Michael Graves Leaves a Light-Filled Legacy in Washington

The architect who designed the Washington Monument's scaffolding died Thursday at age 80.
Michael Graves Leaves a Light-Filled Legacy in Washington
Photograph by Flickr user Lennon.

When the National Park Service announced the Washington Monument needed $15 million worth of repairs to fix the damage it sustained in the August 2011 earthquake, one of the first thoughts was to how the landmark would appear during the lengthy restoration. Almost immediately, the solution came from the archives: intricate scaffolding draped in a blue-gray scrim, and illuminated from beneath the fabric to turn the 555-foot tall obelisk into a column of light. The Washington Monument had looked like that before, during a scheduled refurbishment between 1998 and 2001.

“We know that our visitors are disappointed that they can’t actually go up in the monument,” Bob Vogel, the Mall’s superintendent, said during a July 2013 lighting ceremony. “So, we hope that this will make up for it just a little.”

Vogel was largely correct. One architecture critic even thought the scaffolding should stay up forever, giving turning one of DC’s most iconic sights into a literal beacon visible for miles even in the middle of the night. The lights only stayed up for a few months, and the scaffolding was all gone by last April.

Michael Graves, the architect who designed the scaffolding and scrim in 1998, died Thursday at his home in Princeton, New Jersey. He was 80. While most of Graves’s obitiuaries will remember him for designing more than 350 buildings and a range of household devices—his mid-century modern kitchenware, especially—he’ll have an additional legacy in Washington. And, the next time the Washington Monument needs a facelift, NPS officials won’t have to go too far to figure out how to get the job done efficiently and with unquestionably aesthetic appeal.

Photograph by Flickr user Roy III.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.