Born on July 9, 1934 in Indianapolis, Indiana, Michael Graves had a childhood interest in drawing and painting that has stayed with him throughout his career in architecture. Michael Graves received his architectural training at the University of Cincinnati in a cooperative program that allowed him to work in the architectural office of Carl A. Strauss and Associates while completing his formal classroom education. It was at Strauss's office that Michael Graves met an early mentor, Ray Roush.

Upon receiving the degree of Bachelor of Science in Architecture in 1958, Michael Graves entered Harvard University's Graduate School of Design and received a Master of Architecture degree the following year. After graduation, Michael Graves went to work for the designer and architect, George Nelson, where his long-standing interest in furniture design was encouraged. Michael Graves's stay at Nelson's office was short-lived however, because in 1960 he was the recipient of the Prix de Rome fellowship of the American Academy in Rome.