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

Image source: https://www.dezeen.com/2015/04/22/michael-graves-tribute-lyndon-neri-alberto-alessi/

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.

Portland Building, 1982.
Portland Building, 1982.

Image source: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2015/mar/17/michael-graves-buildings-objects-pictures

Humana building, Lousville, KY/USA
Humana building, Lousville, KY/USA

Image source: https://michaelgraves.com/portfolio/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 (1967–71) in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Hanselmann House (1967–71) in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Image source: https://www.curbed.com/2017/7/6/15928224/michael-graves-hanselmann-house-fort-wayne-indiana

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.

Benacerraf House (1969) in Princeton, New Jersey.
Benacerraf House (1969) in Princeton, New Jersey.

Image source: http://www.metropolismag.com/architecture/remembering-michael-graves-friends-colleagues-collaborators-pay-tribute/

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, Michael Graves.
St. Coletta School, Michael Graves.

Image source: https://www.archdaily.com/tag/michael-graves

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.

Graves' Team Disney Building in Burbank, CA
Graves’ Team Disney Building in Burbank, CA

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
Center for the Arts, Princeton, New Jersey
Center for the Arts, Princeton, New Jersey

Image source: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2015/mar/17/michael-graves-buildings-objects-pictures


  • 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.
Graves with his iconic kettle for Alessi
Graves with his iconic kettle for Alessi

Image source: https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/mar/17/michael-graves

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