Thomas Wright; D.C. Architect Known for Eclectic Work

Architect Thomas W.D. Wright, 87, was active in urban housing issues.
Architect Thomas W.D. Wright, 87, was active in urban housing issues. (Family Photo - Family Photo)
By Yvonne Shinhoster Lamb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 3, 2006

Thomas W.D. Wright, 87, a Washington area architect who was active in housing matters and whose work included private homes, public housing, embassies and multiunit developments, died Feb. 18 of septic shock at the Ingleside of Rock Creek retirement facility in Washington.

The range of Mr. Wright's work was expansive, including 500-unit developments, detention facilities, schools and restaurants in the Washington area. His firm made alterations to U.S. chanceries in Oslo; Strasbourg, France; and Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. More recent work included U.S. properties in the Caribbean, Togo, Guinea and Nepal.

After the 1977 election of President Jimmy Carter, Mr. Wright submitted a white paper on urban housing to the Carter transition team. He suggested that with the right tax incentives, private enterprise could provide decent housing for middle, moderate and low-income families. In a 1977 article in The Washington Post, he talked about his experience with the Capital View Plaza housing development on East Capitol Street SE.

He said work on that project led him "to believe that citizen participation, planning and management are the keys to success."

Thomas William Dunstan Wright was born at the Grand Hotel in Rome. His parents were in Italy, where his mother had started a branch of the American Red Cross. He grew up in the District, graduating in 1937 from St. Albans School for Boys. He received his bachelor's degree from Harvard University in 1941, then served as a lieutenant commander in the Navy. He served on a minesweeper in the "Champagne Campaign" in the Mediterranean Sea during World War II.

He returned to Harvard after the war, receiving a master's degree in architecture from its Graduate School of Design in 1950.

For the next three years, he was an associate with Leon Brown Architect. From 1953 to 1980, he was a partner with Brown & Wright Architects and then was sole proprietor of Thomas W.D. Wright, FAIA, Architect until 2001. He also had been president of Wright and Rubin Architects.

An author, his work appeared in several architectural publications. He was a past president of the Washington chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

Mr. Wright, who was a Washington resident, volunteered on a number of boards and commissions. He was on the D.C. Planning Commission, D.C. Fine Arts Commission, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and the Georgetown Board of Architects of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts. He was also a member of the National Association of Intergroup Relations Officials, the National Association of Housing & Redevelopment Officials, the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing and the American Civil Liberties Union.

He was chairman of the Architectural Review Board and of the Architectural Advisory Board of the U.S. Commission of Fine Art, and was a member of the Society of Architectural Historians.

Mr. Wright was a fencing champion and had been an honorary member of the 1940 U.S. Olympic Team. He was on the U.S. Seniors Saber Fencing Team and was an American Saber Fencing Champion, Gold Medalist, in the 70 to 74 age group. He was also a member of the Cosmos Club.

His wife of 46 years, Penelope Ladd Wright, died in 1988; his wife of four years, Anita R. Gordon, died in 1999.

Survivors include three children from his first marriage, Peter W.D. Wright of Deltaville, Va., the Rev. Felicity Wright of El Cerrito, Calif., and Allegra Wright of Charles Town, W.Va.; a sister; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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