At 97 years of age, the architect Gerhard Kallmann passed away on Tuesday in Boston. Kallmann’s career was ignited with the design of Boston City Hall, a neo-brutalist building that received mixed feelings of criticism and praise upon its completion. After escaping Nazi Germany in 1937, Kallmann studied at the Architectural Association in London before moving to the United States and teaching in Chicago and New York. It was in Columbia University where Kallmann met Michael McKinnell and the two would grow to co-found Kallmann, McKinnell & Knowles in 1962 – the same year they won the competition for City Hall.
More about Kallmann after the break.
In the 1960s, Boston was undergoing a revitalization effort to bring life to the city’s downtown area. As we have shared in our AD Classics section, the City Hall’s presence is marked by an articulated massive concrete facade set beyond a large urban plaza intended to establish a relationship between the government and the public. “Any significant building makes demands so that it cannot be taken for granted; it should be a challenge,” Kallmann told The Boston Globe in 1991.
When the building opened, architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable praised the creation, “Boston can celebrate…The city has one of the handsomest buildings around, and thus far, one of the least understood.”
As the years progressed, admiration for the building grew in the architecture realm, while Bostonians despised the foreign aesthetic. In fact, in 1976, Boston City Hall tied for seventh with Trinity Church for the AIA’s best buildings in US history. However, only six years ago, Mayor Thomas M. Menino proposed selling the building and relocating the city government to a waterfront parcel.
We admire Kallmann’s confidence in his vision as he responded on the 50th anniversary of the building’s competition, “It had to be awesome, not just pleasant and slick,” he told The Boston Globe. Great buildings, he said, should “remind you of ancient memories, history….It’s not a department store. It’s not an office building. Come on.”
Kallmann and his firm’s portfolio also include the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in Cambridge, the Boston Five Cent Savings Bank, the gymnasium at Phillips Exeter Academy, the Becton Dickinson corporate campus in New Jersey, and Hauser Hall and Shad Hall at Harvard. “He and his firm really set a very high standard for the architecture they did. They had a clear vision for what design excellence is, and their buildings all reflected that, so it’s the passing of an era I would say,” said Laura Wernick, president of the Boston Society of Architects.