A Well-Designed Life

Professor Larry Speck loves all things architecture, from teaching his students to designing modern spaces

When choosing a family vacation spot, most kids set their sights on Disneyland or another entertainment mecca. Not Larry Speck. The young architect-in-the-making studied photos of buildings and set a course to visit them. President Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Tennessee was a favorite.

“Ever since I was a kid, there’s nothing that makes me happier than being in beautiful environments and experiencing new spaces,” said Speck, who has been a beloved professor of architecture at The University of Texas at Austin for 40 years.

His passion for the subject is palpable. After a 30-minute chat with Speck, you might even find yourself wanting to change careers.

Speck has introduced thousands of students — enough to populate Texarkana — to the world of architecture. About 500 students enroll in his Architecture and Society course each semester, and only 40 of them are architecture majors.

Professor Larry Speck will support future UT graduate students in architecture by designating a planned gift through his IRA.
Photo: Sloan Breeden

“You have this delicious material and these students who are so hungry for it because they’ve never been exposed to architecture,” said Speck. “They are turned on to how environments affect behavior, even well-being.”

Speck, who holds the W. L. Moody, Jr. Centennial Professorship in Architecture and is a former dean of the School of Architecture, has found a balance between teaching and doing. He is a principal in the firm Page, where he has built a portfolio of award-winning designs. His work enhances communities across the state — from Austin’s airport terminal and convention center to Houston’s Discovery Green Park to UT Dallas’ Brain Performance Institute. He also reshaped UT’s campus with his work on Dell Medical School’s Health Learning Building. Today, he is working on the redesign of Austin State Hospital.

“In my work, I encounter so many architects who have taken one of my classes — those worlds come together. It’s phenomenal, the number of people you can touch at this university who go on to do amazing things,” he said.

“I believe in these kids, so it’s important to me to support them. And that means through philanthropy as well.”

Speck has done just that — touched the lives of so many students. They credit him for opening their eyes to a new way of seeing the world and championing their dreams to design great spaces.

“I believe in these kids, so it’s important to me to support them. And that means through philanthropy as well.”

Speck has established a planned gift through his Individual Retirement Account. It is earmarked to assist graduate students in architecture at UT. They are his teaching assistants and often don’t have financial support. One of Speck’s goals is to educate others about this “smart way to give.”

“Your IRA is great if you use it during retirement, but if you don’t use it all — and I don’t think I will — there will be a substantial amount that will go to my estate. It’s not a good financial tool for that purpose,” he explained. “If that money goes to my children, it will be greatly reduced by taxes, versus if it goes to UT, the university gets 100% of it.”

Speck always knew he’d give to UT and his children support his choice. They love the university as well, and his youngest son is a fourth-generation Longhorn.

“I know that the School of Architecture can’t be competitive without support for graduate students,” said Speck. “They make us better, so it makes good sense to give to graduate fellowships, and it’s a smart choice to do it through my IRA.”

Unlocking Student Potential

Jorge Diaz

Growing up in a family with many siblings, Jorge Diaz never had enough space. “I started thinking about architecture when I was 11, and I remember promising my mom that I would build her a big house one day.” With financial support as a Gates Millennium Scholar, Diaz had options for college. He chose UT for its prestigious architecture program and found a mentor when he met Professor Larry Speck.

“I don’t know if there are even words to thank Larry Speck.”

Diaz in the School of Architecture studio.
Photos: Tara Smith

“The first day of class I thought ‘Wow, this guy is so passionate about architecture, you can feel it — even in this large auditorium,’” said Diaz. “I introduced myself right away. He is generous with his time and continues to check in on me.”

Last summer Diaz was an intern at Page, where he learned by doing. He jumped in to assist with model-making, computer drafting and floor plan renderings. The fourth-year student is also making his mark at UT by helping to create an interior layout for the new Frank Denius Family University of Texas Athletics Hall of Fame.

“It’s a great feeling to know that even as an intern I’ve already been able to give back to my university by designing something that will be part of the campus. It’s a huge honor.”

Diaz hopes to be Seattle-bound for an internship this summer. He plans to open his own practice one day and design affordable, modern homes that bring nature indoors through the use of materials like timber. But the first project is already booked — designing that new house for his mom.

jorge diaz ut architecture texas leader spring
When you include UT in your estate plan, you create global leaders, drive discovery and change the world. You also protect assets, provide for those you love and receive tax-wise benefits.

Texas Leader Magazine

More from this series

The Real Kevin T.

The Real Kevin T.

Kevin Tuerff, whose story is told in the musical Come From Away, shares how 9/11 changed his life.

UT Rocks

UT Rocks

Loyal alumni Steve and Kathy Weiner champion the future of geosciences.