Marsha Maytum, Bill Leddy, and Richard Stacy (left to right)
Colin Lenton Marsha Maytum, Bill Leddy, and Richard Stacy (left to right)

Based in San Francisco, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects (LMS) is known for its thoughtfully designed educational, civic, and institutional buildings as well as multifamily housing. A leader in sustainability, their projects are often shoo-ins for the Top Ten list that the American Institute of Architects’ Committee on the Environment puts together each year.

Yet for a firm that has such a substantial architectural footprint, LMS has a relatively small, but dedicated, staff. “People are surprised to find that we aren’t a larger firm—we’re just 20 designers who share an interest in doing this kind of work,” says principal Bill Leddy.

The three principals—Leddy, Marsha Maytum, and Richard Stacy—have worked together since the 1980s. But the story goes back even further: Leddy and Maytum met in 1973 when they were both architecture students at the University of Oregon. After graduation, they got married and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Maytum joined local firm Tanner & VanDine, where Stacy was working, and Leddy signed on soon after.

Five Questions with Leddy Maytum Stacy.

Which architects have influenced your firm the most?
Louis Kahn, for his exquisite compositions of structure and light; Renzo Piano, for his early embrace of integrated ecological design; and Peter Zumthor, for his finely tuned sensibility toward craft, place and experience.

What is your favorite architecture-related book?
Genius Loci: Towards a Phenomenology of Architecture by Christian Norberg-Schulz is an inspiring work about the potential of architecture to "make the total environment visible"—to anchor us in our world.

If you weren’t architects what would you be doing now?
We can’t imagine doing anything else.

What type of house would you build if you had no budgetary or client restraints?
An 800-square-foot cottage that is net-zero energy and net-zero water, which is connected to the natural world in the city.

What is your favorite vacation spot?
The very next one! Any time we connect to nature and are immersed in a new environment is a great vacation.

An early project that exemplified the trio’s shared goals was their elegant renovation of a 1951 Greyhound bus garage into a home for the California College of the Arts. Though it was completed in 1999—before the launch of LEED—the three architects prioritized sustainability, working out how to heat the 91,000-square-foot building with a massive solar-powered hydronic system. “Architecture has all these possibilities embedded within it—the potential to advance social and sustainable agendas,” says Maytum.

Over the years the firm evolved, officially becoming Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects in 2001. And in 2005, it got the chance to tackle its first affordable housing project. San Francisco commissioned LMS (in conjunction with Paulett Taggart Architects) to design a building for the formerly homeless. The local press described the Plaza Apartments, enlivened by colorful panels, as “one of San Francisco’s most humane new buildings.”

Since then, the firm has completed six more affordable housing developments, each with a strong emphasis on communal spaces and a bold façade. More recently, LMS has been lauded for the innovative Sweetwater Spectrum in Sonoma for adults with autism. The 16-person residential development offers a model for how autistic adults can live well together.

“We work collaboratively to create environments that welcome everyone, that celebrate the full spectrum of the human condition,” Stacy explains. “It’s a more powerful and meaningful architecture.”