Michael Graves, Architect and Product Designer

(1934-2015)

Black and white photo of architect and designer Michael Graves, New York, New York, 2000
Architect and designer Michael Graves, New York City, c. 2000. Photo by Chris Felver / Archive Photos / Getty Images (cropped)

Architect Michael Graves' postmodernist designs were provocative and innovative. He brought color and playfulness to tall, office buildings, while at the same time designing everyday objects such as teakettles and kitchen trashcans for ordinary consumers. Paralyzed late in life, Graves also become a spokesman for universal design and Wounded Warriors.

Background:

Born: July 9, 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana

Died: March 12, 2015 in Princeton, New Jersey

Education:

  • University of Cincinnati, Ohio
  • Harvard University
  • Fellow at the American Academy in Rome

Important Buildings and Projects:

More Than Architecture: Household Designs

Michael Graves has designed furnishings, artifacts, jewelry, and dinnerware for companies such as Disney, Alessi, Steuben, Phillips Electronics, and Black & Decker.

Graves is most famous for designing more than 100 products, ranging from a toilet brush to a $60,000 outdoor pavilion, for Target stores.

Related People:

Michael Graves' Illness:

In 2003, a sudden illness left Michael Graves paralyzed from the waist down. Confined to a wheelchair late in life, Graves combined his sophisticated and often whimsical approach to design with a deeper understanding of the importance of accessibility.

Awards:

  • 1979: Fellow of the American Institute of Architects (FAIA)
  • 1999: National Medal of Arts
  • 2001: Gold Medal, American Institute of Architects (AIA)

More About Michael Graves:

Michael Graves is often credited with moving American architectural thought from abstract modernism to post-modernism. Graves founded his practice in Princeton, New Jersey in 1964 and taught at Princeton University in New Jersey for 40 years. His works range from grand projects such as the Public Services Building in Portland Oregon to designs for furniture, teapots, and other household items.

Borrowing heavily from the past, Graves often combined traditional details with whimsical flourishes. He was, perhaps, at his most playful when he designed the Dolphin and Swan Hotels for the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. The Dolphin Hotel is a turquoise and coral pyramid. A 63-foot-dolphin sits on top, and water cascades down the side.

The Swan Hotel has a gently curved roof-line topped with 7-foot swans. The two hotels are connected by an awning-sheltered walkway over a lagoon.

What Others Say About Graves:

" Michael couldn’t abide students who didn’t take their work seriously. But he was especially generous with those who did, and unlike most other teachers, he could draw every building he taught them. He was a consummate talent, an artist-architect, and a teacher who challenged how we think by how we see. Very few can do that. Very few ever try. Michael did try, and therein is the mark of a hero, a master of the discipline who passed on everything he knew."—Peter Eisenman, 2015

Learn More:

  • Five Architects: Eisenman, Graves, Gwathmey, Hejduk, Meier
    Buy on Amazon

Sources: Peter Eisenman quote from A Special Tribute to Michael Graves: 1934–2015 by Samuel Medina, Metropolis Magazine, May 2015; "Michael Graves's Residence, Rejected by Princeton, Is to Be Sold to Kean University" by Joshua Barone, The New York Times, June 27, 2016 at www.nytimes.com/2016/06/28/arts/design/michael-gravess-residence-rejected-by-princeton-set-for-sale-to-kean-university.html [accessed July 8, 2016]