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Mayor Greg Fischer Newsroom

Renowned Architect Michael Graves To Lecture In Louisville

Wednesday April 4, 2007

He will discuss the Humana Building’s impact on Louisville, architecture, his career

Michael GravesArchitect Michael Graves, whose design of the Humana Building helped usher in the era of postmodernism, will deliver a public lecture in Louisville on May 23, discussing what the building has meant to his career, to architecture and to the city.

The lecture will occur nearly 25 years to the date after Graves’ design was chosen from five finalists in an international architectural competition sponsored by Humana co-founders David Jones and Wendell Cherry.

Humana Building“The Humana Building changed architecture, it changed Michael Graves and it changed the landscape of our city,” Louisville Mayor Abramson said. “It’s a magnificent building that is still inspiring.”

The lecture — Wednesday, May 23 at Actors’ Theatre — is jointly sponsored by the Louisville chapter of the American Institute of Architects, Humana and Abramson. The event begins at 5:30 p.m. with a reception. The lecture follows at 6 p.m.

Tickets are free and will be distributed starting Tuesday, April 17 on a first-come, first-served basis. People should call Actors’ Theatre box office at 502-584-1205 to request tickets.

Louisville architect Steve Wiser, an AIA member, has for years dreamed of Graves delivering a lecture in Louisville.

Since this is the 150th anniversary of the national AIA — and since it’s 25 years since Graves was chosen as the winner — Wiser decided the time was ripe.

“So much as changed in Louisville since Mr. Graves worked here,” Wiser said. “But one thing has remained the same -- The Humana Building is one of America’s most important architectural achievements.”

The 27-story tower, made of pink granite, this year was named one of the United States’ most important and favorite buildings by the American Institute of Architects. The poll of architects ranked it 98 on a Top 150 list – just above the Walt Disney Concert Hall, designed by Frank Gehry, in Los Angeles.

Abramson said the Humana Tower has influence beyond its footprint at 5th and Main streets.

“I would argue that, today, we are able to build Museum Plaza – itself an inspiring, avant-garde structure – because of the groundwork laid in Louisville by Graves,” Abramson said. “He showed our city, indeed the world, that buildings could indeed be works of art.”

It was on May 28, 1982 that David Jones and Wendell Cherry stood on the stage of the Pamela Brown Auditorium before a crowd of the city’s business and civic leaders and announced that Graves was the winner. Graves then stepped on stage to applause.

After its completion, The New York Times, in a review, praised the building.

“There are few skyscrapers, even in this decade of startling towers, that have been as awaited as the architect Michael Graves's design for the new headquarters here of Humana Inc., the private health-care company,” architecture writer Paul Goldberger wrote in 1985. “The Humana Building is the largest and most ambitious work so far of an architect whose career has taken off with astonishing speed in the last few years…

“For too long architecture that has taken itself quite seriously has been a deadly bore, and architecture that has been lively has tended to be frivolous,” Goldberger continued. “But Humana is neither boring nor silly -- it is at once a building of great dignity and a building of great energy and passion.”

Time magazine listed the Humana Building as one of the ten best buildings of the 1980s.

Graves, of Princeton, N.J., still runs his own architectural practice, though he is confined to a wheelchair. In 2003, a sinus infection left Graves paralyzed from the waist down.

He and his staff continue to design buildings, but he is perhaps just as well-known among the general public for his design line for Target stores that include tea kettles, mops and brooms.

Abramson said he’s is eager to show off a new Louisville to Graves.

“With Museum Plaza, a new arena, Waterfront Park and with more than $1.6 billion in downtown investment occurring now, Mr. Graves will experience a new, vibrant Louisville,” Abramson said.