The 50-year-long career of Michael Graves—prolific architect, product designer, and artist–is being celebrated in a retrospective at Hamilton, N.J’s Grounds for Sculpture. Past as Prologue opening October 18, will display everything from little-seen projects from the 1960s to architectural designs currently on the boards, furniture and product designs, paintings and sculpture, and never-before-seen drawings.
Graves, who began his career designing houses in the 1960s, went on to become a trailblazer of post-modernism, departing from the aesthetic simplicity of modernism. His Portland Municipal Services Building is considered one of the earliest large-scale examples of the style. He later expanded into product design, creating products for companies like Alessi, and was one of the first prominent designers to work with Target.
In 2003, a mysterious infection left Graves paralyzed from the waist down, but barely slowed his career. Though now confined to a wheelchair, he still runs two firms, Michael Graves & Associates and Michael Graves Design Group, and has transformed his experience into a broader mission to improve health care through design.
With such a varied and fruitful career to reflect on it’s perhaps no surprise that Graves, 80, comes across as a pretty to-the-point guy. In a phone interview, the terse architectural master spoke to Co.Design about his work, his career, and his advice to designers.
Co.Design: Is there a common link between your work across disciplines–art, architecture, and design?
Michael Graves: The link is also humanism, whether I’m working in product design or architecture. It’s always about the human being, the human body, the human psyche.
After 50 years in practice, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned?
To get the next job.
What design were you most excited to have featured in the retrospective?
You’re always excited about the one you’re currently working on. I’m working on a school of architecture in China. It’s rare that an architect gets to design a school of architecture, and here I get to do it. I’m so pleased that they asked me.
I taught at Princeton for 39 years, and the school of architecture on the campus is the worst building on the campus.
What words of wisdom do you have for young designers?
You can never draw enough or read enough–reading about architecture, in other words.
Do you have a favorite book?
All the historical volumes on the beginning of architecture–western architecture–such as Vitruvius, and Palladio, and all of the masters of the Renaissance.
Do you have any regrets about your career?
Actually no, it came out more or less the way I thought it would. I certainly can’t complain.
Have you had to deal with many professional rivalries?
So do you just take them in stride?
That’s all you can do.
Is there anything else you’re excited about in the upcoming show?
It’ll be amazing to see all that work from so long ago, and see now how it manifests itself with the current work.
Do you think the older work has stood the test of time, or are there things you would have changed?
I think it has, or we wouldn’t be talking.