Get to know: Tony Martinico ’65, ’89, ’99, retiring professor looks forward to new beginning

Tony Martinico came to the University as a student in the 1960s; he's retiring after a 38-year teaching career here.
Tony Martinico came to the University as a student in the 1960s; he’s retiring after a 38-year teaching career here.

“Ghosts haunt institutions,” says Professor of Architecture Tony Martinico. “I don’t want to be one of those ghosts.”

That’s why, when the fall 2018 semester ended in December, Martinico retired from the University he has taught at for 39 years, from which he has three degrees, and that he first came to as an undergrad in the 1960s.

“He will definitely be missed by all of us in the School of Architecture community,” said Architecture Dean Will Wittig. “Tony’s contribution to the School of Architecture and our students has been remarkable. In addition to the obvious length of his tenure and the many hundreds of students he has supported, his work with students has had a profound impact on many of our graduates.”

Martinico came to University of Detroit to fulfill a dream, just not his own.

“I grew up in New York, but my dad was from Detroit,” Martinico said. “He had always wanted to come to the University, but it was the Depression and his family couldn’t afford it. He moved out to New York for work, but he always talked about University of Detroit. I came here because he spoke so highly of it.”

He earned a degree in liberal arts, then taught history and the social sciences for Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Detroit. Martinico said he was lured back to the University by then-Architecture Dean Bruno Leon, who could be very persuasive.

“Bruno had this capacity for making architecture seem like the most noble, the greatest profession you could have,” Martinico said. “And he felt I had a capacity to teach theory and history of Architecture.”

That proved to be an understatement, Wittig said.

“Tony’s leadership of our history and theory sequence has always been instrumental in opening our students’ eyes to the realm of deeper ideas in their work, and equipped them to ask important questions about the world around them,” Wittig said. “I have heard from many former students that his influence on their development and his mentorship was very meaningful and remained relevant to them throughout their lives.”

Martinico says that after working with so many students over the years, he can tell when one isn’t a good match for the field.

“Sometimes a student may be trying to decide between Engineering and Architecture, and a lot of the time it looks like the same thing — you’re doing math and constructing — but what it all comes down to, ultimately, is do they have a tolerance for ambiguity? It’s a personality trait you have to have. You must be bold, be inventive; architecture is not just about ideas, but ideas made physical in some way and not necessarily a structure. And it’s also important that you not be afraid of criticism.”

His interest, as a professor, is to engage the imagination, Martinico says. He wants students to ask questions that are not the obvious ones. When they do, he says, it’s the sign of a student learning.

Martinico also teaches a studio class and ran the SOA’s study abroad programs in Italy and Poland for decades, helping it become a vital part of the School’s curriculum that opens students to new ideas, histories and architecture.

Tony is not the only Martinico to have made a mark at University of Detroit Mercy. His wife, Pat, also served for many years, in administrative roles, including as an assistant dean. In fact, he says one or both of them has been at the University continuously since 1965.

Martinico said he will miss working with students, and will try to keep his fingers in education in some capacity, but a lengthy career like that doesn’t just end. He plans to write and research.

“I don’t know what form my studies will take, but I’m interested in various forms of media,” he said. “I believe the idea of a linear argument is being challenged by how information is being presented and that’s something I feel is worth looking at.”

This next stage of life, he expects, will include him asking the questions that aren’t obvious to others.

“I feel like the last several years has only been my beginning,” he said.

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