Cancer claims life of influential Caribbean modernist architect

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Thomas Marvel, an architect whose modernist style left an imprint on dozens of public buildings and houses across the Caribbean, has died of prostate cancer at his home in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

He first went to Puerto Rico in 1959 to build low-cost housing for the International Basic Economy Corporation, a company founded by Nelson Rockefeller to improve developing nations. At the end of his three-month assignment, he decided to stay.

The Carmelite convent designed by Marvel in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico. Credit Gil Amiaga

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Using local materials whenever possible, including cement mined from local limestone mountains, he designed stylish buildings sensitive to their tropical island settings. He preferred natural ventilation to air-conditioning; he also liked to use natural light and incorporate gardens into his structures.

His work included the American embassies in Costa Rica and Guatemala; the United States Court House and Federal Building in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

Thomas S. Marvel in 2009 on the construction site of the City Hall he designed in Caguas, Puerto Rico. Credit Thomas Marvel Jr.

Marvel was born on March 15, 1935, in Newburgh, New York, where his father practiced as an architect.

After earning a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth in 1956, he enrolled in the Graduate School of Design at Harvard. In 1958 he left Harvard to work with Buckminster Fuller, the uncle of his wife, Lucilla, who survives him.

In addition to her and his son Jonathan, a partner in Marvel Architects in Manhattan, he is survived by two other sons, Deacon, an architect in Boston, and Thomas; his sisters, Susan Norris and Josephine Hull and seven grandchildren.

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