Obituary: John Edward Figel / His drawings made buildings come to life

April 9, 1930 - May 16, 2014

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John Edward Figel's renderings showed the overpasses of the Parkway North long before the highway to the region's northern suburbs was built. His detailed line-drawings of icons used in Eastern Christian churches helped children learn about the religious images in coloring books.

A licensed architect who retired from Urban Design Associates of Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s, Mr. Figel, 84, died Friday at The Cedars of Monroeville after a period of declining health, according to his daughter, Judi Figel of Monroeville.

One of 10 children, Mr. Figel was born in Duquesne and graduated from Duquesne High School in 1947. His post-high school years included a stint at U.S. Steel, said his wife, Jean Helen Katchur Figel. The couple married in 1952.

Drafted into the U.S. Army, Mr. Figel served from 1955 to 1957, mainly near the former Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, and early on, his skills in drawing and building were evident. Mrs. Figel said commanding officers assigned her husband to work on various construction projects.

"When they found out he had that talent, they really used it," she recalled.

Off duty, he picked up work for an architectural firm in the Washington, D.C., area, bringing in extra money to support his growing family.

Following military service, the family returned to the Pittsburgh area, living in West Mifflin and later Churchill. Mr. Figel worked as a draftsman for the Rust Engineering Co., while also studying for a degree in architecture from Carnegie Institute of Technology, now Carnegie Mellon University. As an older student, he appreciated the opportunity and studied hard, working on projects late into the night, his wife said.

He graduated in 1962, and not long after passed the exam to be a licensed architect. That was a great day, Mrs. Figel said, since he had wanted it for so long.

Mr. Figel's architectural career took him to Celli-Flynn in McKeesport, then on to Damianos and Pedone of Oakland and next to Urban Design Associates. He worked on all sorts of projects, including school buildings, hotels and even a structure at CMU.

In some cases, the Pittsburgh firm he worked for collaborated with an out-of-town architectural firm and his assignment was to keep the project on track and work with contractors trying to follow the plans. His calm, upbeat personality helped in situations when things hadn't gone smoothly and something had to be redone, his wife said.

Following retirement, he continued to work on small projects, such as an addition for a funeral home and on people's houses but eventually the market's shift toward computer-assisted design meant there was less need for his detailed hand-drawn renderings, Mrs. Figel said.

Around that time, his son, John "Jack" Figel, in Fairfax, Va., had begun a small publishing operation specializing in materials for Eastern Christian organizations. The company began putting out coloring books featuring the architect's drawings of icons used in various churches. Churches used the publications to help teach children about the images.

Mr. Figel and his wife were baptized and raised at Saints Peter and Paul Byzantine Catholic Church in Duquesne. Mr. Figel's contributions to the church over the years included making signs and banners for many occasions as well as portraits and silhouettes for parish fund-raising events.

His funeral was held Tuesday at Saint John Chrysostom Byzantine Catholic Church in Greenfield.

Mr. Figel also is survived by a daughter, Joyce Sabo of Baldwin, and two grandchildren.

He was interred at St. Joseph Cemetery in North Versailles with military honors. Jobe Funeral Home in Turtle Creek handled the arrangements.


Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2018.


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