Graves, designer of master plan for Rice, dies at age 80

World-famous architect Michael Graves, who designed a campus master plan for Rice University, died March 12 at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 80.

Among the popular structures he designed are the Humana Building in Louisville, Ky., the Portland Building in Oregon and the Swan and Dolphin Resort at Walt Disney World, but the Rice community is more likely to be familiar with his contributions to the campus.

Michael Graves

“Michael Graves created a new paradigm for the relationship of Rice buildings and open space with his designs for Martel, Jones and Brown colleges in the late 1990s, and he extended that insight and innovation across the Rice campus for more than 10 years in the 2000s,” said David Rodd, university architect for Rice.

“Michael’s ideas presaged some of the goals of Rice’s Vision for the Second Century, as his planning transformed the campus as well as our imagination of what it could be. His work was at once revolutionary and preservative,” Rodd said. “Michael was a resilient man and a steadfast advocate for all, a gentle soul with an intense and dauntless intelligence, a natural humanist and a great friend to Rice University.”

In a 2002 story in Rice News, Chris Dow noted that Graves referred to himself as a “general practitioner” of design and never limited his work just to buildings. “He has achieved the status of household name by turning his hand to everything from master planning to interior design to creating useful objects for the home,” Dow wrote.

Graves designed the masters’ houses for Martel and Jones colleges with floor plans that are mirror images of each other, but the buildings had “distinct personalities,” Dow said.  “The houses came as packages, complete with furniture, handwoven area rugs and furnishings designed by Graves.”

The kitchen in the Martel House was equipped with knives, a tea kettle, soap dispenser, pots and pans and other objects designed by Graves. “Graves’ curvilinear kitchen objects are as whimsical as they are functional,” Dow wrote. “The spout of the tea kettle, for instance, ends in a policeman’s whistle that sounds when the water boils.”

Martel College was designed by Michael Graves.

Graves attended the 2002 dedication of Rice’s ninth residential college — Martel — which he designed. It’s the only college at Rice that has its own marble Sallyport. Graves also designed the upgrade and expansion of Jones and Brown colleges.

In the early 2000s, when Rice began thinking more about a master plan for its second century, the university engaged Graves, who was then an award-winning principal and president of Michael Graves & Associates Inc. and the emeritus Robert Schirmer Professor of Architecture at Princeton University, where he taught for many years.

In a 2003 interview with Rice News, Graves discussed what goes into a master plan: “Master plans exist as strategies of accommodation, with a vision and a certain amount of rationality and feeling in what you do. But you are also trying to keep from precluding options that successors to all of us will have in their minds in terms of when the future is finally here. It’s not a way of sidestepping issues; issues are really what
the exercise is about.”

Graves elaborated on why he was interested in Rice: “I think most architects would find the beginnings of this place so engaging. Cram’s preliminary plan was so thoughtful in the way it was developed — both in the overall strategy and in the detail of every building. It set the stage for the physicality of this university. You can think of alternative examples that are not so interesting — other schools or universities where it was more haphazard.”

Sarah Whiting, dean of the Rice School of Architecture and the William Ward Watkin Professor of Architecture, knew Graves before she came to Rice. He was her master’s thesis adviser at Princeton, and she also worked for him.

Among Graves’ many honors are the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton and the American Institute of Architects’ gold medal – the institute’s highest award for an architect.


About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.