Monday, February 20, 2017

Michael Graves: by Elizabeth Speed

Michael Graves is an American architect born in Indiana in 1934. He has designed over 400 buildings, which encompass large-scale master plans, corporate headquarters, office buildings, hotels, restaurants, retail stores, sport facilities, healthcare facilities, civil projects, university buildings, museums, theaters, libraries, and housing. He has been at the forefront of architecture since he founded his practice in 1964, which has evolved into two firms--Michael Graves & Associates and Michael Graves Design Group.

Graves received the Prix de rome in 1960 and subsequently spent two years studying at the American Academy in rome. this expedience transformed how he thought about architecture and how he then documented his designs. After studying, he also traveled around Europe documenting the buildings through drawing. Following this in 1962, Graves began a 39 year teaching career at Princeton University, where he became the Robert Schemer Professor of Architecture.
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Drawings from Graves' trip to Europe (

I chose to research Graves because of his large emphasis on drawing as part of the architectural process. As I am taking this course as part of my architecture major, it is very interesting to me to focus on someone who so strongly promotes architects being skilled drawers and utilizing this skill in their design processes.
Sketch and Elevation of Denver Central Library by Michael Graves (1991) (

Graves often acknowledged that in many architectural circles it became popular to declare a death of drawing due to the computer. He viewed this as extremely tragic because he thought that drawings express the interaction of minds, eyes, and hands. Although his office did adopt some softwares, he continued drawing and believed that architecture could not divorce itself from drawing, no matter how impressive the technology got. This is because drawings are part of the thought process of creation. He viewed technology-driven architecture as "parametric design", which allowed the computer to generate form from a set of instructions. He saw these designs as "blob architecture", which lacked the emotional content of a design derived by hand.
Sketch of NCAA Headquarters and Hall of Fame by Michael Graves ( 
Although he was a disciple of Modernism and therefore his early architecture was geometric and clean with no decoration, Graves' eventually rejected this school of thought and became a hallmark of the postmodern movement. This transition was famously embodied in the Portland Public Service Building, which was colorful and decorated with stylized design. It consisted of a teal base, a terra cotta middle, and a blue top. In terms of drawing, his favorite medium was yellow tracing paper, which allowed rich depictions and easy edits.

The Portland Service Building (1982) (
Sadly passing away in 2015, Graves was recognized for his amazing contributions to the field through the National Medal of Arts in 1999, the American Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 2001, and the Richard H. Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture in 2012. Although he is no longer with us, Graves' spirit will live on through those who make effort to continue relying on and trusting hand drawings in their designs and the products of these creative processes.


Graves, Michael, Vincent Scully, and Karen Vogel Wheeler. Michael Graves: Buildings and Projects 1966-1981. London: Architectural, 1985. Print.

Nichols, Karen Vogel., and Francisco Sanin. Michael Graves: Buildings and Projects, 1995-2003. New York: Rizzoli International, 2003. Print.

Serrazanetti, Francesca, and Matteo Schubert. Michael Graves: Inspiration and Process in Architecture. London: Moleskine, 2014. Print.

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