Michael Graves

For other people named Michael Graves, see Michael Graves (disambiguation).
Michael Graves
Born (1934-07-09)July 9, 1934[1]
Indianapolis, Indiana, US[1]
Died March 12, 2015(2015-03-12) (aged 80)[1]
Princeton, New Jersey, US[1]
Nationality American
Occupation Architect
Awards AIA Gold Medal[2]
Driehaus Architecture Prize
Buildings Portland Building, Denver Public Library, Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resorts

Michael Graves (July 9, 1934 – March 12, 2015) was an American architect. Identified as one of The New York Five, as well as Memphis Group, Graves was known first for his contemporary building designs and some prominent public commissions that became iconic examples of Postmodern architecture, such as the Portland Building and Denver Public Library. His recognition grew through designing domestic products sold by premium Italian housewares maker Alessi, and later low-cost new designs at stores such as Target and J. C. Penney in the United States.[1] He was a representative of New Urbanism and New Classical Architecture and formerly designed postmodern buildings, and was recognized as a major influence in all three movements.[3]

Personal life

Graves was born in Indianapolis, Indiana.[1] He attended Broad Ripple High School, receiving his diploma in 1952. He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Cincinnati where he also became a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity. He earned a master's degree in architecture from Harvard University in 1959.[4] Graves won the Rome Prize in 1960 and spent the next two years at the American Academy in Rome.[5]

From 2003, Graves was paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a spinal cord infection.[6] He died at his home in Princeton, New Jersey on March 12, 2015 at the age of 80.[7]



The Portland Building in Oregon, 1982

From 1964 until the end of his life, Graves was an architect in public practice in Princeton, New Jersey.[1] He directed the firm Michael Graves & Associates, which has offices in Princeton and in New York City.

Early in his career, Graves was, along with Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk and Richard Meier, considered as one of the "New York Five",[8] a group of New York City architects who espoused a pure form of modernism. In contrast to his later career, Graves spent much of the 1970s designing modernist residences, such as the Snyderman House in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

For most of his career, however, Graves shifted away from modernism toward postmodernism and new urbanism. One of his most famous works, the Portland Building, which opened in 1982 in Portland, Oregon, is regarded as the first major built example of postmodern architecture.[3] The celebrated but controversial building, composed of municipal offices, is subject to an ongoing preservation debate.[3] It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.[9]

Graves subsequently received a number of major commissions. Some of his most notable completed buildings include the Humana Building[1] (a skyscraper in Louisville, Kentucky),[1] the Denver Public Library, and the renovation of the Detroit Institute of Arts. He built many buildings for the Walt Disney Company, including the company headquarters in Burbank, California,[3] Disney's Hotel New York at Disneyland Paris, and the Swan and Dolphin resorts at Walt Disney World. In the 1980s, he also designed an expansion for the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City, but the highly contested design went unbuilt due to local opposition.[1]

Though Graves' prominence as an architect may have reached its highest point during the 1980s and into the early 1990s, he continued to practice as an architect throughout his life, completing various works such as the O'Reilly Theater, the NCAA Hall of Champions, 425 Fifth Avenue, and the Louwman Museum.

Graves also received recognition for his multi-year renovation of his personal residence in Princeton, nicknamed "The Warehouse".[10]

Product and furniture design

Alessi 9093 Teakettle, 1985

In 1985, Graves designed a stainless steel teakettle featuring a red whistle shaped like a bird[3] for the Italian company Alessi, which became the company's all-time bestselling product.[11]

Cedar Gables House (1998) was commissioned by Target Corp as a model home to showcase his new line of housewares.

Graves designed the scaffolding used for the restoration of the Washington Monument in Washington DC.[1] During that assignment, which Target Corp sponsored, he met a Target executive who appreciated his product design and a relationship was formed.[3] He began designing consumer products for the mass market and Target sold his products through their stores.[12] In 1998, Target commissioned Graves to design a model home to showcase the new line of housewares; Graves went a step further did a complete design of the contemporary house with custom furniture, lighting, fixtures, and other unique items, making it only one of three homes he designed and furnished. By 2009, however, he noted the house "doesn't have a wow factor. That gets old quickly."[13] The partnership went from less than a dozen objects in 1997 to more than 2,000 when the partnership with Target ended in 2012.[14] By 2013, concerned about Target's partnerships with other designers with less-successful outcomes, he explored other relationships to bring products to consumers. When the former Target executive became CEO of J.C. Penney, his products switched over to being sold exclusively through J.C. Penney.[14]

After Graves became paralyzed, his use of a wheelchair turned him into a "reluctant health expert",[3] with an increased awareness of accessible design. He focused his attention on the design of wheelchairs, hospital furnishings, hospitals, and disabled veteran's housing.[3]


In 1962, Graves became the Robert Schirmer Professor of Architecture, Emeritus at Princeton University. He held the position for thirty-nine years, while simultaneously practicing architecture, before finally retiring from the post in 2001.[1][5]

In 2014, the Michael Graves School of Architecture was established at Kean University in Union, New Jersey.[1]

Graves received honorary degrees from various universities, including Emory University,[15] the University of Virginia,[16] and the University of Miami.[17]

Awards and honors

Graves was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1979. Graves was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1999,[18] the American Prize for Architecture in 1994 AIA Gold Medal in 2001,[2]and the Driehaus Architecture Prize in 2012. He was also a Senior Fellow of the Design Futures Council.[19] In 2010, Graves was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.[20]

On November 22, 2014, the Architectural League of New York held a symposium in his honor, in which several prominent architects such as Steven Holl and Peter Eisenman as well as Graves himself served as guests and lecturers.[21] From October 13, 2014 until April 5, 2015, the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey held a retrospective exhibition of his work, entitled Michael Graves: Past as Prologue.[22]


Humana Building in Louisville, Kentucky, 1982
Team Disney building in Burbank, California, 1986
The Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida, 1987
NCAA Hall of Champions in Indianapolis, Indiana, 1997
Steigenberger Hotel in El Gouna, Egypt, in association with Ahmed Hamdy, 1997
The International Finance Corporation Building in Washington, D.C., 1992 - 1997, 2005
Museum of the Shenandoah Valley in Winchester, Virginia, 2005
425 Fifth Avenue in New York, New York, 2000

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Pogrebin, Robin (March 13, 2015). "Michael Graves, Who Put Big Ideas Into Small Items" (obituary). The New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast). p. A1.
  2. 1 2 Groom, Robin (January 28, 2001). "Datebook". The Washington Post. p. F3.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Hawthorne, Christopher (March 12, 2015). "Michael Graves dies at 80; pioneering figure in postmodern architecture". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-03-13.
  4. "Michael Graves". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 12 March 2015.
  5. 1 2 Graves, Michael (2012-09-02), "Drawing with a Purpose", The New York Times
  6. Iovine, Julie V. (June 12, 2003). "An Architect's World Turned Upside Down". New York Times. Retrieved 2015-03-13.
  7. Pogrebin, Robin (March 12, 2015). "Michael Graves, Postmodernist Architect Who Designed Towers and Teakettles, Dies at 80". New York Times. Retrieved March 14, 2015.
  8. Goldberger, Paul (1996-02-11), "Architecture View: A Little Book That Led Five Men to Fame", The New York Times
  9. "Portland Building gets a place on national history list". Portland Tribune. November 17, 2011. Retrieved July 6, 2013.
  10. "Dwell Takes a Look Inside Michael Graves' Princeton Home". Curbed National. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  11. "Alessi". Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  12. Pogrebin, Michael. "A pioneer of postmodern design, big and small". Toronto Star, 15 March 2015.
  13. Lynn Underwood, Gables by GRAVES, Star Tribune, September 12, 2009, accessed May 16, 2016.
  14. 1 2 "Designer Michael Graves on Moving to J.C. Penney". Retrieved 28 May 2015.
  15. "Honorary Degrees: Recent Recipients". emory.edu. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  16. "Rita Dove to Deliver Emory Commencement Speech and Receive Two Honorary Degrees from Emerson College and Emory University". virginia.edu. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  17. "History and Honorary Degree Recipients". miami.edu. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  18. Snow, Shauna (September 22, 1999). "Morning Report". Los Angeles Times. p. 2.
  19. "Senior Fellows". di.net. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  20. "City News: Greater New York Watch". Wall Street Journal, Eastern Edition. May 3, 2010. p. A27.
  21. Fred A. Bernstein. "The Mouse That Roared". construction.com. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  22. "Exhibitions". Grounds For Sculpture. Retrieved 16 March 2015.
  23. "MItchell Institute Texas A&M University". Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  24. "Tour Mitchell Physics". Retrieved 20 February 2016.
  25. Zachariah, Natasha Ann. "American architect Michael Graves who masterplanned Resorts World Sentosa dies". Straits Times. Retrieved 5 December 2015.
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