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Doug Michels Architectural Papers

Identifier: 2011-005

This collection includes sketches, renderings, and construction drawings for Doug Michels' design projects; portfolios of his art and design work; 35mm slides and photographic prints; video tapes; movie scripts; publications; personal and business files; and memorabilia. Materials are arranged in series by format or genre and chronologically within each series from 1940s to 2004, with a bulk from 1970s to 1990s.


  • 1944-2003
  • Majority of material found within 1968-2003


Conditions Governing Access:

Open for research.

Conditions Governing Use:

Special Collections owns the physical items in our collections, but copyright normally belongs to the creator of the materials or their heirs. The researcher has full responsibility for determining copyright status, obtaining permission to publish from copyright holders, and abiding by current copyright laws when publishing or displaying copies of Special Collections material in print or electronic form. For more information, consult the appropriate librarian. Reproduction decisions will be made by Special Collections staff on a case-by-case basis.


160.00 linear feet

Biographical Information:

Doug Michels (1943-2003) was an artist, designer, and futurist who left a legacy of brilliantly conceived art, architectural, and media projects. He is best known for his association with the counterculture art group Ant Farm (1968-1978), whose Cadillac Ranch art installation near Amarillo, Texas (1974) has become a national icon.

Although he lived much of his life in the Washington D.C. area, Michels spent important parts of his career in Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Sydney, Australia. He served as a lecturer at the University of Houston (1969, 1999-2000) and executed several projects nearby. They include the House of the Century near Angleton, Texas (1971-1972) (with Richard Jost and Ant Farm); the Teleport media room in Houston (1978-1979) with Richard Jost and Alex Morphett, reinstalled in the UH College of Architecture building in 1998 as the Rudge Allen Media Room; and the flying Thunderbird car sculpture at the Hard Rock Café in Houston (1986) with Not Ant Farm (demolished).

Michels was trained as an architect, studying at the Catholic University of America (1961-1963) and the Oxford College of Technology in Britain, (Dipl. Arch., 1964) before earning a graduate degree from Yale University (M.Arch., 1967). He received national attention at an early age when his designs won awards from Progressive Architecture and other publications. In addition to the University of Houston, he was a visiting lecturer at Catholic University of America (1967), Rice University (1979), U.C.L.A. (1982), and Texas A&M University (1987). Charismatic and irreverent, Michels had several passions that defined his career: dolphins, life in the future, and the automobile in American popular culture. These themes were evident in his work with Ant Farm when the group created Cadillac Ranch, their homage to the Cadillac tailfins. In Ant Farm's Media Burn event of 1975, Michels drove a Cadillac through a wall of burning television sets, and a few months later the group re-enacted the Kennedy assassination for their film "The Eternal Frame." In 1976 he and his Ant Farm colleagues toured Australia, where they staged events such as the memorable "CARmen" automobile opera outside the Sydney Opera House. The same year they received grant funding to study dolphin-human communication aboard the Dolphin Embassy, a floating laboratory in which humans would interact with dolphins at sea. Michels spent much of the next two years in Australia trying to promote the project.

In 1978 Michels returned to Houston where he created the futuristic Teleport media room for Rudge Allen. He also worked as a designer for Howard Barnstone, F.A.I.A., and as a lecturer at the Rice University School of Architecture. After stints with architect Philip Johnson (1979-1981) and the firm HOK (1985-1986), and a private practice in Los Angeles (1981-1984), Michels received a Loeb Fellowship in 1985 to study at Harvard University. There he developed Project BLUESTAR, a water-filled space station for a crew of human astronauts and dolphins. His work resulted in exhibitions at the Octagon Museum in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.

Michels was a futurist; he lived the future fully in his mind and tried to realize it in physical form, both through his design work - which encompassed architecture, industrial design, interior design, and fashion design - and through other visual media. He spent much of the 1980s and 90s trying unsuccessfully to produce science-fiction movies based on the Dolphin Embassy and BLUESTAR concepts. In the mid-1990s he headed a team that created a BLUESTAR interactive computer game.

Michels' love of social commentary was evident not only in his work with Ant Farm but also in his design projects such as the National Sofa, a proposal for a monumental marble sofa and video screen outside the White House (1996) with James Allegro. The Weekly Standard admired this and other projects as examples of his "pointless creativity" (February 26, 1996).

A high point of Michels' later career was his partnership with the Australian artist and designer, Peter Bollinger. The combination of Michels' futuristic concepts and Bollinger's stunning artwork resulted in imaginative designs for the Discovery World Park, a proposed theme park for the Discovery Channel (1989-1994); the Hyperion, a domed city on Mars for a proposed Japanese theme park (1992); the Home to the Future (Watson House), a design for a private residence in the mountains (1992); Aquarius, a proposed entertainment complex in Sydney Harbor (1993-1994); and the Taichung, Taiwan Civic Center competition (1995). The projects won awards for Bollinger's graphics and were well published, but the global financial recession of the early 1990s prevented their execution.

Nevertheless, Michels was undaunted by his failure to realize some of his more complex schemes. Many of his sketches bear the slogan, "Idea by Doug Michels," suggesting that he valued the concept as much as its realization. He saw his role as a visionary and a dreamer.

Michels ended his career in Houston, where he served as a 1ecturer at the University of Houston's Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture (1999-2000) and maintained a private practice (1999-2003). He died on June 12, 2003, on a trip to Australia.

Custodial History:

During his lifetime Doug Michels assembled the materials he called the "Doug Michels Archive." His estate transferred custody of these materials to the University of Houston's Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture in late 2003, shortly after Michels' death. At that time a footlocker of unprocessed Ant Farm-related material was transferred to Chip Lord for use in the exhibition "Ant Farm 1968–1978." Those materials are now part of the Ant Farm archives at the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA. In 2007 the estate of Doug Michels donated the Doug Michels Archive materials by Deed of Gift to the University of Houston. By earlier agreement, four original drawings of the House of the Century (Ant Farm, 1973) were donated to the Museum of Modern Art, New York (accession nos. 310.2007 through 313.2007) (Gift of the Doug Michels Estate and the University of Houston). In 2011 the College of Architecture transferred custody of the materials to the University of Houston Libraries, Department of Special Collections (accession no. 2011-005).

Acquisition Information:

Donated by the estate of Doug Michels.

Related Archival Materials:

Time Slice: Materials for a course offered by Professor Doug Michels of the University of Houston School of Architecture in 1969. University of Houston Architecture & Art Library Special Collections (NA2300H6. U55 1969b)

Ant Farm archives, University of California, Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley, CA.

House of the Century (1972–1973): Drawings by Ant Farm, Museum of Modern Art, New York, (accession nos. 310.2007 through 313.2007) (4 catalog entries).

Dolphin America hotel project (1988–1989): Drawings by Doug Michels, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (6 catalog entries).

Guide to the Doug Michels Architectural Papers
Stephen James
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections Repository

University of Houston Libraries Special Collections
MD Anderson Library
4333 University Drive
Houston TX 77204-2000 USA