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Princeton Architect Michael Graves Is Dead at 80

Graves
Graves

Michael Graves, the postmodern architect who designed the Indianapolis Art Center, restored the Washington Monument, and started his own product lines at Target and JCPenney, is dead at 80. The Princeton University professor emeritus died this morning, several sources confirmed.

His architecture firm designed more than 400 buildings worldwide,  including large-scale master plans, corporate headquarters and other office buildings, hotels and resorts, restaurants and retail stores, facilities for sports and recreation, healthcare facilities, civic projects such as embassies, university buildings, museums, theaters and public libraries, housing and single-family residences. In 1982, he designed the Portland Building in Oregon, which is regarded as the first major example of postmodern architecture.

His product design firm has designed more than 2,000 products, including a variety of consumer products for home, office and personal use, as well as building components such as lighting, hardware, bath and kitchen products. Princeton artist Robert Hummel put together a slideshow tribute to Graves this afternoon that showcases many of his designs.

His firms received more than 200 awards for design excellence. New York Times critic Paul Goldberger called Graves, “truly the most original voice in American architecture.”

Named the Richard H. Driehaus Prize Laureate in 2012, Graves received the 1999 National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton. In 2001, the American Institute of Architects awarded Graves its gold medal, the highest award bestowed upon an individual architect. He was the recipient of the 2010 Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architectural Education, and was also the first architect inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.

“No one has made a bigger impact on the world of architecture, certainly from Mercer County, than Michael Graves. Some people think architects are just people who draw up buildings. They are artists in themselves, and Michael was clearly an artist. He will be greatly missed by the Mercer County community,” said Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes.

In  2003, Graves became paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a spinal cord infection. He later became internationally recognized as a healthcare design advocate, and in 2010, the Center for Health Design named him one of the top 25 most influential people in healthcare design. In March 2013, President Obama appointed Graves to the U.S. Access Board.

Graves was serving as Chair of Priceton-based nonprofit Enable’s 25th Anniversary Gala scheduled for May 2. Graves will be remembered at the event that raises money for programs and services that enable people with disabilities and seniors to live independently.

“People with disabilities have lost a champion,” said Sharon Copeland, chief executive officer of Enable. “Michael Graves understood at the deepest level the challenges they face and used his design genius to improve the lives of millions of Americans. Not only were his designs functional, they also brought beauty and dignity to the day-to-day life of people with disabilities. While Graves’ post-modern architectural masterpieces are well known, many do not know how he turned his own disability into one of the crowning achievements of his career.”

A native of Indianapolis, Graves received his architectural training at the University of Cincinnati and Harvard University. In 1960, he won the Rome Prize and studied at the American Academy in Rome for two years, where he later served as a trustee. He began his 39-year teaching career at Princeton University in 1962, received 14 honorary doctorates, and was a member of the National Academy.

“At Princeton, Michael Graves was much more than a brilliant designer,”  said Deborah Prentice, dean of the faculty at Princeton University. “He was a beloved professor and a much-sought-after thesis adviser,” “His design studios and seminars were legendary among both undergraduate and graduate students.”

Krystal Knapp

Krystal Knapp is the founding editor of Planet Princeton. She can be reached via email at editor AT planetprinceton.com. Send all letters to the editor and press releases to that email address.

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