Architect Michael McKinnell, FAIA, who in 1962 leaped to prominence by winning the design competition for Boston City Hall with his Columbia University professor Gerhard Kallmann, died in Rockport, Mass., on March 28 of complications from the novel coronavirus COVID-19. McKinnell was born in 1935 in Manchester, U.K., and came to the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship to pursue graduate studies in architecture at Columbia. Neither he nor Kallmann, a native of Berlin, were licensed architects upon winning the competition. Upon receiving the commission, they founded Kallmann McKinnell & Knowles (later Kallmann McKinnell & Wood, and now KMW Architecture), with architect Edward Knowles.
McKinnell went on to become a tenured professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. His practice flourished as well, growing into one of the most prestigious in the United States, with a enviable portfolio of projects that included embassies, museums, and university buildings. Kallmann McKinnell & Wood received AIA’s Architecture Firm Award in 1984.
For all of these accomplishments, it is likely that McKinnell will be best remembered for Boston City Hall and its 8-acre plaza—one of the most controversial projects in the nation, remarkable for its ongoing capacity to elicit powerful emotional responses, both positive and negative. A hallmark of the Brutalist style, it came into being as part of a massive postwar urban renewal effort that reshaped much of old Boston, and opened in 1968. Since then, City Hall has withstood aggressive efforts to substantially alter or demolish it. Last year, McKinnell joined Boston Mayor Marty Walsh at a celebration of the building’s 50th anniversary.
McKinnell is survived by his spouse, Stephanie Mallis, FAIA, a principal at KMW Architecture, and two daughters from a previous marriage.