Graves was born in Indianapolis, 1934. He studied architecture at the University of Cincinnati and after graduating continued his studies at Harvard and finally the American Academy in Rome.
Through the late 1950’s and early 1960’s Graves considered himself to be more artist than architect, a sentiment that would affect his works in later life even though he shared a studio with another young architect, none other than the ‘master of minimalism’ Richard Meier.
After a short period of teaching architecture at Princeton University Graves set up his own practice in Princeton, New Jersey. Grave’s early work from this period was influenced by his ‘artistic’ leanings particularly cubist and classical art encompassing bold colour to create changing landscapes.
This bold, minimal style led Graves to be seen as one of the “New York Five”, an exciting group of ground breaking architects with an allegiance to pure form and with hints of Le Corbusier’s work of the 1920’s and 30’s, including his old studio mate Richard Meier. Graves’ architectural fame reached new heights when he designed both the Swan and Dolphin hotels at Disney World, Florida. He has since deigned buildings from France to Japan.
In 1981 Graves was invited to make a ‘guest appearance’ with the subversive Memphis Design Group. A group that revolted against the blandness of ‘black and white’ design so popular at the time, hid themselves away in the Tuscan hills and produced a range of utterly bizarre, undoubtedly colourful, commercially unsuccessful products that now have been realised for their importance and have collectors fighting in the aisles. A group that included, amongst others, George Sowden, Peter Shire, Ettore Sottsass and Natalie du Pasquier. Memphis’ influence can still be seen today in the products from Acme to Bitossi.
Graves’ products (and fame) went global when he entered into a fruitful collaboration with Alessi from which the 9093, Bird Whistle Hob Kettle was born and quickly became an icon of the age. Its playful shape and colour was a distillation of all that was ‘Graves’ with a hint of Disney and it went on to sell over 2,000,000 units.
In 2003, whilst still in full flow, he alighted a plane complaining of having a bit of a cold which sadly turned out to be anything but. Graves had contracted Meningitis. He fought and survived but was subsequently paralysed from the waist down. Far from being deterred from working this had the effect of redoubling his workload but with a focus shift towards solutions that would alleviate or ease problems suffered by those in a similar condition to himself, from wheelchairs to housing for veterans.
Graves passed away on 12th March, 2015, aged 80.