Thomas S. Marvel, 1935-2015

News Print—Obituary

Courtesy Deacon Marvel

Thomas S. Marvel, FAIA, was born in Newburgh, New York, on March 15, 1935 and passed away on November 3, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was raised in Washingtonville, New York, a rural farming town of 1,200 people in the historic Hudson River Valley. His father, Gordon S. Marvel, was an architect practicing in Newburgh and five generations of the Marvel family were boat builders, marine architects, and architects. His mother was Madeline Jova, whose family founded the Jova Brickyard in Newburgh—the source for countless buildings in the New York region. He always felt that his family origins made it inevitable that he would carry on the family profession, as he wrote in the introduction to his portfolio: “I was born to be an architect. Never did I wish to be anything else.”

Tom studied at Dartmouth College in 1956, graduating with a degree in liberal arts. He was a member of Theta Delta Chi, on the rowing team, and a member of the “Ingineers”, an a cappella group that toured throughout the United States. Subsequently, he studied architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and obtained a master’s degree in architecture, cum laude. Following his graduation from Harvard, Tom was awarded the Julia Amory Appleton Traveling Fellowship, which allowed him to travel around the world for four months observing history, culture, housing, and cities.

While studying at Harvard, he met Lucilla Fuller, and they were married on April 19, 1958. He felt the strong urge to practice architecture and to the dismay of his parents, left Harvard and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, where he worked at Synergetics, the office of R. Buckminster Fuller, and then at the IBEC Building Corporation in New York City. Both experiences focused on innovative construction techniques—Fuller’s geodesic structures and IBEC’s prefabrication process. In 1959 with a team from IBEC, he came to San Juan, Puerto Rico, to design low cost housing, which was an IBEC specialty in many developing countries in the world.

Tom, in the spirit of adventure, was excited by the design opportunities for a young architect in Puerto Rico, which was experiencing rapid economic growth. He stayed and started practicing architecture with the formation of his first partnership, Torres, Beauchamp, Marvel. He also felt a strong family connection to the tropics, writing “Puerto Rico and I found each other early in my career. There was a sense of returning to the Caribbean as my mother’s family had roots in Guadeloupe and Cuba in the 19th century.”

He took a brief hiatus in 1962 to complete his studies at Harvard and returned to Puerto Rico in 1963, after having traveled the world. His practice blossomed, and he designed notable buildings including the Bayamón City Hall, the Education Building at the University of Puerto Rico, the convent for Carmelite Nuns, the U.S. Federal Courthouse in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. embassies in Guatemala and Costa Rica.  He designed numerous residences, including a very innovative house for his own family in a dense urban neighborhood that was published in Phaidon’s edition of 20th-Century World Architecture.

Besides maintaining an evolving practice of architecture, he taught at the University of Puerto Rico School of Architecture and was a visiting critic at other schools in North and South America. He authored three books and wrote many articles in local and regional publications. Active in civic affairs, he served as commissioner in charge of planning and design for the effort to bring the 2004 Olympics to Puerto Rico. In 2011, following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, he convened a delegation of Haitian, Puerto Rican, and other Caribbean urbanists to develop a planning solution for communities, housing, and infrastructure in the Port-au-Prince area. He served at a U.S. national level in professional and architectural associations and was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1975. He was honored as Humanist of the Year in 2010 by the Puerto Rico Foundation of the Humanities.

Tom is survived by his wife Lucilla, his sons Deacon, Jonathan, and Tom, and seven grandchildren. He will be remembered as an architect who left an indelible footprint in Puerto Rico for generations of future architects and users of the numerous public buildings, plazas, pedestrian parks, hotels, sports facilities, and residences that he designed. Tom was a prolific sketcher, and has left volumes of sketches of landscapes, urban spaces, and buildings throughout the world. He was also a sculptor, from his years at Dartmouth to more recent work at his studio in San Juan, where with characteristic passion he created a distinctive series of clay, wood, and bronze sculptures of the human figure and hands.

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