Profiling the Masters: Michael Graves

For while it is probably not possible to make a drawing without a conscious intention, the drawing does possess a life of its own, an insistence, a meaning, which is fundamental to its existence.  — Michael Graves

Few are credited with spearheading a single design movement; Michael Graves, well-known throughout the world for design excellence, led three.

A native of Indianapolis, Graves received his architectural training at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University. In 1960, he won the Rome Prize and soon after began a nearly forty-year career teaching architecture at Princeton.


In the 1980s, Michael redirected the architectural conversation away from abstract modernism toward a more humanistic approach to architecture and urban planning, bringing color and art back into the experience of architecture.

Portland Building, Portland, Oregon

Humana Building, Louisville, Kentucky

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels

Michael Graves also transformed expectations for the role of the architect in society, in part through his product design work, which began with companies such as Baldinger, Sunar and Alessi.

Whistling Bird Teakettle and other associated products for Alessi

During this same period, Michael Graves was one of the first architects whose architectural drawings were considered to be original works of art sought by major museums like MoMA, and by collectors through galleries like Max Protetch Gallery.

Fargo-Moorhead Cultural Center Bridge, South Elevation

Denver Central Library Sketch

Denver Central Library Elevation

Denver Central Library 

Washington Monument Restoration, Funded by Target Stores

In the 1990s, as the architecture commissions increased, Graves’s partnership with Target defined America’s expectation that great design should be available to everyone. Since that time, design has become an integral corporate strategy across industries.

Michael Graves Design collection for Target Stores


Michael Graves at TEDMED 2011

Products for the Hospital with Stryker Medical

After his paralysis and for the final 12 years of his life, Michael was a passionate advocate for the disabled and used the power of design to improve healthcare experiences for patients, families and clinicians.

Michael Graves received prestigious awards including the 2015 National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement, the AIA Gold Medal, and the National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton. The Center for Health Design named Michael Graves one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in Healthcare Design, and in 2013, President Obama appointed Graves to the United States Access Board.

Michael Graves receiving the National Medal of the Arts from President Bill Clinton, 1999

President Clinton said, “Michael Graves is a rare individual who finds equal wonder in things both large and small. As one of our century’s most important designers and architects, he has said he gets as much pleasure planning a large building as he does designing a spatula…Michael Graves has created art that surrounds our lives.”

Want to learn more? Check out these documentaries about Michael Graves:

A Day in Princeton, New Jersey with Architect & Design Icon Michael Graves by Dwell.

Michael Graves: The Warehouse, a tour of the home by one of America’s most recognized architects and designers by NJTV.

Architect Michael Graves: A Grand Tour, produced by Chicago Public Television WTTW, on the occasion of Michael receiving the prestigious Driehaus Prize.

Learn more about the masters of design here.

All images courtesy of Michael Graves Architecture & Design

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