Marsha Maytum, FAIA (1954-2024) | Honoring the Architect who Led a Mission-Driven Firm, A Mission-Driven Life

Marsha Maytum, FAIA

Marsha Maytum, FAIA, LEED AP—a committed visionary who drove architectural integration of social and humanistic needs, design excellence, and superior building performance both as Founding Principal, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, and as an advocate—has died at age 69.

Diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) three years ago, Maytum continued to press for the advancement and expansion of these goals even as she faced an increasingly debilitating disease. The mission, mission-driven design at LMSA, had been singular to her life’s work. As her firm stated in the announcement of her passing, Maytum “dedicated her career to dismantling the split between design and environmental and social issues.”

Her success at doing so leaves a lasting and essential legacy.

“Marsha’s enormous impact exemplifies what an architect can truly accomplish as an individual leader and collaborator,” said Mary Ann Lazarus, FAIA LEED Fellow, who worked closely with Maytum when Maytum chaired AIA’s Committee on the Environment in 2019. “Her project work created a world that embraces inclusiveness, equity, and climate responsiveness and demonstrates how that can be achieved with beauty and grace. Her community work showed how to open a dialogue with all stakeholders and arrive at a solution where everyone feels engaged. And her advocacy work for the profession and, eventually, ALS shows all architects how a clear focus on what matters and ‘getting shit done’ (as Marsha would say) can achieve amazing results.”

“She was adamant that her firm have a mission, a singular purpose: how are you going to be beneficial to society?,” said Angie Brooks, FAIA, who knew Maytum, first as a mentor, then a friend. “She was a leader of a firm that melded social concerns, environmental concerns, and beautiful, high-performing buildings, often for people who were vulnerable and who could least afford it. And Marsha was instrumental in showing us how that could be done.”

Maytum sustained this exemplary level of getting ‘stuff’ done for her entire life.

Get It Done
In the early 1990s, she pioneered sustainable adaptive reuse of existing and historic structures with the Thoreau Center for Sustainability at the Presidio of San Francisco. “She pushed for sustainability before it became mainstream in the profession,” noted David Hecht, AIA, then a young architect working in her office.

Decades later she was still pushing–demonstrating new ways for the profession to provide more inclusive design, this time with a first-of-its-kind project serving people with disabilities, Sweetwater Spectrum, a new residential model for people living on the Autism spectrum.

“Marsha’s clients were typically non-profits with tight budgets, so Marsha made ‘more with less’ without sacrificing quality or design,” observed Charlie Stott, AIA–who worked with Maytum for twenty years beginning with the Thoreau Center—in a remembrance of her written for LMSA. “These were Marsha’s unique multi-talents as an architect, and sum up her “mission-driven” approach: To focus on clients who are doing the hard work to make the world a better place; to treat every client with the utmost respect; and to provide them with the absolute highest quality architecture…”

This seamless realization of her firm’s mission led to recognition of the work’s importance by the profession. LMSA received 175 regional, national, and international awards and honors including 12 AIA COTE Awards and the 2017 Architecture Firm Award from the AIA.

Yet, for Maytum, the work was not confined to the realization of buildings. “She was an amazing woman. She was kind, compassionate, and a thoughtful friend and colleague,” said Paulett Taggart, FAIA, whose friendship reaches back to college where she met Maytum and Leddy. “She was always thinking about others and their needs and concerns even while she was dealing with this challenging and cruel disease.”

Maytum mentored other women–helping them rise with her–and she took on powers-that-be when she believed that others were dismissive of women. She gave tools to other firms. She was aware that it was harder for firms outside of California to enact sustainability components in design, and worked nationally to mitigate it. She and her professional partner and husband Bill Leddy, FAIA, freely gave information and best practices as part of their larger mission to get stuff done.

And, her advocacy brought deep and lasting change to national policies.

“She guided our profession toward a better understanding of its obligations to the environment, and to the people we share it with,” said Betsy del Monte, FAIA.

“She was a warrior for sustainability,” observed Taggart. “She was always asking others to do more as well.”

Savvy Advocate
As the 2019 American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment chair, Maytum orchestrated the passage and adoption by the AIA of the Resolution for Urgent and Sustained Climate Action which called for the rapid acceleration of efforts to decarbonize the built environment.

The resolution “served as the basis for the AIA’s Climate Action priorities and increasing the relevance of the role of the architect in addressing today’s biggest challenge,” said Lazarus, noting one of many ways Maytum’s influence is lasting. “That effort was masterfully led by Marsha strategically drawing in a range of leaders to draft and promote the Resolution, which received a resounding 4,860 Yes votes to 312 Nos.”

Maytum’s ability to engender collaboration and win over those with other perspectives was echoed by Brooks who visited Capitol Hill in Washington DC with Maytum to meet with elected officials and their staffs specifically about climate action. “She was incredibly diplomatic when it came to ‘getting things done.’ On the political and policy side, Marsha knew how to talk to someone who might have an opposite mentality, convince them of her point of view, and do it with a smile. She knew the data–and, how to not offend anyone.”

“She was soft-spoken and always, always welcoming. Inside, she was a tiger. That warm and comforting exterior cloaked a fierce and fearless interior,” observed Anne Schopf, FAIA, Senior Principal, Director of Design, Mahlum Architects.

“Step Up Fearlessly”
Maytum’s loss is reverberating throughout the architectural community and beyond–colleagues, clients, friends, and the countless individuals she touched. But the loss is greatest for her family, those closest to her: her husband Bill Leddy, their children—Anna and Andrew—and two grandchildren. Our thoughts are with them.

Maytum’s work will continue to influence countless architects and support better lives for humans who move through it; Schopf describes how to best honor it:

“Marsha remains a role model to architects taking a stand in creating a better world for the generations that follow. She never backed down in her commitment to sustainable design and through her tireless work she successfully elevated the definition of great design to include the protection to our natural environment. But her work was not finished, she has, in fact, just handed it over to us,” said Schopf.

“What we can learn from her legacy is that to be kind will not sacrifice results. We must continue to step up as fearlessly as she did to protect the world for our grandchildren and hers. We owe her that.”

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