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Peter Steffian, 76; architect encouraged collaborative spirit

Mr. Steffian worked for a half-century at Steffian Bradley Architects.

Mr. Steffian worked for a half-century at Steffian Bradley Architects.

During the half-century he spent working at the Boston architectural firm his father founded, Peter Steffian built a reputation by designing a long list of buildings and facilities, as well as through his commitment to the profession and his dedication to young architects.

“Mentoring has always been a part of an architect’s training,” he said in an interview conducted earlier this year by his firm, Steffian Bradley Architects. “I worked for my father during summers and had a drafting table which I drew on growing up. I think there is a lot to be learned from others that you won’t learn in architecture school.”

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Colleagues said that Mr. Steffian, a past leader of the American Institute of Architects-Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Board of Registration of Architects, and of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, generously shared with others the knowledge he gleaned during his long career.

“One of his greatest strengths was his mentorship, as well as the collaborative spirit he encouraged, not only internally, but between design professionals, clients, construction teams,” said Kurt Rockstroh, president and chief executive of Steffian Bradley Architects. “He was always able to develop a team consensus.”

Mr. Steffian, who had been chairman of Steffian Bradley Architects, died of cancer May 28 in Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge. He was 76 and almost always lived in Cambridge.

In an e-mail, Ted Landsmark, president and chief executive of the Boston Architectural College and board president of the National Architectural Accrediting Board, said many in the industry will miss Mr. Steffian. “His public service supporting the professional growth of aspiring designers was tremendous,” Landsmark said.

Mr. Steffian, Landsmark said, decided not to serve on certain boards “because he felt such governance work could take him away from interacting directly with the next generations of architects.”

He is ‘known here and abroad as a leader in educating designers.’

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Still, Mr. Steffian donated time to many organizations and institutions, among them the Boston Society of Architects, the American Arbitration Association, and Boston by Foot, which celebrates Boston’s architectural history.

Mr. Steffian’s wife, Beth, said he viewed his career in three stages: as an architect, as a volunteer for architectural organizations, and as an expert witness in court cases.

“He was having a wonderful time,” she said of the legal work he concentrated on in recent years. “In working with lawyers to defend architects, he learned a great deal about what could go wrong on a project, and he was able to take all that back to the young people in his office.”

Rockstroh said Mr. Steffian was working as an expert witness on four separate cases at the time of his death, and called his contributions “invaluable.”

Landsmark had said in a statement issued after Mr. Steffian’s death was announced that he is “known here and abroad as a leader in educating designers,” and added that he was “always fun to be with. . . . He brought joy to every room he entered.”

Born in Cambridge in 1936, Mr. Steffian graduated from the Dublin School in Dublin, N.H.

While studying architecture at the University of Pennsylvania, he met Beth Brumbaugh on a blind date set up by mutual friends “whose main object was to acquire the use of Peter’s car,” she recalled.

He graduated in 1959 with a bachelor’s degree in architecture and worked in several small firms in Philadelphia while Beth finished her studies at Bryn Mawr College. They married in 1961 in her hometown, Logansport, Ind.

The couple and their two young daughters moved to Cambridge in 1963, and Mr. Steffian joined the Boston firm that his father, Edwin T. Steffian, founded in 1932.

“When we were little, it was a small family firm,” said his daughter Amy of Juneau, Alaska. “Now it’s a huge international firm. It’s exciting to see how he put his heart and soul into this organization. It was his great love and achievement.”

Mr. Steffian had many interests outside of work, too, such as spending time with his family in Cundy’s Harbor, Maine, where he and his wife renovated several houses.

He also enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen, and in a eulogy, his son, George of Rota, Spain, called food “one of Dad’s greatest joys.”

“Whether it was packing the cooler for a weekend in Maine, selecting the perfect venue for a Sunday brunch, picking out Italian pastries in the North End, or creating a new nut mix for a holiday party, enjoying food and conversation with those he loved completed him,” George said. “Ordering at a restaurant was a great test of wits and strategy. . . . He handled a menu like a hand of cards, observing other people’s moves and ordering to maximize total taste variance and enjoyment.”

Mr. Steffian followed all Boston sports teams, his daughter said, but was most passionate about the Red Sox.

“Many of our birthdays were spent at Fenway Park,” she said. “Dad always had a little gray transistor radio with him so he could follow the Sox.”

At Steffian Bradley Architects, Mr. Steffian was known for getting the dancing started at office parties, and for his expansive collection of bow ties.

“We even celebrated his love of bow ties one afternoon with a competition for the best and most imaginative,” said Linda Haggerty, a principal at the firm, in a eulogy. “Peter thought it was great fun and laughed heartily at his picture next to the craziest of creations.”

A service has been held for Mr. Steffian, who in addition to his wife, daughter, and son leaves another daughter, Hanna of Brunswick, Maine; a brother, John of Waterford, Conn.; and five grandchildren.

Family and colleagues also spoke about his sense of humor and spirit for adventure.

“He was incredibly outgoing, an extrovert of the greatest kind,” his daughter said. “And he was so fun-loving, he loved a good joke.”

Mr. Steffian “was creative and messy and funny, and warm,” his wife said. “Just a delight to be around.”

Kathleen McKenna
can be reached at kmck66@comcast.net.

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