Born on July 9, 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Michael Graves had a childhood interest in drawing and painting that has stayed with him throughout his career in architecture. Michael Graves received his architectural training at the University of Cincinnati in a cooperative program that allowed him to work in the architectural office of Carl A. Strauss and Associates while completing his formal classroom education. It was at Strauss's office that Michael Graves met an early mentor, Ray Roush.
Upon receiving the degree of Bachelor of Science in Architecture in 1958, Michael Graves entered Harvard University's Graduate School of Design and received a Master of Architecture degree the following year. After graduation, Michael Graves went to work for the designer and architect, George Nelson, where his long-standing interest in furniture design was encouraged. Michael Graves's stay at Nelson's office was short-lived however, because in 1960 he was the recipient of the Prix de Rome fellowship of the American Academy in Rome.
Under the auspices of the American Academy, Michael Graves spent the next two years in Rome and its environs, studying painting, and drawing the buildings and the landscape. At the Academy, Graves was exposed not only to the buildings of the great classical architects but also to the writings of the great classical critics and theorists. It was in Rome that Graves finally learned about the language of architecture. Also, in all of his previous education, Graves had never been exposed to the literature of criticism of architecture. This experience at the Academy had enormous influence on Michael Graves's subsequent academic career as well as on his architectural design practice.
In 1962, Michael Graves accepted a teaching position at Princeton University. Michael Graves is currently the Schirmer Professor of Architecture at Princeton. The courses that Graves teaches in architectural theory and composition address various thematic topics including the relationship of buildings to landscape, the traditional elements of architecture, the idea of metaphor in architecture, the contrast between open space and the making of rooms, and the origins of furniture. In addition to teaching at Princeton, Michael Graves has been a visiting professor at the University of Texas at Austin, the University of Houston, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Maryland, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and the New School for Social Research in New York, among others. Graves regularly participates in design critiques and juries for many universities, professional organizations, and publications here and abroad, and he lectures to audiences around the world.
Michael Graves has published a number of scholarly writings on his teaching and his own work. "The Swedish Connection," published in the Journal of Architectural Education in 1975, describes a short design exercise Michael Graves often assigns his graduate design studio. The exercise introduces students to issues of architectural character within an existing context, one of Michael Graves's major concerns in his own work. "The Necessity of Drawing: Tangible Speculation," published in 1977 in England's Architectural Design magazine, is a highly influential and much quoted article characterizing several motivations and methods of drawing and the roles each plays in the process of architectural design. Using the conceptual basis developed in this article, Michael Graves later wrote Le Corbusier's Drawn References, an essay on selected drawings of Le Corbusier, published by Academy Editions in London, as an introduction to a catalog of drawings.
Drawing is central to Michael Graves's way of working on and thinking about architecture, and he is well known for his evocative sketches and drawings. In 1979, Michael Graves was one of the first architects currently practicing to be presented in a one-man show in a commercial art gallery. The exhibition, held at the Max Protetch Gallery in New York, greatly advanced public interest in architectural drawings as works of art. Michael Graves's prints and drawings are among the most collectible today. Graves has exhibited his drawings and models in over 150 exhibitions through-out the world and his work is in the collections of such notable institutions as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, The Newark Museum, the Deutsches Architekturmuseum, the Berlin Museum, and the Canadien Centre of Architecture.
In the 1970s, Michael Graves was known as one of the "New York Five" as a result of the publication of Five Architects, the outcome of a meeting of CASE (Conference of Architects for the Study of the Environment) held at the Museum of Modem Art in New York in 1969. Michael Graves's work was represented along with that of Peter Eisenman, Charles Gwathmey, John Hejduk, and Richard Meier. The work of each of these architects is rooted in modernism and cnaractenzed as "white."
Since that time, Michael Graves's own work has evolved dramatically, relative both to his use of color and to his interest in a figurative architecture that incorporates traditional elements along with the lessons of modernism. Michael Graves was referred to as "the man who is rewriting the language of color" by House and Gardens's editor Martin Filler As a colorist, Michael Graves uses what he terms representational colors, colors that are derived primarily from nature and materials. For example, terra cotta, representing the earth, is usually seen near the base of his structures. Blue used as a metaphor for the sky, is often chosen for the ceiling. According to Douglas Davis of Newsweek, "Michael Graves is a man obsessed with communicating the meaning of every element of his work. His soft, muted colors reinforce this concern for symbolism".
In a monograph on Graves's work, Michael Graves, Buildings and Projects, 1966-1981, an essay by Graves, titled "A Case for Figurative Architecture," discusses the relationship of the human figure to architectural form as figurative architecture, a phrase Graves coined to describe his theories. Figurative architecture reinstates the traditional language of architecture that, unlike the abstractions of much of the Modern Movement, is based on man's social, psychic, and physical occupation of the environment.
For example, Michael Graves would oppose making a full wall of glass, a so-called window wall, as the facade of a building. To Michael Graves, a window wall in architecture is akin to slang in spoken language. Michael Graves would rather see the windows as distinct elements within the wall, framing the occupant's view to the outside, increasing the hierarchical differences between inside and outside, and expressing the general size of the human figure on the outside of the structure. Graves's interest in reinstating the familiar and traditional elements of architecture as distinct elements (walls, floors, ceilings, doors, windows, and columns, for example) does not imply simply returning to the past. Michael Graves is also interested in the positive lessons of the modern movement in architecture and includes both traditional and modern concepts in his palette. A sequel to Michael Graves's 1966-1981 monograph, documenting work completed since that time, is being published by Princeton Architectural Press in 1988.
The Michael Graves office has completed a wide variety of projects that include urban and master planning; corporate, municipal, and speculative office buildings; shopping centers and retail stores; single-family and multiple-family housing; cultural and educational facilities such as libraries, schools, museums, and performing arts centers; showrooms and other special interiors; and furniture and artifacts. With each of Michael Graves's projects, the building's context is of foremost concern. For instance, the San Juan Capistrano Library, completed in 1983, is located in southern California, where Spanish colonial architecture is prevalent; conformance to this style was required of any new development. This requirement prompted Michael Graves to examine the properties of this style as a generic type transformed from its Renaissance beginnings, producing a building that is neither historicist nor superficially derived from local precedents. Another example, The Humana Building, a corporate office tower in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, completed in 1985, is unique to its city and its site. Ints massing mediates the scale between the historic cast-iron buildings on one side and the modern steel and glass skyscraper on the other. The large waterfall fountain located in the ground-floor loggia makes reference to the nearby Falls of the Ohio River where Louisville was founded in the late nineteenth century. The building program required that a public fountain and plaza be included in the project. In order to reinforce the edge of the street, which Michael Graves regards as an essential urban form, these public facilities are located within a loggia under the basic form of the structure, rather than being located in front, as in many modern developments.
A similar concern for the street occurs in Michael Graves's design of The Portland Building, a municipal office building for the City of Portland, Oregon, which won a design-build competition in 1980 and was completed in 1982. The design of the building addresses both the public nature of the program and the urban context. In order to reinforce the building's associative or figurative qualities, the facades are organized in a classical three-part division of base, middle or body, and attic or head, further enhanced by the use of color. The articulation of the various parts of the building on the facades also reflects the internal uses of the building. The Portland Building, because of critical debate in architecture and is considered one of the seminal buildings in the architectural design movement known as postmodernism. The figure of Lady Comerce from the Portland City seal, reinterpreted by Michael Graves to represent a broader cultural tradition and renamed Portlandia, was placed above the main entry to tGraves building as a new symbol of the city. Michael Graves's collaboration with the sculptor Raymond Kaskey earned them the Henry Hering Medal of the American Sculpture Society for incorporation of public sculpture in architecture.
Other notable collaborations with artists have occurred in Michael Graves's design of Riverbend, a summer music pavilion for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, where giant billboardlike statues representing musical muses, illustrated by the New York artist Edward Schmidt, line the cornice of the front facade, and in the competition entry for the Clos Pegase winery in the Napa Valley, where murals, friezes, and a statue of Pegasus were proposed by Michael Graves, again in collaboration with Edward Schmidt. In collaborating with artists, Michael Graves locates the artwork within his buildings to reinforce the reading of the architecture and uses their narrative qualities to reinforce themes related to the buildings' uses and location.
Over the past 25 years, the Michael Graves office has been involved in a number of renovations and additions. In recent examples of such work, Michael Graves incorporates the associative interests of the existing context into the character of the new composition. At Emory University in Atlanta, Michael Graves renovated a historic structure designed in 1916 by the Pittsburgh architect, Henry Hornbostel, now called Michael C. Carlos Hall, to house the Museum of Art and Archaeology as well as faculty offices and classrooms. This award-winning museum, completed in 1985, includes galleries for the University's permanent collection of archaeological artifacts and for temporary art exhibitions. Renovations of The Newark Museum, starting with a 1968 master plan and continuing to major construction being completed in 1987-1989, includes new galleries for the permanent collection, an auditorium, classrooms, a minizoo for the education Department, administrative offices, and support space for storing and curating the collections.