Michael Graves: Postmodernist acclaimed for his whimsical buildings who later in life became a designer for the disabled

Graves made his name in the 1980s as one of the popularisers of a new kind of architecture

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The Independent Online

Michael Graves was an architect who created whimsical postmodern structures and became well-known later in life for designing products for people with disabilities and household goods such as Alessi teakettles and stainless steel colanders.

He made his name in the 1980s as one of the popularisers of a new kind of architecture. "Michael Graves was a kind of giant of the period of architecture called postmodernism, when architects around the 1980s looked back to European design precedence," said Pauline Saliga, director of the Society of Architectural Historians in the US. "They rejected the sterility of modernism. They were looking for other design inspirations."

Graves designed buildings all over the world, but his most famous structures may be the Portland Building, the city administrative building in Portland, Oregon, and the Humana Building, a 26-story skyscraper in Louisville, Kentucky. Those buildings, which opened in 1982, and others like them, utilised a variety of colours and shapes and have eccentric outlines.

President Clinton awarded Graves the National Medal of Arts in 1999 while the American Institute of Architects gave him its gold medal, the highest award for an architect, in 2001. Later in life, he started began household items such as kettles and colanders for two American retail chains. His Alessi kettle, introduced in 1985, features a spout with a bird that sings when the water boils. It was part of a series of Alessi-style items, including buckets and kitchen timers, that continue to sell well.

In 2003 Graves was paralysed from the waist down from an infection and used a wheelchair for the rest of his life. After the illness, he began a third career, designing for people with disabilities. He designed items including a wheelchair, heating pads and bathroom handrails as well as accessible homes for the Wounded Warrior Project. He was recognised by another president for this work when Barack Obama named him to the US Access Board in 2013.

Born in Indianapolis, Graves studied architecture at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University. He won the Rome Prize in 1960 and spent two years studying in Italy. After he returned to the US he began a four-decade career teaching at Princeton University.


Michael Graves, architect and designer: born Indianapolis, Indiana 9 July 1934; died Princeton, New Jersey 12 March 2015.