Skip to content

Founding partner Marianne McKenna receives honorary degree from Swarthmore College

Valerie Smith - Marianne McKenna

Article content

June 7, 2023

Swarthmore College presented founding partner Marianne McKenna with an honorary degree — a Doctor of Arts — during its 151st commencement ceremony on May 21.  

Together with Shirley Blumberg, Bruce Kuwabara, and Thomas Payne, McKenna co-founded Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, now KPMB Architects, in 1987. Over the past three decades, the firm has made its mark in Canada and the United States, designing beautiful, climate-responsive buildings that improve the lives of its residents. 

“Architecture is for people,” McKenna said during her commencement speech. “We are shaping the future to be inclusive, accessible, and empowering, and to contribute to social and economic prosperity.” 

McKenna is known for her commitment to architecture and design that combines sustainability and innovation and fosters community. Dedicated to design excellence, she serves on the Advisory Board for the McEwen School of Architecture at Laurentian University and was the Norman R. Foster Visiting Professor at the Yale School of Architecture in 2016.  

In 2012, she was named an Officer of the Order of Canada — one of the country’s highest honours — for creating “architecture that enriches the public experience,” and in 2021, she became the first woman to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Design Futures Council. 

Internationally acclaimed as the lead architect on the multi-award-winning Royal Conservatory TELUS Centre and its celebrated Koerner Hall, McKenna’s portfolio of work is vast and varied. It includes exceptional projects such as the revitalization of Toronto’s historic Massey Hall, the re-imagining of housing in Canada with Kindred Works, and the expansion of The Brearley School in Manhattan, which recently won a Governor General’s Medal in Architecture. The jury called it “a bold urban redevelopment project” and “a sign of hope for the future.” 

Valerie Smith, president of Swarthmore College, called her projects “sustainable, urbanistically responsible, and spatially and programmatically complex” and noted that “her years of teaching, mentoring, and advocacy work exemplify her devotion to excellence in design and architecture.” 

Speaking to the graduating class, McKenna said, “It has taken me 50 years to get here, and today has been a chance to look back and see where I came from… Some of your goals and dreams will be realized very quickly while others will take more time. Don’t compromise your vision — or your values.” 

Listen to her speech here.