Michael Graves (1934-2015)

American postmodernist architect and designer, Michael Graves designed the Indianapolis Art Center, iconic example of Postmodern architecture, and worked on the restoration of the Washington Monument. He was one of the icons of New Urbanism and New Classical Architecture

Michael Graves, c. 1970s. Courtesy Michael Graves Architecture & amp; Design.
Michael Graves, c. 1970s. Courtesy Michael Graves Architecture & Design.

Image source: https://www.artforum.com/passages/stan-allen-on-michael-graves-1934-2015-51897

About his life

Michael Graves was born on July 9, 1934, in Indianapolis, Indiana. He studied at Harvard University and designed modernist private houses before adopting postmodernism in the 1970s. He’s known for designing such structures as the Portland Building, the Humana Building in Louisville and the Indianapolis Art Center. His other projects include the restoration of the Washington Monument and the creation of a line of items for Target. Graves died in 2015 at the age of 80.

Michael Graves' Portland Building.
Michael Graves’ Portland Building,1982.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/fc39ba58-b0f7-4e46-b579-59c19e7d6a6 by Chris Harley

Portland Building, 1982.
Portland Building, 1982.

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/f0224634-cafd-4808-a0e5-f95ff358922f by Me in ME

Humana building, Louisville, KY/USA
Humana building, Louisville, KY/USA

Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humana_Building

What are the main features of Graves’s style?

As he was a disciple of Modernism, his early architecture in the 1960s was imbued with its spirit: predominantly white geometric volumes composed with clean, sparse lines with no ornamentation. Rejection of past references—such as decoration—was a hallmark of his early style, which echoed the works of Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier and the Miesian motto,

Less is more.

Hanselmann House, Michael Graves, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1967.
Hanselmann House, Michael Graves, in Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1967

Image source: https://abuildingaday.tumblr.com/post/127731117445/hanselmann-house-michael-graves-fort-wayne

Examples of Graves’s Modernist sensibilities are evident in the Hanselmann House (1967–71) in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the addition to the Benacerraf House (1969) in Princeton, New Jersey.

Michael Graves, Benacerraf Pavilion, 1969. Courtesy Michael Graves Architecture & Design.
Benacerraf Pavilion, 1969. Michael Graves,New Jersey.

Image source: https://www.artforum.com/passages/stan-allen-on-michael-graves-1934-2015-51897

He also adorned kitchen kettle spouts with whistling plastic birds, built municipal office buildings with cartoonish toy-town facades, and embellished the roof of a Disney resort hotel with a pair of 28-tonne swans. The postmodern American architect Michael Graves, injected more childlike exuberance into his buildings and product designs than any of his contemporaries – and produced some of the most divisive works of the period as a result.

St. Coletta School, of Greater Washington ,1901 . Michael Graves.
St. Coletta School, of Greater Washington ,1901 . Michael Graves.

Image source: https://fotospot.com/attractions/district-of-columbia/st-coletta-of-greater-washington

Credited as one of the originators of postmodernism, Graves developed a style of sampling motifs from classical architecture and blowing them up to become theatrical billboard-sized props, clothing his buildings in historical fancy-dress costumes. It was an attempt to bring back wit, humour and meaning to architecture, as a reaction against the po-faced austerity of modernism.

Team Disney Building, Michael Graves in Burbank, CA.
Team Disney Building, Michael Graves in Burbank, CA

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/ba9a6628-6222-47bb-90fb-b58122b50468 by HarshLight

Some of his other famous works


  • Denver Public Library
  • Portland Building 
  • Sheraton Miramar Hotel, Red Sea, El Gouna
  • Center for the Arts, Princeton, New Jersey
  • Post office in Celebration, Florida
Celebration Post Office,  Michael Graves.
Celebration Post Office, Michael Graves 

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/bf9dd954-45e9-439d-9bb6-caa8bc7c6010 by Joe Shlabotnik


  • Whistling bird, teakettle for Alessi
  • Coffee pot, Tea & Coffee Piazza
  • A collection of kitchen accessories designed for Target
  • Toaster for J.C. Penney
  • Prime TC Hospital Transport Chair, Stryker
  • Table Top, Ilex Architectural Lighting.
Alessi Kettle Black,  Michael Graves.
Alessi Kettle Black,  Michael Graves 

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/88002974-b91c-443b-9b8e-06bd4f191781 by Cooks & Kitchens

Info sources:






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