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'Strong persuasive leadership': remembering Marvin J. Malecha

George Proctor (left) accepts the Dean's Award from Dean Marvin Malecha, 1989. (Image courtesy of George Proctor)
George Proctor (left) accepts the Dean's Award from Dean Marvin Malecha, 1989. (Image courtesy of George Proctor)

Professor George Proctor ('89, architecture; '89 urban and regional planning) is the chair of the Department of Architecture and a former student of the late Marvin J. Malecha. Malecha, former dean of the College of Environmental Design and former chair of the Department of Architecture, died on May 4 due to complications from a heart transplant surgery. (Obituary: Marvin J. Malecha, former ENV dean and former AIA president, dies at 70)

Lauren Weiss Bricker is a professor of architecture and currently serves as the interim dean of the Coillege of Environmental Design. She is also the director of the ENV Archives-Special Collections. 

Below, Proctor and Bricker share their memories.

GEORGE PROCTOR

Marvin Malecha joined the Cal Poly Pomona faculty of Architecture in Fall of 1976 as a lecturer. He arrived during a rebuilding period in the aftermath of the SCi-Arc breakaway. Marvin was encouraged to apply by fellow Minnesotan and friend Brooks Cavin. During his first three years at Pomona, Malecha and Cavin worked on a study of the “Total Energy House” (today it would have been labeled as an off-grid house) with a grant from the General Dynamics Corporation. In his third year, Marvin was appointed by the Provost to help Ed Pickard, Interim Chair of Architecture, as his Assistant Chair. The Department was in a rebuilding phase after the turmoil of the breakup and facing many challenges. The challenges in the wake of the breakup proved too difficult for many of those left behind and Malecha the new recruit saw an opportunity, and he stepped up to the Department Chair appointment at the age of 29.

Malecha’s strong persuasive leadership was immediately apparent. And just two years later he was elevated to the role of Dean of the School of Environmental Design with programs in Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning. The School flourished under his leadership which began a ten year program to build the school into a highly regarded College of Environmental Design, and eventually adding the Department of Art in the early 90s.

Marvin Malecha’s ascent to ENV Dean was meteoric and well deserved. He was arguably one of Cal Poly Pomona's most influential Deans. 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 Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies to Marvin, along with several other substantial projects. Many well-loved programs, such as CPPARC participation in the Europe year-abroad programs can be attributed to him. In 1994 after 18 years, Marvin Malecha left Cal Poly Pomona in Summer 1994 for a new position as Dean of the North Carolina State design programs.

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. 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 Pomona and beyond. He will be remembered fondly and truly missed.

LAUREN WEISS BRICKER

In November 2019, a group of us went to San Diego to interview Marvin Malecha. Marvin was President of the New School in San Diego having relocated from North Carolina State University. George Proctor and Bob Alexander along with architecture students [George could you fill in their names] were going to interview Marvin for the Architecture Department's 50th Anniversary. I tagged along, looking forward to gain some wisdom from Marvin's extraordinary success as ENV's Dean in the 1980s-mid-90s.

Over lunch, Marvin regaled us with numerous amusing stories and anecdotes about Cal Poly Pomona. Among his proudest achievements was the donation of Richard Neutra's VDL Research House in Silver Lake, Los Angeles. Not only was Neutra an architect of International renown, but he taught in the early Departments of Landscape Architecture - which included Architecture and Urban and Regional Planning. He was one of our's and Marvin fully appreciated that the acquisition of the studio/residence could symbolically represent Cal Poly Pomona's affiliation with the great man.

Our conversation with Marvin over lunch and then into the afternoon was not only about the past. As the director of design school - and as one of the nation's leading architecture educator - he was looking toward the future. We discussed our desire to better utilize Building 7, the IDC and the many spaces ENV occupies on campus. Collaborative design practices so prevalent in professional offices could be brought into the classroom. The ever-increasing role of the computer in design processes suggested a more efficient use of work space.

Marvin's knowledge of architecture and innovative strategies to teach design were very impressive. However as a new Interim Dean, I listened most intently to his guidance about leadership, and ways to inspire faculty and students to be successful and derive personal satisfaction from their work. I was inspired by his example.