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DAAP Alumnus-Founded Firm Celebrates 50 Years and a Legacy

Baltimore architecture firm Marks Thomas flourishes under DAAP alumni direction, creativity and initiative.

Date: 8/1/2017 12:00:00 AM
By: Laura Cook Kroeger
Photos By: Photos provided by Marks Thomas

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Exterior image of a large brick building at twilight
Marks Thomas' award-winning Miller's Court

Marks Thomas Architects in Baltimore, Maryland is a hub for graduates of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Arts and Planning. The firm, established in the ’60s by DAAP alumnus Paul Marks, has never wavered from its commitment to shine as an award-winning innovator and standout as one of the most comprehensive co-op experiences in the nation.

“As our firm celebrates 50 years this year we realize we’ll continue to make our University of Cincinnati connection and co-op program stronger and stronger,” believes Principal Tom Liebel, FAIA, alumnus of the DAAP class of ’90. “In fact, we have a co-op student here right now and we recently hired a UC grad who will be starting in a couple of weeks. We recognize that many graduates like to stay in Ohio since they have no connection to a place as far away as Baltimore. That’s why we encourage co-op students to travel the country and experience firms whether they are large or small, with various niches to give them opportunities they would not get at other firms. This scenario is a win-win situation for every co-op student. You can check out the East Coast or the West Coast, a medium-sized firm, a big firm. What resonates with you? Is it municipal buildings? Housing? High-rises?”

In addition to Liebel, who happens to be one of the country’s first LEED-accredited professionals, the firm also has two other DAAP graduates in leadership positions. Principal Mark Heckman, ’80, began his career there as a co-op and is one of the first Congress for New Urbanism-accredited professionals in the nation. Associate Principal Michael Stumpfoll, ’92, focuses on affordable housing and senior living communities.      

“We hire students from lots of schools and find UC students to be well-trained and able to easily integrate themselves into the activities of the firm,” says Liebel. “DAAP is nationally renowned and of a high caliber. It shows. Of course we understand the co-op process because so many of us here went through it. We make sure these students get the opportunity to work on a variety of different projects so that they get a breadth of meaningful opportunities. It’s a way we can give back to a program that did so much for us. 

Image of a group relaxing in an interior courtyard inside a red brick building well lit with patio light
Marks Thomas' award-winning Miller's Court

“Truthfully, the DAAP program defined who I am,” Liebel continues. “For me, it defined the way I view and engage the world. Everything I see, every space I see, I analyze. How does the space make you feel? Could it be better utilized? What would I do differently? Thanks to the training I received at UC, I am hard wired for that. And for me, it’s kind of cool. UC gave me a special passion that has definitely shaped my life. The training, passion and enthusiasm we developed in school makes us want to uphold the standards we learned and maintain the bonds of friendship and allegiance that were so strong at DAAP.”

“There are many alums here in Baltimore,” he continues. “We refer students to each other and have a deep dedication to ensuring that they all have the same all-encompassing experience that we did during our own co-op days. It’s what ties us together as professionals and as people. To this day, some of my best friends are fellow DAAP students. They are scattered across the country, but we still try to get together as much as possible.”

Liebel’s allegiance to DAAP is so strong that he’s willing to help with whatever he can do when he’s in town, whether it’s guest lecturing or meeting one-on-one with students.

“I’ll be there without hesitation,” he says. “Our son is studying nearby so this is my chance to come back to town often and give back to the program.”

Another person who continues to tout the DAAP standards of excellence is Paul Marks, one of the firm’s founders. He may have retired a decade ago, but he continues to mentor and inspire.

“I got a lot of self-confidence from DAAP,” he recalls. “It was a real grounding in the fundamentals of architecture with a strong design and technical education and a well-rounded liberal arts/fine arts exposure. Coupled with hands-on experience and mentoring from successful professionals during the co-op experience, it allowed me to dream big.”

It was 1956 when Marks arrived in Cincinnati. His father was a builder and his older brother had settled on an education at UC. So it seemed right that he would enter what would become one of America’s signature programs for architecture. His first co-op experience was with Cincinnati’s GBBN. “Otto Bauer-Nilson was my mentor,” he reveals. “I was there on the ground floor. He let me do everything and listen in on every discussion.”

That was followed by time at Carl Strauss Associates, a boutique Cincinnati design firm that consistently produced high-quality, award-winning architecture. Marks and his DAAP colleagues took such experiences to Baltimore.

“I see our firm’s legacy in the structures we have built, Marks says. “Our reputation as a leader in housing and urban design speaks for itself. It was a great achievement to spend 50 years weathering a very challenging profession during the ups and downs of the economy and still turn out award-winning work. Our legacy also involves transitioning to a new generation of leaders after mentoring hundreds of young, aspiring professionals, including many from UC.”

As for specific achievements, he lists some favorites:

  • Working with the most renowned architects of the 20th Century: Frank Gehry on the Oregon Ridge Performing Arts Center; Charles Gwathmey on the Lutheran Center; and Michael Graves at Carl Strauss and Associates
  • The Shanghai International Science Convention Center and Hotel
  • The Ritz Carlton Inner Harbor, Baltimore
  • Sailwinds Visitors’ Center, Cambridge, Maryland, winner of the 2003 AIA Grand Design Award as well as the Athenaeum and AIA Honor Design Awards
  • Marks residence, Inner Harbor, Baltimore
  • Village of Cross Keys Community Club, Baltimore
  • Henry Ford Village, Dearborn, Michigan, built on the birthplace of Henry Ford

Marks is not shy about advising current students. 

“Dream big and take some chances while immersing yourself in your education,” he says. “Travel and stretch yourself. Hard work and perseverance are the keys to accomplishing your goals. There’s no substitute for hard work. Never give up. There are times that are bleak for architects when the economy is down. I decided that when that would happen I’d never look back. I’d even be willing to drive a cab if it meant keeping the company afloat.” 

Though he never had to resort to cab driving, Marks, along with Liebel and the other DAAP graduates, celebrate 50 years of award-winning work completed with an unbridled passion they attribute to a common experience: DAAP.