Michael Graves Turns Tragedy Into Opportunity

Michael Graves - Prime TC Wheelchair

“It was far too ugly for me to die in there.”

Those are the words of designer Michael Graves, known for bringing well-designed products to the masses, who in 2003 suffered from a sinus infection which, left unattended, ended up infecting his brain and spine, leaving him paralyzed. It’s a horrific story which lead Graves to find his newest calling: the design of hospitals and related equipment.

He spent three years recuperating in eight hospitals and four rehab centers, in each one learning more about the limits of the spaces in which he was expected to recover. Because the rooms weren’t built according to principals of universal design (in which elements are created to be both aesthetically pleasing and usable by the greatest number of people, including those in wheelchairs) he couldn’t reach the outlets to plug in his electric shaver (they were too low) or turn on the faucets to wash his face (they were too high). Portable toilets were stacked against the wall, the bedside tables dirty. “It doesn’t make you feel very good when everything around you says ‘sick,’” said Graves, 79.

Many may have taken this as a defeat but he took it as his last challenge. So far he’s designed the Prime TC, a wheelchair that’s ergonomically sound, is made of anti-bacterial materials and is meant to replace the x-frame wheelchair which is still regularly in use, though it’s design has remained unchanged since 1933.

I had no idea that such a tragedy had befallen such a monumental designer but I’m glad to see that he’s taken this as an opportunity. Hospitals for the most part scare the crap out of me and I’m sure I’m not alone. Most seem like spaces designed to fit machines, not people, and hopefully the work that Graves is now doing will begin to make a mark on the health industry.

You can read the full story on Quartz.

June 16, 2014 / By