Lyceum News

In memory of Jon McKee, AIA, Founder of the Lyceum Fellowship

Mr. Jon D. McKee - April 2, 1927 - June 6, 2013

June 11, 2013

Jon McKee

In Remembrance: Jon D. McKee, AIA

Architect, philanthropist and founding partner of Symmes Maini & McKee Associates


Architect Jon McKee, a founding partner of Symmes Maini & McKee Associates (SMMA) and philanthropist died on Thursday, June 6, 2013 at the age of 86.

Born and raised in Montpelier, Vermont, Jon graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with a Bachelors of Architecture in 1949. He joined SMMA founding partners Bill Maini and Parker Symmes in 1958, and requested that the firm be established as a A/E rather than E/A, to emphasize the primary need for high-design quality from an integrated firm. His approach always focused on raising the level of design excellence at SMMA and was evidenced throughout his professional career beginning with his initial involvement with designing all the buildings for the firm. As SMMA grew to become one of the largest design firms in the region during the 1960s and 1970s, McKee was responsible for selecting new designers who showed a high degree of creativity and innovation while establishing a Design Review Board internally to critique and challenge the firm's design solutions.

“Jon created architecture at SMMA,” said Ara Krafian, President and CEO of SMMA. “He sparked a spirit of curiosity and inspiration in everyone around him. He had a tremendous ability to connect the dots between personal interests and the design profession. He was a wonderful man, always paying attention to the person on the other side of every conversation. He will be greatly missed.”

McKee’s design commissions included academic, corporate, and commercial projects throughout New England and were recognized through regional and national awards and honors, in addition to literary recognition by critics and design journalists.

Robert Campbell, nationally renowned architectural critic for the Boston Globe, wrote on McKee’s 1280 Massachusetts Avenue project in Cambridge, “It is a well-mannered delight, a building so exactly right for its site and its use that it makes you wonder why every building can’t be this good. . . . . This is a lesson in good street architecture, the kind of architecture our forebears could take for granted, but which we in our own time only seem to get when we demand it. May it become precedent.”

Known by his colleagues and peers for modesty regarding his professional accomplishments, Jon’s contributions to the profession were celebrated most notably in 2010 when he was bestowed the Award of Honor by the Boston Society of Architects. The Society’s highest individual honor, it was given in part to recognize his philanthropic work with the Lyceum Fellowship. “We believe his quiet, long-term commitment to sponsoring and mentoring students and young architects merits this high honor and the recognition of the Boston architecture community,” wrote the BSA Nominating Committee.

As a young man, McKee traveled extensively overseas, and believed the experience as a traveler broadened his outlook and enriched his professional skills as an architect. Along with Mark Hutker, Peter Vincent, and Steve Arens, he founded the Lyceum Fellowship based on this belief. For the last 28 years, the Lyceum has traveled together for juries in all parts of the US, Europe, Canada and Russia.  The Lyceum has worked with some of the most influential architects in the country to create a project statement for students of architecture to consider for the competition.  Peter Bohlin, Amy Anderson, Robert Campbell, Peter Waldman, Eugene Kupper, Michael Rotundi, Peter Forbes, Keith Moskow, Stanley Saitowitz, Carlos Jiminez, Monica Ponce-de-Leon, Rick Joy, James Cutler, Wendell Burnette, Jeremiah Eck, Sam Mockbee, Brian Mackay-Lyons, Marlon Blackwell, Cynthia Wesse, Charles Moore and many others have been program authors.  And, each year there have been on average three other invited jury members, of equal prominence, to help select the winners.  The Lyceum continues today as a traveling fellowship for architectural students and national design competition created to advance the development of the next generation of architectural talent through travel grants during the student’s academic study years.

Established in 1985, the annual Lyceum awards celebrate McKee’s vision of extending architecture education beyond the classroom creating a vehicle for stimulating perceptive reasoning and inspiring creative thought. McKee stayed involved in the Lyceum throughout his life, personally calling each of the more than 75 student winners to congratulate them and offer advice on prospective destinations.

There will be a memorial service for Jon at The Cathedral Church of St. Paul, 138 Tremont Street, Boston on June 29th at 11:00.