When asked whether he ever expected to receive the Richard H. Driehaus Prize, which honors a living architect whose work embodies the principles of classical architecture, Michael Graves, FAIA, replied, “Not in a thousand years.” As the 2012 winner, he will receive a $200,000 check and a bronze miniature of the Choregic Monument of Lysikrates in Athens, Greece, during ceremonies in Chicago in March. In the 10 years that the award has been given, he is the first Driehaus laureate to also be a winner of the AIA Gold Medal winner, which he received in 2001.
The prize “honors lifetime contributions to traditional, classical, and sustainable architecture and urbanism in the modern world,” according to the release from the University of Notre Dame School of Architecture, which administers the award. “I don’t do strict Classicism,” Graves explains. “My work is based on Classical ideas, but I don’t work in a Classical style.” Graves studied Classical architecture during his time at the American Academy in Rome during 1960, first garnering professional attention with the 1972 publication of Five Architects, which featured two neo-Corbusian projects. Widespread public attention came with the unveiling of the Portland Building, completed in 1980. The design epitomized the au courant postmodern style, and has recently been added to the National Register of Historic Places.

His work includes Walt Disney World’s Dolphin and Swan Hotels, the Denver Public Library, and the U.S. Department of Transportation Headquarters in Washington, D.C. His domestic objects include the now-iconic tea kettle for Alessi and a seemingly never-ending line of products for Target, making Graves’s designs ubiquitous in many American homes.

Graves and last year’s winner, Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, see their back-to-back selections as an opportunity for the award to evolve. “They don’t have to give it to someone who uses Corinthian columns anymore,” Graves says. Stern adds: “It can go to someone whose work embodies and incorporates Classical principles.”

Does this mean a more contemporary, theory-based practitioner such as Peter Eisenman, FAIA, might be next year’s laureate? “Peter thinks he should get it because he teaches a Palladio course,” Graves says—before discounting any chance that Eisenman would ever be seriously considered. But the same might have been said of Graves before now.