The architect Marsha Maytum died on February 10 at 69, three years after a diagnosis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Maytum is known as much for the buildings she designed, which sensitively respond to their surroundings and to users’ needs and desires, as for her deep conviction that architecture can and should address our most critical problems, including the climate crisis and social equity.
Until the beginning of 2023, when Maytum stepped away from day-to-day practice due to her advancing ALS, she led San Francisco-based Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (LMSA) with her husband, Bill Leddy, and their partner, Richard Stacy. “One of our priorities was the environment, and we really wanted to focus on that work,” Maytum told RECORD last March about establishing LMSA, originally founded as Tanner Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects in 1989. Since then, the now 38-person firm has directed its energy to what Maytum, Leddy, and Stacy have referred to as “mission-driven design,” creating an impressive portfolio of projects for clients whose values mirrored their own, including affordable and special-needs housing, academic buildings, and civic facilities. Along the way, LMSA has garnered many honors, including the 2017 Architecture Firm Award from the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and 12 AIA Committee on the Environment (COTE) awards.
“Marsha’s special ability to connect with people with empathy and encouragement permeated our firm—reinforcing the bond among us toward our shared mission,” said Stacy.
Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture (2017). Photo © Bruce Damonte
Maytum was a pioneer in the integration of preservation with green design strategies—expertise that was key to her elevation to the AIA College of Fellows in 2001. Her Thoreau Center for Sustainability (1997) was the first renovation project in the newly established national park at San Francisco’s Presidio. It transformed a former army hospital into a home for an environmental nonprofit. Among other adaptive reuse projects was the Fort Mason Center of Arts & Culture (2017), the conversion of a historic pier building on the city’s waterfront into studio and gallery space.
She firmly believed that architecture should serve everyone, including those with disabilities. Her innovative solution for the Sweetwater Spectrum community (2013), in Sonoma, California, established a replicable residential model for people living on the autism spectrum.
Sweetwater Spectrum (2013). Photo © Tim Griffith
Maytum’s buildings are only one aspect of her legacy, however. Her leadership extended to advocating for change within the profession. As 2019 COTE chair, she championed a resolution for “urgent and sustained climate action,” calling for the rapid acceleration of efforts to decarbonize the built environment. It was passed overwhelmingly by members at the AIA Conference on Architecture held that year in Las Vegas and was subsequently approved by the organization’s board of directors. “We felt that it was important to take the issue directly to the membership and demonstrate support in a way that was transparent and visible,” Maytum told RECORD at the time. The resolution’s adoption laid the groundwork for the development of the AIA’s Framework for Design Excellence which outlines a holistic approach to architecture, encompassing the environment, health, and equity. Together, the resolution and the Framework signaled a significant realignment of organizational and professional priorities.
Above all, she will be remembered for her optimism and her steadfast faith in the power of design. “Marsha’s vision, mentorship, and generative force to get things done lifted many of us, helping us to see and realize the positive change that is possible,” said Julie Hiromoto, a principal at HKS who collaborated with Marsha through the AIA and COTE. “She helped us understand what we—and architects together—can do to change the world and empower the next generation.”
Maytum is survived by Leddy, their children—Anna and Andrew—and two grandchildren.