Graves, Michael

Graves, Michael
born July 9, 1934, Indianapolis, Ind., U.S.

U.S. architect and designer.

He studied at Harvard University and in 1962 began a long teaching career at Princeton University while designing private houses in the abstract and austere style of orthodox Modernism. In the late 1970s he rejected Modernist expression and began seeking a larger, postmodernist vocabulary. The hulking masses of the Portland Building in Portland, Ore. (1980), and the Humana Building in Louisville, Ky. (1982), display his highly personal, Cubist rendering of such Classical elements as colonnades and loggias. Though considered somewhat awkward, these and his later buildings (e.g., Indianapolis Art Center, 1996) have been acclaimed for their ironic interpretation of traditional forms. Among his later projects were the restoration of the Washington Monument (2000) and the creation of a line of household items, including kitchenware and furniture, for the discount retailer Target.

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▪ 2002

      In a ceremony on Feb. 16, 2001, American architect Michael Graves was honoured with what many in his field considered the ultimate compliment—recognition of excellence by one's own peers—when he was presented with the 2001 Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects, the AIA's lifetime achievement award. Graves's designs had ranged from large multiuse buildings, office interiors, and hotels to private domestic commissions and a host of consumer products.

      Graves was born on July 9, 1934, in Indianapolis, Ind. He earned degrees in architecture from the University of Cincinnati, Ohio, and Harvard University in 1958 and 1959, respectively. In 1960 he attended the American Academy in Rome. The influence of Italian architecture and design was clearly present in his work, as were the colours that reflected the mood of Tuscany and the Mediterranean—warm terra-cotta tones, azures, and reds—and that figured prominently in the overall conception of his projects.

      Influential as a theorist as well as a practicing architect and designer, Graves had taught at Princeton University in the school of architecture since 1962; the offices of his firm were also located in the town of Princeton. Though some described Graves as a “Postmodern classicist,” he resisted such a categorization. His style was marked by a synthesis of classical elements, strong geometric shapes, and frequent playful touches. In the Renaissance-inspired facade for his design of the Walt Disney Corp. headquarters, figures of the Seven Dwarfs were positioned across the entablature in place of ordinary columns. Some of his other well-known projects included the Swan and Dolphin hotels at Disney World in Orlando, Fla., and the Humana Building in Louisville, Ky.—a 27-story high-rise with a dramatic glass pyramid over its entrance and an open porch area on the 25th floor. Graves's projects were purposefully geared toward capturing public attention. In late 1998 and for the following year and a half, visitors to Washington, D.C., saw his inventive interpretation of scaffolding enshrouding the Washington Memorial during its renovation. Public reactions to Graves's solution were mixed; the nearly 58 km (36 mi) of aluminum scaffolding covered with a layer of blue mesh took four months to erect. The scaffolding was intended to perform on both functional and aesthetic levels, protecting workers while maintaining a certain visual interest during the restoration.

      The extra-architectural nature of this project pointed to the breadth of Graves's interests and the range of his endeavours. In addition to buildings and interior spaces, he designed small accessories and household objects that bore his personal stamp, including lamps, salt and pepper shakers, bookends, watches, picture frames, and, most famously, the Alessi stainless-steel teakettle with instantly recognizable bird spout and blue handle. His design-friendly products were also featured at discount chain Target Corp. stores. Despite the scale or purpose, Graves approached each project with the same humanist philosophy of design that he had worked to refine for nearly 40 years.

Meghan Dailey

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▪ American architect and designer
born July 9, 1934, Indianapolis, Ind., U.S.
 American architect and designer, one of the principal figures in the postmodernist movement.

      Graves trained to be an architect at the University of Cincinnati (Ohio) and at Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.), earning a master's degree at Harvard in 1959. He then studied in Rome from 1960 to 1962 and upon his return to the United States took a teaching position at Princeton University (N.J.), becoming a full professor there in 1972.

      Graves began his career in the 1960s as a creator of private houses in the abstract and austere style of orthodox Modernism, his compositions influenced by the work of Le Corbusier (Corbusier, Le). In the late 1970s, however, Graves began to reject the bare and unadorned Modernist idiom as too cool and abstract, and he began seeking a richer architectural vocabulary that would be more accessible to the public. He soon drew remarkable attention with his designs for several large public buildings in the early 1980s. The Portland Public Service Building (usually called the Portland Building) in Portland, Ore. (1980), and the Humana Building in Louisville, Ky. (1982), were notable for their hulking masses and for Graves's highly personal, Cubist interpretations of such classical elements as colonnades and loggias. Though somewhat awkward, these and other of Graves's later buildings were acclaimed for their powerful and energetic presence.

      By the mid-1980s Graves had emerged as arguably the most original and popular figure working in the postmodernist idiom. He executed architectural and design commissions for clients around the world. In the early 1980s he created a playful and iconic teakettle (as well as a number of additional products) for the Alessi design firm, and he later created a line of household items, including kitchenware and furniture, for the discount retailer Target.

      Among his later large-scale projects were the restoration of the Washington Monument (2000) and the expansion of the Detroit Institute of Arts (completed 2007). In 2001 Graves was awarded the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal (AIA) for lifetime achievement.

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Universalium. 2010.

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