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Obituary: Michael Graves (1934 - 2015)

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Postmodernist architect Michael Graves has died, aged 80

News of the 80-year-old American architect’s death broke late last night (12 March) with a statement released by his practice which said it was ‘deeply saddenned’ by the loss.

Graves was a prolific architect, designing more than 350 buildings across the world, and was recognised for ‘transforming the role of architects and designers’.

Born in Indianapolis in 1935, Graves went on to study architecture at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University.

Graves, alongside Peter Eisenmann, Richard Meier, Charles Gwathmey, and John Hejduk, was part of the Modernism-inspired group known as the New York Five.

He founded his firm Michael Graves Associates in Princeton in 1964. The practice’s portfolio was vast, including everything from office buildings, shops, and hospitals, to monuments and university buildings but it was best-known for its work in the Postmodern style.

Some of his better known buildings include the Humana Building in Louisville, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport in the Hague, and the Portland Building in Oregon. He also designed an extension to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in the 1980s but this was never realised.

Portland Building

Graves’ Portland Building in Oregon

Graves also put his hand to the design of everyday household objects including kettles, pepper mills and kitchen utensils, for brands such as Alessi and Disney. It was this product design work which made him a household name in the US.

In 2003, Graves became paralyzed from the waist down after an infection spread to his spinal chord. This led him to begin work on improving the design of hospitals and he became internationally recognised as an advocate for good healthcare design.

In its statement the practice, said: ‘Since founding the firm in 1964, Michael transformed the role of architects and designers, and even the place of design in our everyday lives. For those of us who has the opportunity to work closely with Michael, we knew him as an extraordinary designer, teacher, mentor and friend. For the countless students that he taught for more than 40 years, Michael was an inspiring professor who encouraged everyone to find their unique design voice.’

Graves taught at Princeton university and recently established the Michael Graves School of Architecture at Kean University.

Dawood Farahi, president of Kean University, added: ‘Kean University mourns the loss of Michael Graves, one of our nation’s greatest architects and a man whose vision, compassion and spirit will no doubt continue to broaden and brighten the landscapes of individuals, communities and nations for generations to come.

‘Michael enthusiastically lent his name, his ideas and his passion for architecture to the students of Kean University.  The Michael Graves School of Architecture is a testament to his genius and to his unending capacity to share that genius with students of architecture and design in New Jersey.  We are forever grateful for his generosity and remain committed to upholding his vision in his honor.’   

He received the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects in 2000 and a year later received the US National Medal of Arts. In 2012 he won the Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture.

Graves died of natural causes at his home in Princeton, New Jersey. According to the practice, plans for a public memorial will be announced in the coming weeks.




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