Spotlight on…. Marsha Maytum, FAIA, LEED AP
A Leader through Design, Social Justice and ALS Advocacy
Since 1977, Marsha Maytum, FAIA, LEED AP has been a practicing architect in San Francisco, with a focus on design for sustainability, culture, and social responsibility. After she was diagnosed with ALS in October 2020, Marsha decided to become an ALS advocate, and to help raise awareness and funds in support of the ALS community.
Born in San Francisco and raised in the Bay Area, New York, and London, Marsha grew up to be passionate about design. In 1972, at 18 years old, she began her college education at the University of Oregon (U of O).
During her second year, Marsha met William (Bill) Leddy, who was also studying architecture. It was at U of O that they both developed important values about the advancement of sustainability, design excellence, social equity, and environmental stewardship that would lead them into building successful careers as architects. It was also where they fell in love and decided to make a life together.After Bill graduated in 1975, Marsha studied at the Royal Academy, in Copenhagen, Denmark. She then graduated with her Bachelor of Architecture from U of O in 1977.
Marsha and Bill returned to San Francisco, where they both gained more experience through working at different firms in the Bay Area. They married in 1978 and had two children together, Anna and Andrew. Their family lived in the Russian Hill area for about seven years, before settling in the Cole Valley neighborhood of San Francisco.
In 1982, Marsha joined the architectural firm Tanner & Vandine and, the following year, Bill moved to the firm as well. It was there that they met fellow architect, Richard Stacy. As colleagues, Richard shared the same values as Marsha and Bill, and the three excelled working together.
This collaboration continued over the years, and in 2001, they restructured the firm to create Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (LMSA), a mission driven practice focused on education, affordable/supportive housing and civic projects.
“We decided to focus on civic oriented projects that serve people every day,” said Marsha. “We've worked hard to try to get as much design value for our clients as we can, while moving their agendas forward, addressing social issues, incorporating sustainability, and having a positive impact on helping communities and neighborhoods. To do that successfully, you really have to care about the craft, how buildings are put together to last and how they fit into a larger physical and societal context. For example, after finishing a project like the North Beach Library and Joe DiMaggio Playground, you see the kids reading inside and playing outside, and all the hard work is worth it.”
Her firm also designed the Ed Roberts Campus, named after a leader in the disability rights movement, which houses disability-focused nonprofits. The 80,000 square foot building is one of the most accessible in the U.S., with automatic doors, a spiral ramp to the second floor, accessible elevators, hands-free sensors and “wayfinding” tools, such as textured surfaces, to guide people with low vision through the building and give them spatial awareness. It was built at Berkeley’s Ashby Bay Area Rapid Transit Station to connect riders to nearby airports, bus stations, taxis, and paratransit services. It is a great example of universal or inclusive design, which is the architectural and creative process of ensuring infrastructure in the built environment is accessible to all, regardless of age, ability, or any other demographic.
Some of LMSA’s notable projects that Marsha worked on included a commission to redesign a former army hospital in the Presidio of San Francisco. The end result was the Thoreau Center for Sustainability, which currently houses over 70 non-profit organizations that focus on environmental issues. The center went on to become a model for the National Park Service in renovating historic buildings with integrated sustainable design. Another important work was Sweetwater Spectrum, in Sonoma, California, which is a residential community specifically built for adults on the autism spectrum. The project integrates autism specific design, sustainable design and universal design, and is designed to generate as much energy as it uses. It is a national co-housing model which provides permanent homes for the residents throughout their life with support services evolving to the needs of the individual residents at each phase of their life.
For the next over 30 years, Marsha continued to dedicate her career to projects like this—promoting sustainable design with a focus on community, culture, and social responsibility. While rehabilitation of historic buildings became her specialty, she also created new buildings and adaptive reuse of existing structures. She is nationally recognized for her pioneership in weaving historic preservation and sustainable design. She has played an integral role in LMSA’s many accomplishments, winning over 175 regional, national, and international design awards.
LMSA has been recognized by several organizations including the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Urban Land Institute, National Trust for Historic Preservation, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Green Building Council, and the 2014 ICC National Leadership in Sustainability Award. They are one of only four firms in the U.S. to have received the Committee on the Environment (COTE) Top Ten green projects national award ten or more times from the AIA. The firm has a deep commitment in designing for a just and equitable future.
In 2019, Marsha took on the role of being the Chair for the National AIA Committee on the Environment Advisory Group. As the Chair, she has participated in multiple Capitol Hill visits advocating for environmental and social justice, and climate action. In addition, Marsha is committed to sharing her knowledge and expertise with students. Both Marsha and Bill lecture widely, and have been the Pietro Belluschi Visiting Professors at the University of Oregon, the Howard A. Friedman Visiting Professors at the University of California, Berkeley, and taught at the California College of the Arts.
At the 2021 LMSA Monterey Design Conference, Marsha described what it means to her to be an architect: “We really want to make contributions to our community and make physical environments that inspire people. Our goal is to help create healthy environments that promote equity and inclusion and make our communities a better place. To me that’s a really valuable thing that an architect can do.
In their free time, Marsha and Bill enjoyed traveling with their kids. They were an adventurous family, who loved doing activities such as hiking, kayaking, and cross country skiing. It was during one of their skiing trips that Marsha had noticed that there was a slight weakness in her left leg. When she went to see her primary care physician about it, they thought it was a drop foot and it was confirmed by a neurologist.
Marsha went to UCSF to get a second opinion, where she was diagnosed with sporadic limb-onset ALS in October 2020. The project manager in Marsha compelled her to ask, “If you were in my shoes, what would you do?” Her doctor responded, “Do only things that bring you joy.”
Following this advice, Marsha continued to give lectures and take on architectural projects. At the end of 2021, her leg weakness increased and she had a bad fall. After that, she made the decision to start using a wheelchair. With her knowledge as an architect, she did her best to be proactive about installing a stairlift both inside and outside of her home to assist with her mobility issues.
Marsha also connected with the Golden West Chapter soon after her diagnosis to learn more about ALS and utilized the Chapter’s free care management services. She attended the ASK ME educational webinars and participated in support groups where she connected with other people living with ALS and their families.
“I recently had a conversation with someone who was diagnosed,” Marsha shared. “I encouraged them to take a moment to pause and take it all in. It was helpful to educate myself. I work better as a person when I have information. I encourage people to utilize the resources of the Golden West Chapter.”
After she attended the ASK ME Webinar: ALS Research and Care in 2021, covering highlights from the 11th annual ALS Research Summit, she was inspired to use her experience in advocacy to help the fight against ALS as an ALS advocate.
“There is SO much that we don't understand about ALS, and it is clear that there are interrelationships between a great many illnesses and the environment.'' said Marsha. “I was surprised to learn that less than 10% of ALS cases are genetic, and the causes of the remaining 90+% of cases are unknown. It’s also alarming that veterans and military personnel are twice as likely to have ALS than the general population.”
Marsha participated in 2021 Advocacy Day, along with Golden West Chapter constituents and staff, and met virtually with Senators and members of the House of Representatives. She shared her story with representatives of the offices of Senator Alex Padilla, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Marsha returned to meet with members of Congress and the Senate for the 2022 Virtual Advocacy Fly-In to discuss the importance of ALS research and gain their support.
“I had experience with advocacy efforts in my role as national chair of the AIA Committee on the Environment,” shared Marsha. “I participated on several Capitol Hill visits in recent years in my professional life as an architect advocating for environmental and social justice, and climate action. I look forward to contributing to ALS advocacy efforts in the future."
In addition, Marsha and Bill named the Chapter as the recipient of a donor-advised fund gift through the San Francisco Foundation. They have also generously donated to the Chapter as a part of Giving Tuesday 2021, to help advance the search for effective treatments and cures for ALS.
“It is imperative that we fuel science to better understand connections between the environment and neurodegenerative diseases,” said Marsha. “ALS research will benefit our society as a whole.”
Marsha’s family and friends continue to help the ALS community as team “Miles for Marsha” at many Chapter outreach events. Her children and son-in-law participated in Run to Defeat ALS at the San Francisco Half Marathon to fund the Chapter’s mission priorities in care services, advocacy, and research. They are expanding their efforts to raise ALS awareness and support by participating in the Jim Tracy 5k to Defeat ALS and Napa Valley Ride to Defeat ALS.
In spite of the daily challenges of living with ALS, Marsha and her family have continued to live a full and active life. “Our family motto has become ‘More joy. Less bullshit,’' said Marsha, laughing. “A friend even had t-shirts made!” She remains dedicated to her work, and the firm remains true to their core values of advancing sustainability, design excellence, social equity, and integrated practice.
“We founded our practice with a deep investment in social justice of all forms and are fortunate to be able to focus on projects for mission-driven clients who serve diverse communities,” she said. ”This commitment extends to all areas of our work: our design process and projects, our practice and firm culture, and the architectural profession at large.”
“As one of our clients used to say, everyone is just temporarily able-bodied,” Marsha said. “Along the journey of life, whether you're a mother with a stroller with a bunch of groceries and two kids, or someone who really needs a good amount of assistance in mobility, universal design features are really beneficial for everyone in our society.”
The Golden West Chapter is truly grateful to Marsha for her leadership through design and social justice, her commitment to our mission, and her advocacy efforts for all families affected by ALS.