Neither Gerhard Kallmann nor Michael McKinnell had designed and built a building on their own when their revolutionary design for Boston City Hall was selected as the winner in an international design competition in 1962.
A young faculty member and grad student at Columbia respectively, they moved to Boston, applied for professional licenses, established Kallmann, McKinnell, and Knowles (soon thereafter Wood), and joined the architecture faculty at Harvard. Over the following decades, the firm would win six Harleston Parker Medals for a diverse set of projects across the city, more than any other firm to date.
After early success in the concrete style of the 1960s and some rather slow years thereafter, the 1981 headquarters for American Academy of Arts and Sciences provided KMW an opportunity to pivot forward to express a unique and distinguished voice in the postmodern era and beyond. Paraphrasing Shand-Tucci, their design process seeks to understand and the enduring nature or culture of the site as the point of departure, and to respond with an original building that brings a new and expanded meaning beyond the traditional markers of history and style. In McKinnell’s words, they pursue “consonance without replication.”
Critic Eduard Sekler asserted KMW’s best work “reveals itself only to those observers who penetrate beyond the surface appearances to fundamental constituents - to the most basic, essential experiences of architecture: space and light, structure, construction and tectonics; and, equally important, time - time in the experience of movement through space, or time in its flow from past to future, creating the experience of history.” For Shand-Tucci and others, this ability to deliver layered, thought-provoking, and intellectual buildings that at the same time reflected the reserve and even reticence of their designers and their city, made KMW the contemporary epitome of “Boston Style.”
KSA was honored with the American Institute of Architects' Firm Award in 1984.
Today KMW is a second-generation practice, following the focus and methods established by its founders. It provides comprehensive design services to public and private clients in education, institutions, and government, nationally and around the world. Projects range from small museums to embassies to an entire teacher’s college. Douglass Shand-Tucci's discussion of the firm and its legacy is recommended.
Sources: “Built in Boston,” Shand-Tucci, 1999; www.kmwarch.com.