Michael Graves. Fargo-Moorhead Cultural Center Bridge, project, Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota, South elevation. 1978

Michael Graves Fargo-Moorhead Cultural Center Bridge, project, Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota, South elevation 1978

  • Not on view

For while it is probably not possible to make a drawing without a conscious intention, the drawing does possess a life of its own, an insistence, a meaning, which is fundamental to its existence. —Michael Graves

Michael Graves designed the Fargo-Moorhead Cultural Center and Bridge as a replacement for a vehicular traffic bridge spanning the Red River and physically connecting the states of Minnesota and North Dakota. On one side of Graves's bridge, in Fargo, lie a concert hall and a public-radio and television station; an interpretive center for the region's cultural heritage lies on the other; and an art museum, shown in this drawing, bridges the two. The drawing is what Graves terms "definitive": preceded by referential and preparatory drawings that are incomplete and fragmentary, it reflects the final proposal for the built object through dimension, proportion, and detail. Graves's palette of terra-cotta and blue visually reinforces the significance of the building as a bridge, an extension of the earth situated midway between sky and water. Inversions of architectural elements do the same: voids in what would traditionally be the sites of keystones, and columns displaced from the sides of arches to their centers, transmit the light above to the water below. In the case of the center column, this vertical connection is literally constructed: the column's capital appears visually as a window of light supported by a shaft of water.

Graves's work, often called "postmodern", is a departure from the functionalist and formal foundations of the International Style. It was significantly influenced by the notion of the architectural sign theorized by Robert Venturi in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966): like Venturi, Graves uses architectural elements representationally rather than structurally or functionally. He is a painter as well as an architect, and his use of drawing alone as a medium through which to design echoes the "pure visibility" of his architecture, in which meaning is collapsed onto the facade in a pastiche of color and form.

Publication excerpt from Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002.
Graphite and crayon on yellow tracing paper
11 7/8 x 11 7/8" (30.2 x 30.2 cm)
Lily Auchincloss Fund
Object number
© 2021 Michael Graves
Architecture and Design

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