SCI Superstar: Michael Graves


You may have heard of Michael Graves’ before, especially if you shop at Target for kitchen gadgets. A man who had been paralyzed for only 11 years but designed both memorable buildings and high-style health products (and teaching design at Princeton along the way), Michael’s goal in architecture was to always be about making functional things more beautiful. And boy did he succeed.

Michael is the mind behind hundreds of stunning buildings all around world, including Disney’s headquarters in Burbank, California. He was a powerhouse architect since the ’80s and continued designing until the day of his death. A few health setbacks never turned off Michael Graves’ desire to design, it only fueled his desire to design.

His disability inspired him to start thinking about redesigning everything in the healthcare world too, from patient rooms to wheelchairs, and he’s come up with some beautiful stuff. Read on for the backstory of one of America’s greatest architects, Michael Graves.

Why he’s fearless

Growing up in Indiana, Michael loved to draw; loved it. So much so that after high school, he went on to get his bachelor’s in drawing. Afterwards receiving his BA, he went to Harvard to get his masters degree in architecture.

He also went to art school in Italy to further foster his love of drawing, and drawing remained one of his favorite activities his entire life. The architect and art school student witth natural talent eventually graduated, and he went to work right away.

Michael founded his architecture firm in 1964, Graves & Associates, and soon began designing many of the now-iconic buildings he is known for; nearly 300 in total and all different types from business headquarters and hotels to government buildings and individual residences. Trophy buildings if you will that have been lauded by presidents, including President Clinton who gave him the National Medal of Arts in 2001.

The buildings Graves and his design team can be credited for are vast. Here’s just a sampling: The Swan and Dolphin resorts in Walt Disney World, the Denver Public Library, the Tajima Office Building in Tokyo, Japan, the Crown American Building in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, the Engineering Center for the University of Cincinnati, the scaffolding for the renovation of the Washington monument, the Miramar Resort in Egypt and the Impala building in NYC.

Michael also dabbled in product design before the onset of his disability, designing watches as well as high-style kitchen gadgets for JC Penney, Alessi and Target, with a sleek teapot with a bird near the spout for JC Penney, driving in record sales. His teapot remains one of his favorite designs.

A mysterious sinus infection however in 2003 changed Michael Graves’ world. Doctors till this day are still unsure of the actual virus that caused his paralysis, however it did try to reoccur and make Michael even more paralyzed. Fortunately, doctors at the Miami Project were able to stop the infection and preserve his movement from the waist up.

What’s next?

Realizing the disability he now had was likely permanent, Michael began to cast a critical eye on everything he was encountering in the healthcare world in regards to design (and absolutely hating the “lazy” Velcr0 solution for so much), from the patient’s room and wheelchair to the gadgets they use; “unnecessarily ugly” he says, Michael wants to redesign it all.

In 2009 he teamed up with Styker, a wheelchair and medical product manufacturer, to redesign many of their products such as bedside and overbed tables. In 2014, one of his last products, Graves redesigned their patient transport chair, the Styker Prime TC, and he gave it a one-time central brake, more ergonomic push handles and swing away footrests. Check out his designs

Universal design is another area Michael has been putting his creative energies into and he worked with the Wounded Warriors Home Project to develop three amazing accessible homes for injured veterans in Ft. Belvoir, VA. He is all about creating completely realistic design that’s functional.

Sadly, last week the renowned architect passed away quietly in his sleep at the age of 80 at his home in Priceton, NJ. The world is a more beautiful place because of Michael Graves, and the disability world has become more beautiful because of him. We will miss him greatly.

– Visit his site:

– Read more from the Washington Post: Michael Graves, innovative architect and designer, dies at 80

Listen to NPR’s tribute to Michael Graves

What are your favorite Michael Graves designs?

Watch the videos!

Michael Graves at TEDMED 2011

Adaptability: Universal Design and the Story Michael Graves

Michael Graves: A Case for Humanistic Solutions in Healthcare Design

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