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09.25.2009
Thomas L. Schumacher, 1941-2009
Marion Weiss remembers a passionate expert on Italian architecture and a widely admired educator

For Tom—expert on Italian architecture of the 1930s, professor at the University of Maryland’s School of Architecture, and longtime fellow of the American Academy in Rome—architecture and the pleasures of life were never experienced independently.


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COURTESY University of Maryland
 
Fifteen years ago, Michael Manfredi and I were in Rome while Tom was leading a summer architecture program in Italy. We looked forward to catching up with him and expected a tour of the overlooked modernist masterworks in Rome. Instead, a theoretical battle took shape over which café served the superior espresso: Sant’Eustachio or Tazza D’oro?

At Sant’Eustachio, we critiqued the authenticity of the flavor, the design of the espresso machines, the volume and proportion of the room, and the espresso, which was indeed perfection. A hike over to Tazza D’oro yielded a similar debate and again, while the setting was more predictable and the service more expedient, we enjoyed another perfect espresso. Tom pressed us to choose: Which had the better espresso? The answer wasn’t clear. Both espressos were exceptional, but somehow the flavor of the experience at Sant’Eustachio’s lingered. Tom smiled enigmatically. “Exactly,” he said. “Like architecture, its ritual and form are inseparable.”

With a passion and knowledge of Italian modern architecture, Tom Schumacher, a registered architect, began teaching at Princeton and the University of Virginia, then moved to a professorship at the University of Maryland in 1984 and lived in Washington, D.C. with his wife, the artist Patricia Sachs.

Following his studies under Colin Rowe at Cornell University, where he initiated a theoretical correction of the era’s anti-modernist sentiments, Schumacher went on to revive critical appreciation of Giuseppe Terragni’s unbuilt work, first in his publication on Terragni’s Danteum project, then in his definitive book on the architect, Surface and Symbol: Giuseppe Terragni and the Architecture of Italian Rationalism (Princeton Architectural Press, 1991).

I met Tom when I was in Europe on a fellowship, and the joy of traveling independently for half a year was wearing thin. A lucky meeting led to my sitting in on his summer graduate studio for two remarkable weeks. Tom’s knowledge and love of history, form, theory, and all things Italian was conveyed in a manner so contagious that alumni of his summer programs in Rome consider themselves his students forever.

Tom was, in fact, a teacher to all he encountered. While distinctions such as ACSA’s Distinguished Professor award in 1992–93 acknowledged this, it was in more informal settings that his particular brand of conspiratorial conversation, anecdote, and analysis of architecture gave those around him the impression they were included in an inner circle of inquiry where intelligence, architectural insight, passion for history, love of Rome, and the generosity of friendship were all on equal footing.

Marion Weiss

Marion Weiss is a partner at Weiss/Manfredi.