Marvin J. Malecha, former ENV dean and AIA president, dies at 70

Marvin J. Malecha, FAIA, former dean of the College of Environmental Design (Image courtesy of Lauren Weiss Bricker)
Marvin J. Malecha, FAIA, former dean of the College of Environmental Design (Image courtesy of Lauren Weiss Bricker)

World-renowned architect, design educator and prolific author Marvin J. Malecha, former dean of the College of Environmental Design and former president of the American Institute of Architects, died May 4 due to complications from heart transplant surgery. He was 70.

"Clear thinking and insightful, I recall both as a student and CPP faculty, that Marvin would do the rounds dropping into design studio to offer, in his attention-catching baritone, the precise thing a student needed to hear," said architecture department chair George Proctor (’89, architecture; ’89, urban and regional planning). "He could be both critically supportive and inspiring. He was a people person, a natural teacher and beloved leader. His skill with drawing, and his engaging storytelling enamored generations of young architects at Cal Poly and beyond. He will be remembered fondly and truly missed."

Malecha was dean of the School (later renamed College) of Environmental Design at Cal Poly Pomona from 1982-1994, before becoming the dean of the College of Design at North Carolina State University (1994-2015). He served as president and chief academic officer at NewSchool of Architecture & Design until his death.

His illustrious career spanned more than four decades, decorated with honors for his contributions to architecture and academic innovation. Malecha has the distinction of being the only American educator recognized as an honorary member by the European Association for Architectural Education. He also co-founded a bi-annual conference between the Architecture Research Centers Consortium (ARCC) and the European Association of Architectural Educators (EAAE).

Malecha's tenure at Cal Poly Pomona overlapped with a period of transition and transformation. The architecture department was rebuilding itself after a group of faculty and students followed Ray Kappe to establish the Southern California Institute for Architecture. TED Conference founder Saul Richard Wurman served a one-year appointment as dean before being succeeded by Jere Stuart French. The Department of Urban and Regional Planning hired Margarita McCoy, the country’s first female full-time planning professor and first female department chair. Francis Dean, Craig Ellwood and Raphael Soriano walked the halls and taught classes.

Hired in 1976 as an architecture lecturer, Malecha advanced to assistant department chair within three years and became chair by age 29. In 1982, he was appointed dean of the School of Environmental Design, which at the time housed the architecture, landscape architecture and urban planning programs. (The Department of Art would join the college in 1992, and the regenerative studies program two years after).

Malecha had a global outlook and innovator’s creativity. While still a lecturer he and Brooks Cavin secured a grant from General Dynamics Corporation to collaborate on “Total Energy House,” a research project exploring the possibility of a residential project that wasn’t reliant on the electric grid. As dean, he was instrumental to in the design and fulfillment of several of the college and university’s facilities.

The donation of the Neutra VDL Studio and Residences in Silver Lake to the college was among his proudest achievements, said Interim Dean Lauren Weiss Bricker, who visited Malecha in November 2019 with a small group of architecture faculty and students.

“Not only was [Richard] Neutra an architect of International renown, but he taught in the early Departments of Landscape Architecture -- which included architecture and urban and regional planning,” Bricker said. “He was one of ours and Marvin fully appreciated that the acquisition of the studio/residence could symbolically represent Cal Poly Pomona's affiliation with the great man.”

Proctor described Malecha’s meteoric rise from lecturer to dean as “well deserved."

“He was arguably one of Cal Poly Pomona’s most influential deans,” Proctor said. “He worked tirelessly developing resources and connections to benefit the college. A variety of building projects on the CPP campus are due to his leadership and support of the ‘learn-by-doing’ teaching model integral to architectural education, also in alignment with the CPP mission.

“CPP owes the Interim Design Center (IDC) studios and the John T. Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies to Marvin, along with several other substantial projects,” he continued. “Many well-loved programs, such as CPPARC participation in the Europe year-abroad programs, can be attributed to him.”

Malecha’s passing coincides with the department’s 50th anniversary. Read Proctor and Bricker’s reflections: Strong persuasive leadership': remembering Marvin Malecha