Humana Sues Firm of Michael Graves
14. March 2023
The Humana Building (aka Human Tower), second from right, seen from the north across the Ohio River. (Photo: Anindya Chakraborty, cropped from the original at Wikimedia Commons)
Michael Graves Architecture & Design, along with DeSimone Consulting Engineers and Wehr Constructors, is being sued by Humana Corporation over "latent defects" in its nearly 40-year-old postmodern headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky, designed by Graves.
Multiple reports from local media indicate that, according to the lawsuit filed in early March, connections between columns did not meet industry construction standards, with flange-to-flange welds provided instead of the required web-to-web welds. These “latent defects,” in the lawsuit's language, were found when Humana started a renovation of the podium in 2019, after which they investigated the rest of the 26-story tower and found the same defects once removing drywall and other materials to peer at the structural steel.
As such, the lawsuit names the Princeton, New Jersey firm of Michael Graves, who died in 2015, as well as New York's DeSimone, which engineered the steel structure, and Louisville contractor Wehr, which erected the building that was completed in 1985. None of these firms commented on the lawsuit to local media, including the Courier Journal and WDRB. Even with the insufficiency of the welding, Humana said in a statement to local media that “the building has been and continues to be safe for our associates and visitors” and will continue to be safe for the four of five years of construction needed to “rectify some original design, engineering, and construction issues.”
(Read the rest of the report at wdrb.com)
Although the Humana Building is not as famous as Michael Graves's Portland Building, completed three years earlier, in 1982, the postmodern headquarters he designed for the Louisville-based health insurance company is also considered an icon of postmodern architecture. It is arguably a better building than Portland, given its larger square windows and better materials (pink granite instead of painted concrete) — two of the lessons Graves apparently learned in the slight gap between the projects — leading to better interior environments for the employees and a longer lifespan for the facade, respectively. (In regards to the latter, the Portland building was actually removed from the National Register of Historic Places in 2019, as a new aluminum rainscreen system was being installed.)
Emulating the Chicago Tribune Tower competition of 1922, Humana held a competition for its 525,000-square-foot headquarters in 1982. With a thoroughly PoMo design echoing the then-famous Portland Building, Graves bested the modernist designs submitted by Norman Foster, Ulrich Franzen, Helmut Jahn, and Cesar Pelli. Upon its completion in 1985, it seemed that critics loved Humana or hated it, depending on their enthusiasm for the postmodernism then taking over American architecture. Paul Gapp, from the Chicago Tribune, hated it, writing that “as a composition of facades — a 417-foot symbol — is a failure.”
“It is not without its problems,” Paul Goldberger admitted in the New York Times, “but despite them, Humana is a remarkable achievement — in every way Mr. Graves's finest building.” Though not the city's tallest tower, in the decades since its completion the Humana Building has become a symbol of Louisville, the city of 633,000 (more than double its 1980s population) on the Ohio River. The building's iconic status should remain, but it remains to be seen who fits the bill to repair the oversights allegadly made four decades ago.