Marsha Maytum (middle), along with William Leddy and Richard Stacy in 2017.
Drew Kelly Marsha Maytum (middle), along with William Leddy and Richard Stacy in 2017.

The architectural community mourns the loss of Marsha Ann Maytum, FAIA (1954-2024), a founding principal of Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, who passed away on February 10, 2024, following a three-year battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Maytum, born in 1954, was celebrated for her lifelong commitment to using design as a tool for addressing climate change and promoting social justice.

Maytum embodied the ethos of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's advice to "fight for the things you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you." Her passionate commitment to deploying the power of design to address two of the most pressing challenges of our time - the climate emergency and social justice - gave her a deep tenacity and purpose. Her impact on both the built environment and the profession of architecture is indelible; her influence on legions of colleagues and others continues to ripple.

Thoreau Center for Sustainability at the Presidio of San Francisco, designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects
Thoreau Center for Sustainability at the Presidio of San Francisco, designed by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects

Maytum was a national leader in design, advocacy, practice, and the profession. Her award-winning practice focused on environments for civic and educational institutions, as well as special needs housing. In the early 1990s, she was a pioneering advocate for the sustainable adaptive reuse of existing and historic structures such as the Thoreau Center for Sustainability at the Presidio of San Francisco.

Sweetwater Spectrum Community in Sonoma, Calif., by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects.
Tim Griffith Photography/Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects Sweetwater Spectrum Community in Sonoma, Calif., by Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects.

Her drive to create architecture for everyone led to several first-of-their-kind projects serving people with disabilities, including Sweetwater Spectrum in Sonoma, Calif., a new residential model for people living on the Autism spectrum.

Maytum relentlessly campaigned for an understanding of design as a holistic endeavor -- an activity with social and environmental implications, not just material and aesthetic ones. She was an empath of the highest order, applying her skills and visions toward advancing the profession of architecture with persistence, rigor, and diplomacy for the benefit of all. She dedicated her career to dismantling the split between design and environmental and social issues. She transcended the day-to-day practice of architecture, thinking and acting more broadly on behalf of the future of the profession. This manifested in tireless advocacy work through the American Institute of Architects and other groups, and numerous trips to the Hill in Washington, DC, to talk with legislators about design, climate, health, and community.

Maytum's quiet and tenacious brand of leadership is notable, especially in a profession where ego often proliferates. Marsha’s modeling that form of design leadership has powerfully influenced many people in the industry. It is as if her enormous humility gave her a changemaker superpower, to the point that thinking “what would Marsha do” is something others actually do. Her influence was never showy or loud. She seemed to prefer to focus the energy on the actual work -- the design, the advocacy, and the collaboration. And the results showed.

Throughout her career, Maytum was a vocal advocate for integrating environmental and social considerations into architectural practice. Her leadership in securing the 2019 Resolution for Urgent and Sustained Climate Action by the American Institute of Architects marked a significant shift in the profession towards recognizing design excellence as encompassing health, environmental, and equity issues. She was one of the key leaders of the campaign for the AIA membership and AIA Board to embrace the Resolution, which in turn led to the shaping and installment of the Framework for Design Excellence. Nearly 30 years after COTE’s founding, the AIA made this historic shift toward defining design excellence as inclusive of health, environmental, and equity issues. The Resolution passed with overwhelming support. Marsha taught throughout her career and was always a champion of the next generation. Her work to secure Architecture 2030 support for the COTE/ACSA Top Ten for Students Competition–now in its tenth year–helped get that program its footing.

Julie Hiromoto, FAIA, of HKS, collaborated with Maytum through AIA and the Committee on the Environment (COTE) highlighted her influence in empowering architects to enact positive change: “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,” she says. “She helped us understand what we -- and architects together -- can do to change the world and empower the next generation.”

Maytum's firm, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects, has been recognized with numerous awards, including many AIA COTE Top Ten Awards, reflecting the success of their mission-driven approach to architecture. Maytum was quoted in the AIA reports, “The Habits of High-Performance Firms” and “Lessons from the Leading Edge,” as well as many books about design and sustainable design. In the book "Practice with Purpose: A Guide to Mission Driven Design" (ORO Editions, 2023), She, along with her husband and partner, Bill Leddy, and their partner, Richard Stacy, described their approach to building a mission-driven practice. Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects is considered a model of this approach; they earned the AIA’s Firm Award in 2017.

Maytum’s passing is not only a loss to her firm and the immediate community but to the broader field of architecture, where her principles and perseverance continue to inspire. Carl Elefante, FAIA, and former AIA President, admired Maytum's dedication to realizing the profession's obligations to the public through thoughtful and purposeful design, and he points to her book as context for her influence. “Practice with Purpose states that everything begins with good intentions, in fully realizing the obligations of the public trust vested in the architecture profession,” he says. “But appreciating our obligations is not all it takes to deliver on them. Perseverance and passion are even more essential. I deeply admired Marsha’s open mind and heart, her excitement and curiosity in ferreting out the best outcomes, and her determination to make constructed places that realize worthy ideals.”