reason to design his.

Another model, just to the right of Graves’, uses a trigger on the handle to uncover the spout. If it broke and had to be replaced, consumers couldn’t figure out how to install the replacement part. Enter Graves’ signature red bird that you simply pull off.

With the door open for a new tea kettle, the Alessi design factory asked Graves to create a kettle that would boil water faster than anything on the market. He made the base wide to increase contact with the heat.

Graves’ attention to function has made him an American design icon.

“I think of appearance and form simultaneously,” he said. “People want to separate them, but I don’t want to separate them at all. I want them to be, ultimately, one and the same thing, and what I want to result from them is the experience. And if I can do that, I’ve done something.”