Austin architect contributed modernist buildings to city’s landscape

The late designer and teacher also illustrated children’s books and painted watercolors.


Thomas “Tom” Shefelman, who helped design several of Austin’s outstanding modernist buildings, died Wednesday at 89. Seattle-born Shefelman, a graduate of the University of Texas School of Architecture and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, also illustrated children’s books and painted watercolor scenes from his travels, often in tandem with his wife, Janice Shefelman, who survives him.

Among his contributions to the cityscape are the Starr Building, built for American National Bank and later renovated for the McGarrah Jessee advertising firm at Colorado and West Sixth streets. He loved designing churches, including the soaring Central Presbyterian Church at Brazos and East Eighth streets. Many of his projects — such as the Norwood Tower, Stephen F. Austin Hotel and Travis County’s courthouse — took the form of renovations.

Also an urban planner who served on many Austin commissions, Shefelman taught for years at UT, as Wayne Bell, long the dean of Austin preservation architects, recalls.

“The few times that we participated on projects together — and during our times carrying on the job of educating young architects — I always found him to be a truly decent person,” Bell said. “His interest in education was exemplary, and to participate with him on joint ventures always confirmed my respect for him.”

Shefelman passed away quietly, surrounded by family and friends, retelling old jokes and stories.

“My dad’s creations flowed from his head and hands like radiating shimmering beams of form and light and color,” his son, Dan Shefelman, said. “He taught me the love of making things. He called them ‘shapes and spaces.’ I will miss him terribly and pass along that gift in his name.”

“He was my first and best art teacher,” said his other son, Karl Shefelman. “He taught me how to truly see the world as an artist, and I will carry his wisdom and talent forward in my own art, heart and mind as long as I live. Dad touched so many people worldwide with his beautiful architecture, drawings and creative genius. And yet, despite all this, he was an incredibly humble man with a stoic, self-effacing humor.”

Plans for a memorial haven’t yet been announced. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in his name to KMFA-FM.



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