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Thomas Abbott Todd, a retired architect, planner, and artist who was a partner in the Philadelphia firm of Wallace, Roberts & Todd (WRT), died on June 14 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. He was 90.
Born in Connecticut and raised in the Philadelphia area, Todd was educated at Haverford College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture and a master’s degree in city planning, respectively. A licensed architect from 1963 to 1991 and professional planner starting in 1970, he was a named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1980.
Along with David Wallace, Ian McHarg, Bill Roberts, and others, Todd built a large firm that was known for its multidisciplinary approach to design, combining architecture, landscape architecture, and planning. Based in Philadelphia, it has a second office in San Francisco.
Among Todd's best-known projects were the master plans for Baltimore’s Inner Harbor renewal area, the U. S. Capitol area in Washington, D. C., and Abuja, the Capitol of Nigeria. He worked on landscape architecture projects for Battery Park in New York and was part of the design team behind Philadelphia’s Liberty Place towers, which broke the longstanding gentleman's agreement that no structure could be taller than William Penn’s statue atop City Hall.
Working in a variety of idioms, Todd also designed smaller works, including three houses for his own family as well as urban sculpture. His 1982 McKeldin Fountain, also known as The Waterfall, was designed to be an explorable waterfall formed by a series of concrete prisms with water cascading down on all sides and collecting in pools below with platforms at different levels containing plants and walkways for people. Both a utilitarian part of the city’s infrastructure and a sophisticated work of Brutalist architecture, it was part of Baltimore’s official inventory of public art until it was demolished by the city in 2016.
Joseph Healy, architect and managing principal of WRT, said employees in the Philadelphia office spoke about Todd last week during a staff gathering, reflecting on the key role he played in the firm.
“To this day, the underlying beliefs and integrated practice that Tom helped shape at WRT hold great value for the talented professionals and aspirational clients drawn to the firm,” Healy said in a statement. “The positive impact of their collective work is more relevant than ever.”
Todd was “a versatile designer, not always a Modernist,” Healy added. “He was very attentive to context and craft.”
Todd’s professional career began with the Philadelphia City Planning Commission, led for many years by the noted planner Edmund Bacon. After winning a fellowship that allowed him to travel in Europe for a year, Todd joined the University of Pennsylvania as a campus planner and designer, then started a planning firm known as Grant & Todd, then worked for Geddes, Brecher, Qualls & Cunningham.
In 1963, Wallace and McHarg hired him to work for Wallace-McHarg Associates, which was taking on land planning projects and other commissions around the country, including a much-publicized plan to control development in Baltimore County’s Green Spring Valley. After Todd and Bill Roberts became full partners, the firm was renamed Wallace, McHarg, Roberts & Todd.
Todd’s penchant for planning and his attention to detail extended to his leisure time activities, including model shipbuilding, music, and painting. He could speak and read Latin, which he studied at Germantown Friends School and Haverford, and enjoyed translating common phrases and quotes into that language. He traced his family history back to the colonial era, discovering that he was related to Benedict Arnold. He made a harpsichord and taught himself to play it. He sang in choral groups. He painted portraits, landscapes, cityscapes, and still lifes.
After WRT’s master plan for Baltimore called for the USS Constellation to be the sculptural centerpiece of the Inner Harbor, Todd built a scale model of it, down to the miniature cannon balls on the upper deck. His model is on display at the U. S. Naval War College in Newport, R. I.
In 1956 Todd married the former Carol Roberts, who died in 2014. They had a son, Jonathan Christopher “Chris” Todd, and two daughters, Suzannah Elizabeth Arnold Todd Waters and Cassandra Roberts Todd. Besides his children, he is survived by a sister and four grandchildren.
In 1991, Todd retired from WRT and moved to Rhode Island, where he continued to consult professionally. In 2008 he moved to Duxbury, Massachusetts. He lived in Plymouth, Mass., at the time of his death.
Todd’s son paints a picture of a restless Renaissance man who saw the glass as half full and threw himself into whatever he chose to pursue, whether it was traveling to see the lands discovered by the Norse explorer Leif Erikson or building frames for his own oil paintings.
“He loved bad jokes and good company,” Chris Todd said. “I wouldn’t say he didn’t have his moments of concern about finances or health. But by and large, he led a rich life.
“He was absolutely the most industrious person I have ever met,” his son continued. “TV was uninteresting to him. He would get up after a few minutes. He wasn’t interested in passive entertainment. He wanted something more. He wanted to make things, and he wanted to learn about things in order to make them, to be able to discuss them intelligently. He had a questing mind.”
A memorial service for Thomas Todd will be held on October 27 at 10 a.m. at the Germantown Friends Meeting, a Quaker church at 47 West Coulter Street in Philadelphia. In lieu of flowers, the family has suggested a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association.
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Anthony Bourdain, 1956-2018, was a budding developer and an astute observer of the urban condition
Anthony Bourdain was a culinary maverick, gifted writer, engaging TV host and, as one Vassar College graduate put it, “a foodie who wasn’t insufferable.”
He was also a budding developer, sophisticated architecture patron and astute observer of the urban condition.
Bourdain, who took his own life last week in France, was well known for his writing about the restaurant industry, including his bestseller, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, and his television shows that explored the people, places and cuisines of faraway cultures, most recently Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown on CNN.
He also had a vision of building a global food market for New York City, a place that would feature 100 vendors from around the world serving the fare they know best, including “hawker food” as found in Thailand and South America. inspired by a food hall in Singapore
Inspired by a food hall in Singapore, Bourdain Market was going to be the retail anchor for the redevelopment of Pier 57 off West 15th Street in Chelsea, with Roman and Williams Buildings and Interiors as designer of the food market. Announced in 2014, the 155,000-square-foot project would have been a food lovers’ paradise, the culmination of everything Bourdain gleaned from his world travels.
Bourdain got far enough in the design stage to reveal enticing renderings of his proposed food emporium, with a farmer’s market, Asian-style night market, bakery, oyster bar and beer garden on the roof.
But he ran into problems getting the project off the ground and disclosed last December that it wasn’t going to happen at that location. One problem was obtaining visas for all the people from other countries needed to bring the market to life. Bourdain also said Pier 57 was a complicated site and that he never had a lease with the developers.
“Launching what is admittedly a very ambitious venture has proven to be challenging at every turn,” he said in a statement obtained by Eater NY. “It seems increasingly clear that in spite of my best efforts, the stars may not align at Pier 57.” Google now leases the one-time ocean liner pier.
Bourdain said in his statement last December that he still hoped to carry out the project elsewhere in New York City, as long it’s true to his vision.
“I promised a certain kind of market to New Yorkers and to potential vendors, and if that vision becomes clouded, diluted or compromised, it is no longer something that our city needs,” he stated. “I remain hopeful that New York will someday have such a market – I still passionately wish to create this resource that New Yorkers deserve.”
On Friday, the founders of Roman and Williams, Robin Standefer and Stephen Alesch, expressed sorrow about Bourdain’s passing.
“We are deeply sadden[ed]] and heartbroken by the loss of our dear friend and collaborator Tony,” they wrote in their Roman and Williams Guild page on Facebook. “He pushed the limit with everything he did and taught us to open our hearts to new adventures, human connections and explore the unknown. A true pioneer and culinary innovator. We are blessed for the time we had with him.”
Their message was one of many ways people reacted to the news of Bourdain’s death in a hotel room at age 61. In New York, mourners created impromptu memorials with flowers and notes outside two now-closed locations of Brasserie Les Halles, where he once worked. On Amazon, sales of Bourdain’s books skyrocketed. At least two restaurants announced plans to raise money to aid suicide prevention programs, in Bourdain’s memory.
In their tributes, more than a few fans referred to Bourdain’s role as an urban raconteur, highlighting the places where people come together to enjoy food and each other’s company.
“He taught us about food—but most importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown,” tweeted former President Barack Obama, who had noodles and beer with Bourdain during a Parts Unknown episode filmed in Hanoi.
“He brought the world into our homes and inspired so many people to explore cultures and cities through their food,” tweeted celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay.
“I watched his show when I was in space,” recalled astronaut Scott Kelly. “It made me feel more connected to the planet, its people and cultures…He inspired me to see the world up close.”
In his TV programs, Bourdain didn’t just feature the restaurants catering to rich people. He sought out places that serve everyday fare for the masses—pizza and hotdogs in Chicago, falafel in Dearborn, lake trout in Baltimore. He went to depressed areas so he could look at the underbelly of cities, just like he wrote about the underbelly of the restaurant world. Along the way, he shared his opinions about what keeps cities alive, and what doesn’t.
One of Bourdain’s most memorable programs was a No Reservations episode for The Travel Channel called “The Rust Belt,” which he also referred to as “The Fucked Up Cities Show.” In it, he visited three downtrodden cities, Buffalo, Detroit and Baltimore, to see what lessons they hold.
“I think that troubled cities often tragically misinterpret what’s coolest about themselves,” he wrote on his blog afterwards. “They scramble for cure-alls, something that will 'attract business,' always one convention center, one pedestrian mall or restaurant district away from revival. They miss their biggest, best and probably most marketable asset: their unique and slightly off-center character.”
He was big on travel. “If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move,” he said. “As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes, or at least eat their food.”
Bourdain was reportedly working on a documentary about Detroit when he died. He admired the resilience of its residents working to recover from hard times, and he wondered what that recovery might look like. He was a champion of authenticity in a world consumed by fads.
“One only need look at New York’s Lower East Side, or Meat District, to see what’s possibly coming down the pike for Detroit when it inevitably 'recovers.' What’s coming down the pike for all of us,” he blogged in 2013.
“Empty lots and burned out buildings are bad. But are cupcake shops, galleries and artisanal baristas necessarily better? Maybe, probably, but maybe not. And we better ask ourselves if that’s what we want.”
Bourdain’s writing was full of caveats like that. He didn’t have all the answers. And he never got to open his global food market. But he left behind a body of work—and a legion of fans and collaborators—that make it possible to see what’s most promising about cities, and how to capitalize on them.