Michael Graves, architect and designer, dies at 80


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American architect Michael Graves dies in Princeton at age 80

Graves designed buildings as well as household items like tea kettles for Target, JCPenney

CNN —  

Michael Graves, an American architect and designer, died Thursday at his home in Princeton, New Jersey, of natural causes, according to his firm.

The award-winning architect died “suddenly and peacefully” from natural causes, according to a statement from Michael Graves Architecture and Design. He was 80.

Graves was one of the most revered contemporary architects, known for his postmodern designs, and won hundreds of prizes in his field. He started his practice in 1964, which designed over 400 buildings worldwide.

Architecture critics hailed him as one of the original American voices in architecture as he has designed hundreds of buildings for corporations, governments, foundations and universities.

Among his noted works are The Portland Building in Oregon, The Humana Building in Louisville, Kentucky, the NCAA Hall of Champions in Indiana, and the Team Disney building in Burbank, California.

He has been praised for making buildings functional as well as aesthetically pleasing.

Famous designs

For many Americans, Graves might be best known as the designer of household items. One of his best known designs was the Alessi stainless steel teakettle with a red bird at the tip that sang when water had boiled.

Graves helped propel Target and its collaborations with designers to massive popularity.

His line for Target included practical items from tea kettles and drying racks to whimsical kitchen equipment like an avocado scooper and large bamboo salad tongs. His Target line came with a simple, idealistic premise: “Good design should be affordable to all.”

His designs were also sold at JCPenney and Black & Decker. He was awarded the National Medal of the Arts, as well as the Driehaus Prize for Classical Architecture.

Health and design

Born in Indianapolis, Graves received his training at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard. In 1962, he began teaching at Princeton University.

In 2003, Graves became paralyzed from the chest down after suffering what started out as a sinus infection. Graves recalled being severely ill and examining the ugly sheets and bad design in hospitals. He decided: “It’s far too ugly for me to die here.”

The illness phased in a new chapter in his life.

Struggling in hospital rooms made him determined to improve health care facilities and designs, including more user-friendly hospital furniture for patients.

Michael Graves sketched his vision of a functional hospital room.
Michael Graves
Michael Graves sketched his vision of a functional hospital room.

“I wouldn’t have been a health care nut if it hadn’t been for my paralysis, so something good came from this,” he told CNN in 2011.

Michael Graves: Why hospital rooms don’t work

Throughout his illness, Graves continued to sketch.

“Whether I was paralyzed or not, I would draw, because drawing for me is like playing the piano,” he told CNN. “You’ve got to keep practicing, got to keep doing it. It’s not that you lose it, but you don’t draw as well if you don’t draw every day.”