Michael Graves (1934 – 2015) – American architect and industrial designer

Michael Graves featured image
Michael Graves featured image

Michael Graves (1934 – 2015) was an architect and industrial designer from the United States. He was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, and lived and worked in Princeton, New Jersey.


Graves graduated from Broad Ripple High School in Indianapolis in 1952 and earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from the University of Cincinnati in 1958.


He worked as an artist on 10th Street in New York in the late 1950s and early 1960s, sharing a studio with Richard Meier. He taught architecture at Princeton University as the Schirmer Professor of Architecture beginning in 1962. In 1964, he established his architecture firm in Princeton, New Jersey. Classical art and Cubist painting influenced his early work. He used colour to create a metaphorical landscape with his structures. Known only for his drawings until 1982, when his Post-Modern Public Services Building in Portland, Oregon was completed, he was a member of the ‘New York Five’ group of architects in the early 1970s.

  • Alessi design collection
  • Toaster 1989 by Michael Graves
  • The Mickey Mouse Gourmet Collection by Michael Graves

(The other architects in the ‘New York Five’ were Richard Meier, John Hejduk, Peter Eisenman, and Charles Gwathmey.) Graves was better known for his furniture and furnishings than for his architecture at this point. Sunar Hauserman created his first furniture collection in 1977. He created widely published furniture designs for Memphis in the early 1980s, including the 1981 Plaza dressing table. His 1985 stainless-steel teapot for Alessi, with its ‘fledgeling’ whistle, became a popular Post-Modern design icon, selling over 500,000 pieces. Saways & Moroni created the MG2 armchair and MG3 club chair in 1985.

Graves’ designs were influenced by mass-produced goods from the 1930s and 1940s, early 19th-century neo-classical designs, and the Wiener Werkstatte.

He and ten other architects/designers created services for the Alessi Tea and Coffee Piazza project in 1983. He created carpet designs for Vorwerk’s Dialog collection in 1988 and ceramics by Swid Powell, including the 1985 Big Dripper coffee pot. Kenneth Smith’s Arkitektura firm produced his 1989 Kyoto Collection of furniture. Dunbar made his furniture for the Disney corporate offices in 1990, but he designed it earlier.

  • In 1993, he opened his retail store in Princeton, New Jersey. 
  • He created the Mickey Mouse teapot in 1993.
  • Architecture in the United States included the 1967 Hanselmann house in Fort Wayne, Indiana; 
  • The 1972 Snyderman house in Fort Wayne, Indiana; 
  • The 1977-78 Fargo-Moorhead Cultural Center; 
  • the 1978 New Children’s Museum; 
  • The 1979—82 Public Services Building in Portland, Oregon; 
  • The 1982—85 Humana building in Louisville, Kentucky; the 1990 Newark Museum wing; 
  • The 1989 Disney World Dolphin Hotel and the 1990 Swan Hotel in Orlando, Florida; and 
  • The 1990 Swan Hotel in Orlando, Florida. 
  • 1989-90 Whitney Museum of American Art addition; 
  • Emory University Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia; 
  • San Juan Capistrano, California library; and 
  • Pegase di Domaine Clos winery in Napa Valley, California. 
  • Graves and his colleagues created the resort site plan, Euro Disneyland, Marne-la-Vallée, where he designed the New York Hotel. 

He mixed Biedermeier furniture with his designs in his own home.

Later years

Graves retired as a Princeton University architecture professor in 2001, but he remained active in his architecture and design firm. During the last decade of his life, he also became an advocate for the disabled. Graves’ use of a wheelchair increased his awareness of the needs of the disabled after he became paralysed from the waist down in 2003 as a result of a spinal cord infection. Graves adapted his home to meet his accessibility needs and resumed his architectural and design work after weeks of hospitalisation and physical therapy. In addition to other types of buildings and household products, Graves designed wheelchairs, hospital furnishings, hospitals, and disabled veteran’s housing.


  • In 1979 Graves was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects.
  • Graves served as a trustee of the American Academy in Rome and was the president of its Society of Fellows from 1980 to 1984.
  • In 1986 Graves received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement.
  • In 1994 he was awarded the American Prize for Architecture.
  • President Bill Clinton awarded Graves the National Medal of Arts in 1999.
  • Graves was voted GQ’s Man of the Year in 1999.
  • Graves was awarded the American Institute of Architects’ AIA Gold Medal in 2001. His career was also recognised with an AIA Presidential Citation and the Topaz Medallion from the AIA/ACSA.
  • Graves was the first recipient of the Michael Graves Lifetime Achievement Award from the AIA-NJ.
  • Graves received honorary degrees from the University of Miami in 2001.
  • In 2002 the Indiana Historical Society named Graves as an Indiana Living Legend
  • .In 2009, Graves was named a Design Futures Council Senior Fellow, one of the twelve honorees selected that year.
  • In 2010 Graves was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
  • The Center for Health Design and Healthcare Design magazine recognised Graves as one of the top twenty-five “most influential people in healthcare design” in 2010.
  • Graves was named the Driehaus Architecture Prize in 2012.
  • Graves was awarded an honorary degree from Emory University in 2013.
  • From October 13, 2014, to April 5, 2015, in honour of the fiftieth anniversary of Graves’s firm, Michael Graves Architecture and Design, the Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, New Jersey, held a retrospective exhibition, “Michael Graves: Past as Prologue.”
  • On November 22, 2014, the Architectural League of New York held a daylong symposium in his honour at the Parsons School of Design. Several prominent architects, such as Steven Holl and Peter Eisenman, as well as Graves, served as guests and lecturers.
  • In 2015 the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum posthumously awarded Graves a National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement.


Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The Design Encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

Wikipedia contributors. (2021, April 27). Michael Graves. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23:32, May 19, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Michael_Graves&oldid=1020152698

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