Michael Rahal was one of the first people I met when I moved to Tampa in 1995. We had so much in common, had some great times, and had some not so great times. He was in the end, one of the most talented and determined people I have ever met. I learned in the first week of November 2014, that Michael had had a heart attack while driving his truck on some back roads near his farm on Caney Fork Road in Fairview Tennessee. I don't know whether the heart attack killed him, or if the crash ended his life here. But the contact said that he had passed from this world on November 1, 2014. I had really believed that he would call me once again . . . but it seems that will not happen this time.
Michael Rahal, whatever you know about him, whatever you remember, if you knew him , or if you didn't know him personally . . . you probably either really liked him or really didn't. And you probably did a little of both now and then. However it is that you knew of him, he was full of life and character . . . moderation did not seem to be a part of his vocabulary. The Design Community has indeed lost a very talented designer, a maker, a scholar . . . a farmer. Mike knew materials, it was part of his being to understand how to make things, know how things go together, about materials, how they feel and what they intrinsically say.
I learned a lot from Michael, but mostly I believe it was the encouragement from him that made the most difference. It was a sort of validation that I am on the right path, that it's ok that I follow this path that I believe I should be on. The path that takes me into a workshop with hands on materials, with welding burning my skin, with cement powder getting in my eyes, with the relentless need to innovate another way to do things. That's the path that Rahal encouraged as right. It was always about realizing an idea in a way that was true to its conception, that could tell a story of its existence through its materiality, its fabrication, and the hands that forged it. Rahal is missed in some hearts . . . at least in mine he is. He was an idealist in many senses, but certainly a realist in terms of design and the value of realizing a vision with purity. He could see - at times - that quality of sincerity, ambition, drive, and integrity in others - all of this in terms of design and making. We had many long talks - and discussions even through snail-mail - about the importance of being connected to our places, of understanding the materials that our surroundings are made of, but not just at a surface level . . . at a level of deep understanding, of a sort of primal connection where one knows how the materials feel, how they smell, what they do when they are heated, or sawn, or filed, or bent, or dropped. These are things that Rahal thought to be important to a designer, one who will compose something.
In his final years I believe that Michael found his real calling and a place in this world where he could be more connected to those things that ground us to our world. It was his vision of a connected, wholistic life . . . a life of farming . . . where one could design his surroundings as a living thing with animals and the seasons, the sun, the land. It was his vision that all of these things should be connected, nurtured, cared-for, and developed in a circular way by us and that it could happen in a natural and peaceful way that would harmonize us more completely with our world. (http://web.archive.org/web/20121217023824/http://www.rahalfarm.com/). His vision is summed up on his last website (now only available through the Wayback Machine on archive.org), and as long as the video is still there, in the video on Vimeo.com. (https://vimeo.com/72828529)
Michael was a visionary, he was a scholar, a designer, a maker . . . Michael was, in the classical sense of the word, and Architect.
You will be missed Michael!