Lawrence W. Speck grew up in a small town on the Gulf Coast of Texas. There were 40 people in his high school graduating class. He attended M.I.T. as an undergraduate receiving two degrees, one in Art and Design from the School of Architecture and one in Management from the Sloan School. He went on to earn his Master of Architecture from M.I.T. as well. Because the institute allowed students to take as many hours as they could handle for a flat fee and because money was an issue, Larry completed seven years worth of degrees in five years.
In the School of Architecture at M.I.T. Larry had influential architects as professors. Edward Allen taught him construction in his first year. Lawrence Anderson, who was dean at the time, took Larry and two other rebellious students for an independent study design studio in second year because they objected to all of the regular offerings. Spiro Kostof, who was visiting from Berkeley, taught him in a seminar with 8 students on the History of Rome. Stanford Anderson was a special mentor, and Larry worked closely with him in a traveling seminar in Paris studying streets. He was Donlyn Lyndon’s teaching assistant, and Donlyn was his thesis advisor. Larry also got to know Charles Moore during this period since Charles was working with Donlyn on the book, The Place of Houses, at the time.
After graduation, Larry joined the M.I.T. faculty in a half-time adjunct position, spending the other half of his time in practice—first with Sert Jackson Associates in Cambridge and later with Huygens and Tappe in Boston. That pattern of concurrent involvement in teaching and practice has continued throughout his career.
In 1975 Larry joined the faculty of the School of Architecture at University of Texas at Austin and started his own practice, Lawrence W. Speck Associates, in Austin. The dean who had hired him at UT was fired by Christmas of that first year, and Larry was elected to the committee to select a new dean. Over the next three decades Hal Box, the committee’s selection, would become an important mentor and collaborator in transforming the School of Architecture from a mediocre regional school into one with national standing.
Larry spent a year in 1978-9 in Australia as a Fulbright Senior Scholar. He was assigned for short periods of time to eight different universities in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth and became acquainted with a vital group of architects in Australia committed to a modern regionalism and sustainable design. Glenn Murcutt and Philip Drew were among the leaders of this group who he came to know well.
In the early 1980s Larry’s practice began to gain national notice. He won a Progressive Architecture Design Award in 1982 and an Owens Corning Fiberglass Energy Conservation Award in 1983 for a town center in tiny Burnet, Texas. Between 1981 and 1984 various projects were published in Architectural Design, The New York Times, Architecture, Progressive Architecture and Architectural Record, being noted primarily for their response to their region and their resource conservation. In 1986 a cover story in Progressive Architecture titled “Texas Commentaries” featured two of Larry’s early projects.
Concurrent with these practice successes, Larry was helping to found the Center for American Architecture and Design in the School of Architecture at UT where he was Director from 1982-90. He organized six national symposia, helped publish three books and created the journal, Center, serving as editor or co-editor for four of its first five issues. The Center and its journal continue to thrive today. During this period Larry also wrote for Journal of Architectural Education, AIA Journal, Architecture and Texas Architect, contributed chapters in books by others and published his own book Landmarks of Texas Architecture.
In 1990 Larry became associate dean of the School of Architecture at University of Texas, and in 1992 he became dean. During his nine years as dean the school saw its budget increase 6-12% each year and its endowment increase six-fold, achieved “top-ten” ranking among Schools of Architecture in U. S. News and World Report and attracted extraordinary new permanent faculty including Wilfred Wang, Amy Glassmeier and Juan Miro and visiting faculty such as Glenn Murcutt, Michael Rotondi and Tod Williams/Billie Tsien.
During the 1990s Larry’s practice continued to flourish as he completed complex urban projects, often in joint ventures with a large Austin firm, PageSoutherlandPage. He was lead designer for the Austin Convention Center completed in 1992, the Austin Airport completed in 1998 and Rough Creek Lodge completed in 1999, and he contributed to the Town Lake Master Plan, which continues to shape development in downtown Austin. In 1999 Larry joined PageSoutherlandPage where he is now one of five principals; the 450-person firm has offices in Houston, Denver, Dallas, Austin and Washington, D.C. In 2009, the firm received the Texas Society of Architects’ Architecture Firm Award and was nominated by the AIA Committee on Design for the national AIA Firm Award.
Over the last decade Larry has expanded the range of his teaching in the School of Architecture, has been a potent agent for change in the larger University of Texas community, has increased the scope and quantity of projects in his practice, has contributed to national and international architectural journals, has written a book, Technology, Sustainability and Cultural Identity, and has served on advisory boards for two U.S. governmental agencies, two national environmental non-profits and six schools of architecture.