Skip to main content

Michael Kalil papers

 Collection
Identifier: KA-0119-01

Summary

Michael Kalil (1943-1991) was an interior architect, philosopher, educator and artist, known for his innovative work with new materials and for humanizing digital technologies. From 1981 to 1991, he was the principal of Kalil Designs/Kalil Studio, a firm that specialized in high profile commercial, prototype and theoretical, and residential design commissions. Kalil also was an adjunct faculty member at the Parsons School of Design, and taught at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The collection includes Kalil's personal and professional papers, including original artwork, sketchbooks, journals, photographs, project records, architectural drawings, photoprints and sketches, design prototypes, and posthumous materials.

Dates

  • 1966 - 2004
  • Majority of material found within 1966 - 1991

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research use. Please contact archivist@newschool.edu for appointment.

Use Restrictions

To publish images of material from this collection, permission must be obtained in writing from the New School Archives. Please contact: archivist@newschool.edu.

Biographical note

Michael Thomas Kalil (1943-1991) was born in Lowell, Massachusetts and raised in Rochester, New York. Between 1962 and 1965, he studied theology at St. Basil’s Seminary in Methuen, Massachusetts while studying painting and sculpture at the nearby St. Anselm College. In 1965, Kalil left seminary, moved to New York City, and entered Pratt Institute to study design and architecture. In 1968, Kalil left Pratt prior to obtaining a degree, and instead found design-related employment with several of America’s leading designers and firms, including Ward Bennett (who became a life-long mentor and friend), Walter Dorwin Teague and Associates, and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. During this time, Kalil also traveled the U.S., South America and Mexico, and developed an aesthetic sense informed by pre-Columbian and non-Western architecture, classically derived principles of form, and modernist design. In 1972, Kalil immersed himself in the arts of stone carving, metalwork and weaving during a nine-week residency at Skowhegan.

During the 1970s, Kalil supported himself as a decorative arts object designer and by taking on interior architectural design commissions (including remodeling apartments in the building he lived in). He also launched his career as a design educator. In 1973, he was hired as an adjunct professor at Parsons School of Design, and he also taught at the New York School of Interior Design. In 1979, along with Giuseppe Zambonini, Kalil founded the Open Atelier of Architecture in the downtown warehouse district of Tribeca. The Open Atelier was an innovative, non-accredited design school that presented an array of courses in the historical, theoretical and practical aspects of the design process. By 1981, Kalil had formally established his own interior architecture firm, Kalil Designs (re-named Kalil Studio in the mid-1980s). As principal and self-styled "space engineer," Kalil rapidly gained international recognition for his innovative work with mechanical and digital technologies and new materials, and for his rigorous application of harmonic proportions and "sacred geometry" to the interior spaces he designed. Among Kalil's clientele were Tiffany & Company, The Museum of Modern Art Strata Oil & Gas, Armstrong World Industries, Dunbar Furniture Company, and Synchronal Corporation. He also won numerous high-end residential commissions. Notable Kalil Studio colleagues, collaborators and associates include Peter Barna, Jean Gardner, Karyn Issa Ginsberg, Martin Spegiel, Nader Ardalan and Ton Alberts.

Many of the core design concepts that Kalil applied to his realized work were derived from a series of ongoing prototype and theoretical investigations (Elysian Fields I, II and III). These commissioned or independent projects were supported by grants, or by his commercial and residential projects. Prototype designs include an award-winning prototype of an automated office space for Armstrong World Industries, and a Space Station habitation module prototype (HM1) for NASA (1983-1986).

In the early 1980s, Kalil contacted NASA in an effort to research lightweight metals and robotic technologies applicable to his ideas regarding kinetic and modular interior spaces. NASA took an immediate interest in Kalil’s work and invited him and Martin Spiegel, a friend and colleague, to sit in at monthly Human Factors planning meetings in Washington D.C. This led to an invitation by Brian Kramer, NASA’s Director of Human Factors, for Kalil to give a presentation to NASA about his prototype work for Armstrong. Soon thereafter, Kalil Studio was invited to participate in a two-phase grant cycle directed by NASA engineer Marc Cohen to explore design solutions and produce a scale model prototype of living quarters aboard the International Space Station. During this project, Kalil, in close collaboration with design educator, artist and author, Jean Gardner, developed the notion of "quantum architecture"-- an integrative, "New Age", and postmodern theory-inflected thesis that addressed the physical, philosophical, and aesthetic implications of outer space exploration and its impact on the future of both zero-gravity and also terrestrial housing design.

In 1990, Kalil was invited by Jan McCarther, the Chair of the Department of Housing and Interior Design at UNCG, to lead an intensive two-week Honors Studio, in which selected students were given the opportunity to gain real-world experience by designing furniture prototypes for Brayton International and the Steelcase Partnership. This project continued into the spring of 1991. In addition to completing this project and despite the fact that Kalil was terminally ill, he also maintained a busy studio schedule until within only a couple of months of his death later that year.

Timeline:

1943
Born in Lowell, Massachusetts.
1958-1962
Attends Benjamin Franklin High School, Rochester, New York.
1962-1965
Attends St. Basil's Seminary, Methuen, Massachusetts.
1965
Enrolls at Pratt Institute.
Moves to New York City.
1965-1966
Employed as a store display designer at Lord & Taylor.
1966-1967
Employed by Walter Dorwin Teague and Associates.
1967-1968
Leaves Pratt Institute prior to obtaining a degree.
Employed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
1970-1971
Travels through the United States, Mexico, South America and Europe.
1970-1971
Submits Mylar-laminated and brass chain face mask to the exhbition, "Face Coverings," at Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City.
1971
Granted nine-week artist's residency at Skowhegan.
1972
Granted teaching appointment at Parsons School of Design.
Self-employed as jewelry and decorative arts object maker.
1976-1978
Seeks grant funding for development of ideas concerning movable floor spaces.
1978
Teaches architectural history at the New York School of Interior Design.
1979-1981
Co-founds Open Atelier School with Italian architect and teacher, Guiseppe Zambonini.
1981-1991
Establishes interior design firm, Kalil Designs.
1984-1986
Kalil Designs enters two-phase contract cycle with NASA, Ames Research Center, to design and create prototype for space habitation module (HM1).
1990-1991
Teaches Honors Studio at University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
1991
Dies of complications relating to AIDS.
1994
Honored posthumously by Pratt Institute for outstanding alumni achievement.
2001
The Michael Kalil Foundation is established.
The exhibition, "Michael Kalil Retrospective: Designs for the 21st Century" is held at Parsons.
The Michael Kalil Endowment for Smart Design is established at Parsons School of Design.

Extent

34.7 Cubic Feet (30 boxes, 7 oversize boxes, 1 folder; approximately 350 flat drawings and sketches.)

Language of Materials

English

Scope and Content of Collection

The Michael Kalil papers consist of textual records, visual materials and artifacts from Kalil's life as an artist, designer, theorist, teacher, and principal of his commercial interior architecture studio. The majority of this collection represents the scope of Kalil’s professional activities between the years 1966 and 1991, and includes press clippings, administrative and project records, and hundreds of drawings, photoprints and sketches (axonometric, perspective, plans, elevations, sections, and details) generated during the course of commercial, prototype and theoretical and residential commissions undertaken by Kalil Designs/Kalil Studio. Kalil’s prototype of an automated office space for Armstrong Industries (1981-1983), and his prototype for Space Station Habitation Module (HM1) are particularly well represented. The collection also includes posthumous materials.

Organization and Arrangement

Organized in 5 series. Arranged alphabetically within each series: I. Personal papers; II. Professional papers; III. Office records; IV. Project records; V. Posthumous materials

Other Finding Aids

For selected item-level description and images from the Michael Kalil papers, see The New School Archives Digital Collections at https://digitalarchives.library.newschool.edu/index.php/Detail/collections/KA011901.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Jean Gardner, Karyn Issa Ginsberg and Martin Spiegel, 2010.

Related Materials

During the course of processing this collection, project archivist, Jen Larson, conducted a group and individual oral history interview with Jean Gardner, Karyn Issa Ginsberg, and Martin Speigel. Interview to be found in Michael Kalil oral history project (PC.07.01.05). Larson also produced several blog posts about Kalil's life and career. These posts will be found on the The Histories of The New School website http://newschoolhistories.org/in-the-archives/
The scale model of the Space Habitation Module that Kalil Studio created for NASA's Ames Research Center can be found at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). MoMA also has twenty-five design development studies for the "Osmotic Membrane," and "Community Chamber," integral parts of the NASA module design, and one artist's file for Kalil.
The following books and magazines were included in the Michael Kalil papers and are available through the New School Archives and Special Collections: Living in One Room; Drawing Interior Architecture; Architecture and Design, 1970-1990: New Ideas in America; and Living for Today.

Processing Information note

Many of Kalil's project files were orignially housed in black, plastic, three-ring binders. These materials were rehoused during processing, but within project files it is still readily apparent which materials derive from the binders.

External Support

The processing of this collection was supported by the Michael Kalil Foundation.
Title
Guide to the Michael Kalil papers
Status
Completed
Author
Jen Larson
Date
September 30, 2011
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Revision Statements

  • July 2, 2015: New School Archives staff identified an additional box of materials after processing was completed and integrated it into the collection.