In Memoriam:


Philip Thiel: December 20, 1920 - May 10, 2014

(See below for Memorial Celebration - August 17 2014)


Philip Thiel, Professor Emeritus of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Washington, Naval Architect and community activist, died peacefully at home at the age of 93 on Saturday May 10, 2014, surrounded by family and friends.

Thiel was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1920 to Philip Thiel and Alma Theone (Meyer). He received BS and MS degrees in naval architecture from the Webb Institute (1943) and U.Michigan (1948) respectively, and a BS in Architecture from MIT (1952). He taught Naval Architecture at MIT (1949-50), Architecture and Design at UC Berkeley (1954-60), the UW (1961-91), the Tokyo Institute of Technology (1976-78) and the Sapporo School of Arts (1992-98). He authored three books, Freehand Drawing (1965), Visual Awareness & Design (1981), People, Paths & Purposes (1997), and co-founded the magazine Environment & Behavior (1969).

In his retirement, Thiel revisited his naval architecture roots, designing a series of pedal-powered wooden boats; and became more involved in community activism, spearheading efforts for people-centered urban design, including the current effort to create a public plaza as part of the U.District Sound Transit station. 

His boat designs: "Tiny houseboats", Webb Institute article and Wooden Boat Magazine (page 73)

His propeller: theft and sculpture

His passion for urban space: "Citzen Thiel" and "The Future of the U District"

He is survived by his wife of 59 years Midori Kono (Seattle), son Kenji (Virginia), daughters Tamiko (Munich) and Kiko (London/Stockholm) and granddaughter Ravenna (Boston). His other son Peter Akira died in 1978. 

Please see this link for a longer, printable pdf obituary, or this link for a memorial album+obituary

Here is Lynn Thompson's obituary in the Seattle Times.

Sea Land Design- Phil Thiel's boat design page
Phil Thiel's boat designs live on on this site. Wooden Boat Magazine is selling plans for the Escargot (click for link) and the Friend-Ship (click for link) online; for the other plans please see the design file at Sea Land Design.


Memorial Celebration:

The memorial celebration of Phil Thiel's life and works was held at the Center for Wooden Boats.

Sunday August 17, 2014

Center for Wooden Boats [ see map ]
1010 Valley Street, Seattle WA 98109

Video recording and editing with grateful thanks to Dave Crowther:


Online Memorial Sites:

As an online celebration, and also to collect material that might flow into the memorial celebration, the U District Square Project has kindly set up memorial webpages where anyone can contribute texts and images.

Phil Thiel Memorial Blog - with longer obituary
Beneath the obituary, please contribute textual reminiscences and anecdotes, or weblinks to articles and other online content.

Phil Thiel Memorial Gallery
For contributing images - please give your or the photographer's name, so we can contact you, and a caption describing the photo and if possible where and when it was taken:

Lake Union Watershed obituary talks about Phil Thiel's last fight - to turn the light rail stop in the U District into a public square, rather than a huge blank box with yet more retail space.

Obituary from Prof. Harry Heft, Environmental Psychologist, Denison College, discusses Phil Thiel's contribution to this field.

Lynn Thompson's obituary for the Seattle Times.



In lieu of sending flowers, the family requests donations
to one of these projects dear to Phil's heart:


Phil Thiel Memorial Fund for U District Square
Phil Thiel requested that this fund be set up to help realize his dream for a public plaza in the U District, to be constructed above the new subway station in the University District in lieu of a massive, enclosed shopping center.

Either send a check to:
U DISTRICT SQUARE ("Phil Thiel Memorial Fund"), PO Box 85472, Seattle, WA 98145

Or donate online on the U District Square project website:


The Center for Wooden Boats - Aphasia Fund
Phil Thiel was a dedicated member of The Center for Wooden Boats (CWB) for over a decade. Phil’s lasting legacy at CWB is our pedal boat Aphasia, which he designed and cared for. It is our most popular livery boat at CWB and has provided countless hours of fun for families on Lake Union; however, like all our wooden boats, it needs yearly maintenance. You can keep Phil’s memory alive at CWB by keeping Aphasia in top condition and in our fleet.

Either send a check payable to:
Center for Wooden Boats (“In Memory of Phil Thiel-Aphasia Fund”), 1010 Valley St., Seattle WA 98109

Or donate online on the CWB website:

  • Click "Donate Now" button
  • Write “In Memory of Phil Thiel- Aphasia Fund” in the comments box


Kiyoshi Seike Endowed Fellowship
This fund provides financial assistance for graduate students in the Department of Architecture to research or study in Japan. Phil Thiel set up this fund to honor his lifelong friend Professor Kiyoshi Seike (Tokyo Institute of Technology) whom he met in the Boston offices of famed Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius back in the 1940's. During their lifelong friendship they arranged for their respective universities to exchange students and professors so they could teach in and experience each others' cultures.

Either send a check payable to:
UW FOUNDATION ("Kiyoshi Seike Endowed Fellowship",) PO Box 359505, Seattle, WA 98195

Or donate online at the UW website:

  • Select Built Environments / Architecture/
  • Then select the tab More Funds and scroll down to "Kiyoshi Seike Endowed Fellowship".
  • Then scroll down further to Continue to Donor Information.