Gerhard Kallmann died at age 97 in Boston this past week (19 June 2012), with his obituary published in the New York Times this weekend. Along with Michael McKinnell and Edward Knowles, Kallman won the design competition for the new Boston City Hall in 1963 while the three architects were teaching at Columbia University in New York City. Subsequently they formed the architectural firm Kallmann McKinnell and Knowles to produce the building, which was completed in 1969.
Photo above by Daniel Schwen, 2010, under Creative Commons 3.0 license
Described as "brutalist modernism", the label is accurate insofar as brutalism is characterized by raw concrete and other materials that form blocky elements of the building that express the functions of the building within. In its most literal form, the exposed reinforced concrete exhibits the rough surfaces of the boards used to form the concrete in place.
The Boston City Hall is a premier example of this style because the form of the building expresses quite literally the spaces within. The lower levels and lobbies grow out of the surrounding brick plaza and are clad in the same color brick, showing accessiblity to the public functions within. The brick plaza extends through the ground flooor of the building. The ceremonial spaces such as the council chambers, exhibit hall, and the mayor's office, are expressed in the protruding blocks mid-level in the building, reaching out to the people. The administrative offices are contained in the upper two floors which are inclosed in a repetitive pattern of dentils.
As the delegate of our university student chapter, I attended the annual convention of the American Institute of Architects in Boston in May of 1969, shortly after the building's opening. I was enthralled by the building, and took three 36-expoure rolls of Kodachrome slides inside and out. My parents were appalled at the expanse of exposed concrete and couldn't understand why I liked the building. They were precursers of many Americans who didn't understand the building and considered it ugly. As stated in ArchDaily's article on the building, "the mayor of Boston had actually filed a petition [in 2006] to have the building destroyed in order to make way for a better, more efficient building that was 'aesthetically pleasing'.”
Since my trip to Boston in 1969 was one of my first forays out of the state of Montana, this building became the major influence on my architectural and urban planning education. This trip began my transformation from country kid to urbanist, as I understood for the first time why monumental buildings such as this should be an intregral part of the urban fabric. This building, growing out of its plaza with direct relationships to the federal and state buildings across the plaza, expressed for me the nature of American government in its releationship with the people. I also understood for the first time the place of architecture to express the times of the people and cultures it serves -- this building displays the rambunctious energy of the people of Boston renewing their participation in the government and the renewal of their city in planning this area and this monumental building that serves them.
I particulary was impressed how the interior lobby spaces related so well to the plaza and exterior of the building, and were soaring spaces that were breath-taking.
Kallman was quoted in the book "Architects on Architecture" by Paul Heyer (1978):
'We distrust and have reacted against an architecture that is absolute, uninvolved and abstract. We have moved towards an architecture that is specific and concrete, involving itself with the social and geographic context, the program, and methods of construction, in order to produce a building that exists strongly and irrevocably, rather than an uncommitted abstract structure that could be any place and, therefore, like modern man— without identity or presence."
All photos except first photo are from Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons license.