The art of architecture: Remembering Roc Caivano

MOUNT DESERT — Roc Caivano was for many years “the go-to guy for residential and institutional architecture on Mount Desert Island,” said landscape architect Sam Coplon, who collaborated with Caivano on numerous projects.

“He peppered the landscape with great buildings and happy clients and people who appreciated his skill and sensitivity.”

Caivano died last week at age 77, just a few days after the Northeast Harbor Library opened an exhibit of some of his architectural drawings and models, as well as a number of his paintings.

The exhibit will be up the rest of this month, and a closing reception will be held Thursday, July 29, from 5-7 p.m.

“The exhibit shows a great cross-section of Roc’s incredible talent,” Coplon said.

“We did a number of projects together at College of the Atlantic (COA) and in Acadia and other places through the years. Roc would do the architecture and I would do the site work.

“It was a delightful collaboration. Roc was an amazing guy and just a fun person to work with.”

With a master’s degree in architecture from Yale University, Caivano was hired by College of the Atlantic in 1974 to start a program in Environmental Design. One of his students was Barbara Sassaman, who for many years now has been a successful residential designer in Bar Harbor.

As her final project at COA, she did a historical research paper and drawings of the current condition of the school’s iconic Turrets building, which was vacant and in great disrepair. The college obtained grants for a group led by Caivano and Sassaman to design a major restoration of the Turrets.

Then Caivano, Sassaman and COA engineer and faculty member Harris Hyman were hired to design the Wendell Gilley Museum in Southwest Harbor. A few years later, Caivano and Hyman designed the graceful, bowed footbridge over the small pond beside Main Street in Somesville that is one of the most-photographed structures in Maine.


After that, Caivano spent several years working with other architects in Philadelphia, where, according to Sassaman, he was involved in, among many other projects, designing a new gorilla habitat at the Philadelphia Zoo.

He returned to Bar Harbor in 1990 to open his own practice, Roc Caivano Architects, where he worked, along with his wife, Helen, for the next 22 years.

Asked about Caivano’s style of architecture, Sassaman said, “When you walk into Roc’s houses, you feel like you’re sitting in your grandmother’s lap or in a big, overstuffed chair. They just sort of wrap around you and make you feel really comfortable and at home.

“He looked at the historical Mount Desert Island architecture and sort of put a modern twist on it.”

Lissa Hodder and her husband, long-time friends of Caivano’s, hired him to design a home they wanted to build in Bar Harbor.

“It was wonderful working with Roc,” she said. “He was very particular about the drawings he did for us. And he listened, he listened, he listened.”

Caivano and Bob Knight, an architect in Brooksville, were friends for 55 years, having met during their first year in architecture school at Yale.

“In school, I always expected Rocky’s work to be better than mine, and it was always at least as good,” Knight said. “He was spectacularly good, one of the best people in a class of very talented people.

“He was a wonderful designer, and he took his work seriously, but he didn’t take himself too seriously.”

At the time of his retirement in 2012, Caivano said, “It’s been very interesting and humbling and educational and addictive to live here and do this for a living.”

Caivano had always enjoyed painting and, of course, he was very good at it. But he didn’t have much time to paint until he retired.

“He painted in many different styles,” Knight said. “He could look at a scene or a subject he wanted to paint and change his style. His paintings in the Northeast Harbor Library exhibit are stunningly good.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]

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