Gilbert A. Rosenthal, 58, of Chestnut Hill, an award-winning architect who specialized in the revitalization of postindustrial cities, died June 27 of complications from cancer at the Penn Hospice at Rittenhouse.
Mr. Rosenthal was a principal in the Philadelphia design firm of Wallace Roberts & Todd (WRT) where he was recruited in 1983 to build an architecture practice within what was known at that time as an internationally renowned planning and landscape firm.
In a career that spanned 35 years, his primary interest was transforming poor urban neighborhoods and abandoned waterfronts in postindustrial cities into viable mixed-income communities, for which he won numerous awards.
His legacy is the result of more than a billion dollars of public investment in the demolition of deteriorating public housing and its replacement with new homes affordable to former residents in more than 40 cities, including Seattle, Louisville, Jacksonville, Tulsa, Buffalo, Birmingham, Baltimore, Mobile, Meridian and New Orleans.
Providing quality of life to the underserved through architectural design was the driving passion of his professional life, and he was most fulfilled when collaborating with residents to design their communities. For this extensive body of work, the American Institute of Architects elevated Mr. Rosenthal to its College of Fellows in 2006.
His work in the transformation of Robert Taylor Homes on the south side of Chicago led him to Denmark, where he was the guest of the Ministers of Housing and Integration, offering observations on social housing as part of an international colloquium.
In remarks captured on video in Denmark, Mr. Rosenthal said, “If I have one primary message to give, it’s the message I’ve been giving to my children since they were born: Your job is to leave the world a little better than you found it – not a little more used up, not a little more paved or dangerous, but a little better.”
Local examples of his work may be seen in the redevelopment of the Richard Allen Homes in North Philadelphia, for which he won his second Progressive Architecture Award, and in Waterfront Square, a condominium complex on reclaimed land along the Delaware River. Quadrangle, a continuing care retirement community in Haverford, and Valley Creek Corporate Center in Exton were planned to retain virgin open space for perpetuity.
The new student housing projects he designed at Ursinus College are built on reclaimed land, extending the campus into the valley to complete a larger master plan. In a dramatic change of scale and a commitment to mixed use and transit-related development, he also designed the new Atlantic City Convention Center and Rail Terminal. Comprising more than one million square feet, it is New Jersey’s largest public project.
Mr. Rosenthal wrote extensively on the practice of architecture, and his gift to the WRT staff was his publication in 2010 of “Gil’s Guide to Business Development,” a humorous book full of quips and stories of how (and how not) to market professional services.
He taught and was a guest lecturer at many institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University’s Kennedy School, Cornell University, Carnegie-Mellon University, Temple University, Bennington College and Drexel University.
He served on the board of Federation Housing and on the advisory board for Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program as well as the Building Industry Association’s Government Affairs Committee. He was a mentor in the Philadelphia Futures’ Sponsor-A-Scholar Program and a member of the University Barge Club.
Mr. Rosenthal was born and raised in the Long Island community of Franklin Square, N.Y. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Cornell and a master’s in architecture from the Harvard Graduate School of Design, he spent six years practicing in Pittsburgh and teaching at Carnegie-Melon University.
He is survived by his wife of 27 years, the Very Rev. Judith Sullivan, Dean of the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral; daughters Emily Wynne and Grace Sullivan Rosenthal, and a sister.
A memorial service led by Rabbi David Straus will be held at 1 p.m. Friday, July 8, at the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral, 38th Street between Chestnut and Market streets. Interment was private.
Memorial contributions may be made to the “Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania” in memory of Gilbert Rosenthal, Attn: Karrie Borgelt, 3535 Market Street, Suite 750, Philadelphia, PA 19104. Funds given in his name will be directed to the Abramson Cancer Center.
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