March 19, 2015 6:19 AM EDT

Michael Graves always preferred the approval of the crowd over the acclaim of his peers.

Graves, who died March 12 at age 80, made his name as a pioneer in postmodernist architecture. His Portland Building in Oregon remains the movement’s defining monument in the U.S. The imposing cube of oversize classical elements framed by stucco paneling was intended to counter the homogeneity of the average city center and has divided Portland residents since its completion in 1982.

Graves’ fame grew as he moved further into commercialism. An office building for Disney spliced the Doric geometry of the Parthenon with the Magic Kingdom, the pediment on its facade lifted by seven dwarves. He also designed over 2,000 pieces of houseware, most famously an Alessi teakettle with a bird as the whistle.

He was partly paralyzed by an infection in 2003 and shifted his focus to health-care design, injecting his sense of fun into walking sticks and wheelchairs.

Asked in 2011 if he worried that his populism had damaged his reputation, he demurred: “Just the opposite. It was my hope to do that.”

–DAN STEWART

This appears in the March 30, 2015 issue of TIME.

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