Larry Speck Wins Topaz Medal, The ‘Nobel’ Of The Architecture World

The man who helped place the University of Texas School of Architecture among the greats is receiving a medal that places him there, too.

Larry Speck has been awarded the Topaz Medallion for Excellence in Architecture Education, the highest honor given by the American Institute of Architects. 

It’s a sort of “lifetime achievement award” for lasting contributions to architectural education, and such a big deal that Speck can remember exactly how many Topaz laureates taught him as a student at MIT: five. The recipients are big names in and out of the field; last year’s was Michael Graves.

“I’ve won a lot of awards — I’ve been really lucky — and usually I’m a little shy and embarrassed. But this one is something else,” Speck says. “This is really amazing for me.” 

Speck was dean of UT Architecture from 1992 through 2001 and is credited with taking it from a regional power to a national one. Today the leading ranking system places it fifth in the country for both its graduate and undergraduate programs — and it’s the only school to rank in the top five in both categories.

The school has attracted prominent faculty like Anthony Alofsin and Juan Miró, and produced movers and shakers like Nathaniel Corum of Architecture for Humanity (look for a story on him and the School of Architecture in the Jan|Feb issue of The Alcalde).

“By the time Larry ended his deanship, the school regularly ranked among the nation’s top institutions, with an outstanding faculty, some of the best facilities in the country, an endowment over $20 million, and an eager and intelligent study body,” says Reed Kroloff, former editor-in-chief of Architecture magazine and architecture dean at Tulane University.

Speck handed the deanship off to the über-capable Frederick Steiner 10 years ago. But he remains a faculty star. His classes attract more students — both architecture and non-architecture majors — than those of any other professor on campus, the University reports. And he is so popular, he wrote 37 letters of recommendation in the past three weeks alone.

No matter how many time constraints he is under, teaching is what he feeds on, Speck says. “It’s just sacred time that doesn’t get infringed upon. It is so much pleasure and fun. If I don’t do it, I’m not me anymore.”

And not to worry that winning the Topaz Medallion is a precursor to retirement for Speck. “It is kind of a lifetime achievement award, but I’m not that old!” he says jokingly. “I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Photo courtesy of Larry Speck


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