Interior Design Michael McKinnell - Scale Magazine

Architect of Boston City Hall Succumbs to Coronavirus

Michael McKinnell, an architect best known for co-designing Boston’s City Hall, died in Rockport, Massachusetts on March 27 from complications after contracting COVID-19. He was 84 years old.

McKinnell was born in 1935 in Manchester, England and grew up during World War II. He earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture in 1958 from the University of Manchester in England and later attended Columbia University as a Fulbright scholar, earning an M.Arch degree there in 1960. Two years later, McKinnell and Columbia assistant professor Gerhard Kallmann joined forces to enter a competition for the design of Boston’s new city hall. Their unexpected victory, since both were unlicensed and neither had designed a building on their own at that point, served as a launching pad for Kallmann McKinnell & Wood, a practice that would go on to practice for decades to wide acclaim.

Boston City Hall - Scale MagazineWhile the Boston City Hall was widely talked about for its brutalist architecture with many prominent figures like the late five-term Boston mayor Thomas Menino who had wanted to scrap McKinnell’s vision of City Hall and start fresh, McKinnell joked that getting rid of such an imposing concrete structure would be all but impossible.

McKinnell told Mark Pasnik, who co-authored Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston. “But as our engineer Bill LeMessurier once said, it will take a controlled nuclear device to get rid of this building.”

McKinnell continued to have success in Boston and its surrounding areas, designing the Hynes Convention Center, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

While McKinnell’s designs are staples on university campuses like Yale University, Princeton University, and Emory University, the more than 30 years he spent as a professor and lecturer are among his greatest academic legacies. He spent a quarter century at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design; served as professor of the Practice of Architecture at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and held the role of Architect in Residence at the American Academy in Rome for 1989, to name a few.

Throughout McKinnell’s career his native Britain and adoptive United States have both recognized his work with high esteem. Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood received American Institute of Architect’s Architecture Firm Award in 1984, McKinnell also earned an Award of Honor in 1994 from the Boston Society of Architects, held the position of associate member of the Royal Institute of British Architects, and in 2005 the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts appointed him to serve, which he did until 2011.