An architectural firm with roots in Puerto Rico and New York has established an office in downtown Richmond.
Marvel, named after director and co-founder Jonathan Marvel, has set up shop at 300 E. Main St., occupying a 1,200 square foot storefront in the St. Albans Lofts building in Monroe Ward.
The 9-year-old company focuses on architecture, landscaping and urban planning in areas such as residential, commercial, cultural, educational, hotel and recreational.
Marvel’s team captain in Richmond is Tyler Silvestro, a company partner who runs the local office along with Mitch Crowder and Caroline Frantz. The three reconnected here after each relocating from New York, prompting Silvestro to suggest the idea of opening an office to the firm’s founding partners.
“We had staff interested in living in a city of a certain size. Richmond is that ladder,” Silvestro said. “He has that excitement and drive that we look for in a community.”
While the office just opened, Marvel has had boots on the ground here for months.
Crowder joined the firm in December after a five-year stint with local store Architecturefirm. He had worked for Marvel before moving to Richmond five years ago.
Silvestro said the decision to move forward with an office in Richmond was prompted in part by the pandemic, as well as a request for proposals that caught the company’s attention.
“When I pitched this idea to the founding partners, there were some pretty high-profile tenders at the time. VMFA was one of them,” Silvestro said, referring to the $190 million expansion. dollars from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts which is now about to start.
“We thought we had to find a local partner, and Mitch’s name almost immediately came up,” Silvestro said. “We actually discussed partnering with Architecturefirm for this lawsuit. That’s when we reconnected with Mitch, and Caroline at that time was here, so we were all talking together.
Crowder, a Virginia native who grew up south of Richmond, had moved here with her husband after 10 years in New York, including three with Marvel. He said Richmond’s urban fabric and history were draws, as well as its current and potential growth.
“It’s a very unique southern city that also feels very urban, and that was something that was very important to us,” Crowder said. “Being here for five years, it’s a city that has just grown by leaps and bounds. It’s incredibly exciting to be a part of it,” he said.
Frantz, a graduate of Virginia Tech, was drawn to Richmond in the same way.
“There’s a burgeoning creative scene here, there’s a lot of building going on, and we really want to help give back to this community and make good design and good buildings an ongoing thing that shows up all over the world. city,” she said. .
Silvestro, who moved to Charlottesville with his wife in the early months of the pandemic, said the accompanying remote work informed the company that a third office was feasible.
“There was no desire to do it before the pandemic,” he said. “We wanted to leave New York, and suddenly we realized that we live in a world where everyone can work very effectively remotely. After a year and a half, we are still working very efficiently on projects in the northeast up to Puerto Rico, where we have another office.
Puerto Rican roots
Marvel’s Puerto Rican roots begin with Jonathan Marvel’s father, Thomas Marvel, who Silvestro says was instrumental in bringing modernist architecture to the island. His firm, Marvel & Marchand Architects, shares Marvel’s office in San Juan. Silvestro said the two companies joined forces when Jonathan launched Marvel in 2013, following the split from his former New York company, Rogers Marvel Architects.
“It became the setting we felt comfortable opening an office in Richmond for,” Silvestro said, “which was an ability to work successfully in two offices on projects in any location. The idea that the San Juan office and the New York office had that relationship allows an office like Richmond to thrive and get off the ground in a way that we’re confident will work.
Silvestro said his respective disciplines and those of his colleagues balance the local office. Silvestro focuses on landscape architecture, while Crowder’s background is largely in hospitality and multi-family housing, both market-priced and low-income. Frantz’s experience is mainly in schools and higher education projects.
Crowder, a UNC-Charlotte graduate with a master’s degree from Harvard, said he and Frantz are also pursuing institutional work with universities in Virginia and North Carolina. They are also looking to hire graduates from local and regional design schools. Their local staff of five includes landscape designer Tonghuan Wu and architect Cody Solberg.
Although he is not yet active on any projects in Richmond, Crowder said they are actively seeking and talking to people he has met during his years here. Richmond’s closest work is in DC and Northern Virginia, where he designed a pedestrian plaza at the Pentagon, the Israel Lounge at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, President’s Park South, and the National Mall’s Constitution Gardens.
“We are actively looking to build the Marvel portfolio in the Richmond market as well as in Virginia,” Crowder said, adding that they’ve been in contact with developers primarily on multi-family residential opportunities.
The group worked with local firm Bank Street Advisors on their office search, which Crowder said focused on Jackson Ward and the Arts District before landing in St. Albans Lofts, a converted former office building in mixed use in 2017. Tony Rolando of Pollard & Bagby and Scott White represented the owner in lease negotiations.
“It’s a ground-level space, which was very important to us,” Crowder said. “We wanted to have a visual presence on the street and a connection to the streets, so people knew we were here and we had that connection to the pedestrians who walk past our storefront daily.”
With the street presence afforded by their downstairs space, Silvestro said they’re looking forward to further blending in and integrating Marvel into the community.
“The three of us found ourselves here, and we all offer such distinct components from what Marvel offers company-wide,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the three of us, (it) might not have worked out well, but the three of us did so well that it became clear that we had to start this office together. This is the tripod on which we will build our local presence here.