Learning architecture from the master
SOUTH BEND -- Call it trial by fire.

Several University of Notre Dame architecture students this week received verbal critiques of their work from famed architect and designer Michael Graves.

"Why do you use so much glass?" Graves asked one student about her plan for a Chicago high rise.

"I just don't understand how you can walk the halls of this school every day and design a glass prism," he said, referring to Notre Dame's reputation for training its architecture students to use classical design in contemporary projects.

"I'm picking on you because you're here. I would do the same for others," Graves said in a lighter tone.

"I'm preparing you for your first client meeting," he told another student while posing questions about a project.

Graves was on campus as the 2012 recipient of Notre Dame's Driehaus Prize for architecture.

Graves met Tuesday with a small group of fifth-year students for a critique session on their studio projects, which were individual plans for a Chicago high-rise apartment-hotel tower. He offered frank assessment of their work.

Student Julian Murphy explained how his tower's arched front entrance was inspired by the old Chicago Stock Exchange building.

"It's an entrance sized to the building. You've made it scaled to us," Graves said. He suggested the upper level apartments might benefit from a window design different from the hotel floors below, to give the upper structure a more residential appearance.

Murphy said later he was nervous making the presentation to Graves, but found the critique to be spot on. He studied many of Graves' buildings while he was working on the high-rise project, and he admires the master architect's work.

"It's unique and classical, without being literally so. He take the idea of classicism and applies it in ways you wouldn't expect," Murphy said.

Graves, born and raised in Indianapolis, is the first native Indiana architect to receive the Driehaus Prize.

Early in his career, Graves was a committed modernist. But that changed.

He designed the Portland Building, a 15-story municipal office building in Portland, Ore., that opened in 1982. The building was a radical departure for large office buildings of that era, which were mainly modernist. The Portland Building is considered the first major postmodern building.

Graves taught full time at Princeton University for nearly 40 years while also practicing. He's designed resorts, post offices, skyscrapers and many other projects, as well as a line of popular household items sold at Target stores.

Student Danielle Murphy showed Graves her tower design, which features lots of glass and slanted roof lines. He raised questions about how the slanted tops would affect the ability of residents to use the space inside.

Murphy said it's nerve-racking to describe one's work to a famous architect, but said his criticisms were ones she anticipated. "Everyone knows they have certain weaknesses in their projects," Murphy said. For those studying classical architecture with the intent of practicing contemporary work, Graves "is one of the perfect precedents to study," she said.

When student Geoff Barnes presented his project, Graves voiced concerns about the building's roof, which features an artistic top reminiscent of a fountain pen. Then Graves complimented him on the varied pattern of the building's front. "It gives a syncopation to the facade that works quite nicely," he said.