Alfred University News

Michael McKinnell, architect who designed Miller buildings, Ceramic Art Museum, passes away

Michael McKinnell in his painting studio
Michael McKinnell in his painting studio

Renowned architect Michael McKinnell, who designed three of Alfred University’s most unique and striking buildings, passed away on March 27 in Beverly, MA, a victim of the coronavirus. McKinnell, famed for his co-design of Boston City Hall, was 84.


ALFRED, NY – Renowned architect Michael McKinnell, who designed three of Alfred University’s most unique and striking buildings, passed away on March 27 in Beverly, MA, a victim of the coronavirus. McKinnell, famed for his co-design of Boston City Hall, was 84.

McKinnell was a close friend of Marlin Miller, ’54, H ’89, H ’19, an Alfred University trustee and one of the University’s most generous benefactors, and Wayne Higby, director of the Alfred Ceramic Art Museum.

He designed the Miller Performing Arts Center (completed in 1995), Miller Theater (2010) and the Ceramic Art Museum (2016), which were funded by gifts from Miller.

New York Times obituary for Michael McKinnell

“Certainly, one of Alfred University’s claims to fame is the signature architecture Michael McKinnell designed for the University,” Higby said. “His very special gift was inextricably tied to Marlin’s gift of these facilities.”

McKinnell also designed Miller’s home in Reading, PA, and the headquarters of Arrow International, the company Miller founded in 1975 in Reading.

Higby said he became friends with McKinnell in 2004, when he met him at Higby’s studio in Alfred. At the time, Higby was working on a porcelain tile installation, EarthCloud, which had been commissioned for the Miller Performing Arts Center. Higby explained how McKinnell reacted to EarthCloud by responding to it with his design for Miller Theater, which was completed six years later.

He described McKinnell as “an exceptional architect, an artist, an intellectual, a man of deep perceptual insight, and an elegant human being.”

McKinnell contributed to the final section of the book, Materiality: The Miller Ceramic Art Collection, which Higby co-designed and edited. This section is a 34-page full color, illustrated presentation on the buildings McKinnell collaborated on with Miller, and includes artwork commissioned to enhance these structures.

In McKinnell’s contribution to the book, titled Marlin Miller – Parton: A Very Personal Contribution, the architect credits Miller for helping him rediscover his passion for his work. Following the design of Boston City Hall in 1962 with his partner, Gerhard Kallmann, McKinnell engaged in what was then the popular post-modern style of architecture, which he came to feel lacked authenticity and meaning. McKinnell recalls a turning point at this time in his career.

“Marlin asked me to design a new headquarters for his firm, Arrow International,” McKinnell wrote. “This was followed by five more building commissions, each characterized by Marlin’s intense and unremitting engagement in the process of design. Through this work together, my self-confidence as a designer was restored and we— Marlin and I— made architecture of which I am proud.”