Remembering Postmodernist Architect Michael Graves

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By Brandi Andres
A pioneer in the postmodernist movement, Michael Graves dedicated nearly 60 years of his life to the advancement of architecture, art, and design.

Michael Graves was a well-loved architect at Dwell. We were thrilled when he accepted our invitation to be the keynote speaker at our annual Dwell on Design Los Angeles show in 2013. An inspirational and prolific designer, Graves believed in the importance of raising the public’s interest in design and architecture. He even began to make an impact in the medical design world during the last decade, after complications of a sinus infection in 2003 left him paralyzed and in a wheelchair.

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Washington Monument Scaffolding; Washington, D.C. (2013)

Graves was responsible for wrapping the Washington Monument in light-emitting scaffolding during its latest restoration.

Some of his most well-known work was introduced later in his life, when he brought modern home decor and product designs to Target, Alessi, and JCPenney. But it was his time at Harvard's Graduate School of Design that led to his inclusion as one of the New York Five (also comprised of Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk, Peter Eisenman, and Richard Meier) and influenced his early, abstract architecture. 

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Children's Theatre Company; Minneapolis, Minnesota (2001)

One of his first, and to date most controversial, designs was of Portland’s municipal building, which is widely considered one of the first examples of postmodern architecture. Other major buildings Graves designed over the years are the Disney Studios in California, the Denver Central Library, and the Hyatt Regency Fukuoka in Japan.

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Hyatt Regency atrium; Fukuoka, Japan (2003)

On his time at the American Academy in Rome, Graves said, "In Rome, there are streets and squares, and people gather in the squares; they move in the streets. We don’t do that. We make suburbs. The further you are from your neighbor…the better you are, somehow, the richer you are. Not for me."

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Martel College, Rice University; Houston, Texas (2002)

Apparent in his transformative designs, Graves believed that the past influences the present and that architectural design should serve as a representation of the surrounding cultural environment. 

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Ellington Chair (2003)

This leather armchair was designed for David Edward.

"Generally people think that good design is how it looks," Graves told Dwell in 2013. "It is how it looks, how it feels, the character it has, the whole thing in one package. To make something good it takes all of those ingredients worked out."

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Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Minneapolis, Minnesota (2006)

To watch Michael Graves’ keynote address at Dwell on Design Los Angeles 2013, view our video at DwellOnDesign.com. Watch our visit with Graves at his home in Princeton, New Jersey here.

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Private residence; Malibu, California

Now, through April 5, 2015, the Grounds for Sculpture is holding its final run of an exhibition dedicated to Graves’ buildings, products, and drawings in Michael Graves: Past as Prologue.

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Two Slice Toaster for JCPenny (2013)

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One of Graves's larger commissions, the Denver Central Library in Denver, Colorado, stands out immediately.

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