Visionary Salt Lake City architect M. Ray Kingston is being celebrated for his designs at Abravanel Hall, Snowbird and other beautiful Utah landmarks but also as a modest and deeply caring man who reveled in the details.
A native of rural Weber County with simple beginnings who shaped some of the state’s most striking buildings, cultural venues and alpine vistas, Kingston died Aug. 2 at age 87, surrounded by his children.
He was the “K” in FFKR Architects, the prominent Salt Lake City firm he helped found, before he retired in 1995, capping a storied and award-winning career of more than 30 years. Among a hardy list of accolades, Kingston received the American Institute of Architects’ highest member honor in 1998, for “exceptional work and significant contributions to architecture and society.”
“What I’ve learned about architects is they’re not so much planners as dreamers,” said his friend, architecture writer and former Salt Lake Tribune reporter Ann Poore. “They are artists — and Ray was certainly an artist in so many ways.”
For all of his rich architectural legacy in design, planning and renovation work on places people rarely forget — including the Cathedral of the Madeleine, the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the Utah Museum of Contemporary Art and the Alice Sheets Marriott Center for Dance — those close to him portrayed a humble, unassuming person usually focused on others.
He was a lifelong champion for the arts and someone who built lasting relationships with clients. He hobnobbed among members of Utah’s elite and influential as easily as he did colleagues, trade workers or a favorite barista, friends and loved ones said.
All the while he stayed rooted in family and his small-town origins on a farm in Taylor, west of Ogden. Once, while Kingston introduced himself to fellow board members of the National Endowment for the Arts, it appeared all they knew of Utah was the Great Salt Lake, so he told them that if he had been born any farther west, he would be a brine shrimp — to laughter and applause.
“Ray listened more than he spoke,” said one of his daughters, Patricia, who added that her dad was observant, thoughtful and willing to mentor. Since Kingston’s death, she said, “people near and far have reached out to his family to say: ‘Ray was like a father to me.’
“As an architect, Ray leaves a legacy of functional, aesthetic and timeless projects in Utah and beyond,” she said. “But less tangible are the values he lived — honesty, kindness, curiosity, respect for others and generosity.”
A reverence for people and place
A graduate of Ogden High School, Kingston studied modern dance at the University of Utah before getting his bachelor’s degree in architecture at University of Arizona. He and his wife, Joan P. Kingston, performed with Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company during its early years.
Beginning in 1970, Kingston helped create a master plan for Snowbird in Little Cottonwood Canyon. He ultimately would work on virtually every major building and feature of the iconic ski resort, including the original design and later expansion of the Cliff Lodge.
Kingston’s son, Erik, recalled him pacing off distances and mapping sightlines for the Mid-Gad Restaurant or the residence of Snowbird co-founder Ted Johnson — Kingston’s first solo design project — as well as plotting the location of every tree, none of which was cut down.
“It was great to see him at work,” his son said, “and hear his thought process when evaluating a site.”
After a collaboration on arts facilities in Salt Lake County and what was then called Symphony Hall, Kingston and his colleague, Edward Joe Ruben, joined up with prior competitors, Robert Fowler and Franklin Ferguson, to establish FFKR Architects in 1976. Now with 176 employees and located in a renovated industrial building in Salt Lake City’s Granary District, FFKR said in a statement that Kingston would be remembered for his devotion to the International Style of design.
“Many who worked with Ray recall his dedication to design, preservation of historic buildings, and the arts,” the Salt Lake City firm said. “We are grateful for his contributions to both FFKR and the architecture community.”
A former colleague at FFKR, Roger P. Jackson, senior principal architect and past president of the firm, called Kingston “a really careful, meticulous, highly detailed designer. He drew with a very sharp pencil and a very hard lead pencil.” Others praised his professional mentoring and ability to craft spaces that reflected the personalities of his clients.
Symphony Hall, Jackson and others said, was a highlight of his early career. Subsequently named for Kingston’s lifelong friend and classical music conductor Maurice Abravanel, the dramatic and elegant concert venue “always had a special place in Ray’s heart,” daughter Patricia added.
Kingston harbored “specific ideas about the orientation of the building,” she recalled. “It had to face Temple Square, where the Utah Symphony began, and also the mountains, he used to say.”
The concert venue’s vaulting angles and stunning entryway make it one of downtown’s most cherished landmarks, yet Kingston was preoccupied as much with how the venue sounded as how it looked.
“What he was after was the whole listening experience,” Poore said. “That was the point, and he accomplished that beautifully.”
Matt Castillo, Salt Lake County Arts & Culture Division director, said “the distinctive building with its floor-to-ceiling glass wall has been an architectural icon in the heart of Salt Lake City.”
“We thank Mr. Kingston for his vision and design,” Castillo said, “and we are honored to be the stewards of this important arts venue.”
For his work in the mid-1980s on restoring and renovating the majestic Cathedral of the Madeleine on South Temple, his family’s obituary noted, Kingston became the only non-Catholic Utahn ever knighted by the Roman Catholic Church.
‘Fascinated by people’
Professionally and personally, Kingston displayed an eye for detail and nuance, with flair. Poore said he once visited her home and concluded, unprompted, that she needed a light over her kitchen sink. He then designed “a beautiful wooden structure,” she said, and had it built in short order.
“He thought it was essential,” Poore said. “This is how Ray was. I mean, he consulted you, but you really didn’t stand a chance.”
Kingston also made a point of getting to know the people around him, be they co-workers, construction crews or those he met socially. His family said he had a propensity to share credit with collaborators of all kinds.
“I’m convinced that’s why what he did was so successful,” Poore added. “He understood who they were, and they responded to him. He just was fascinated by people.”
His children said Kingston built connections easily through most of his life, including “his final tribe” at the William E. Christoffersen Salt Lake Veterans Home, where he received care. Daughter Patricia said he extended his loving support freely and relished people’s personal stories.
“As a citizen,” she said, “he taught us to recycle, feed the birds, water the trees, vote in every election — and leave this world a better place.” And without drawing attention, “Ray was always helping others and seemed to know exactly what each person needed.”
A public remembrance of Kingston is planned for Sept. 24 during the 5 p.m. Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City.