Architects Talking to Architects: Jack Murphy, Assoc. AIA

Jack Murphy, Assoc. AIA, is a designer with Baldridge Architects in Austin.

Jack Murphy, Assoc. AIA – photo by Jessica Mills

Where did you grow up?

This is actually a hard question for me. My father is a professor of music, so we moved a number of times as his academic appointments changed. Both sides of my extended family live in Maryland, but I was born in New York City and spent two years on the Upper West Side. My elementary school childhood was in rural western Illinois, but I went to high school in Denton, Texas. Also, I spent two yearlong stints, including seventh grade, in Recife, Brazil, where my father was doing research. My parents still live in Denton, so that is the short answer I fall back on now.

If you had not studied architecture, what other profession would you have pursued?

If I wasn’t an architect-in-training, I’d likely be either a scientific researcher of some environmental variety, or involved in an arts/humanities cultural institution. These realms feel right, though I don’t have an exact answer. When I first went to school, I was interested in a number of fields related to land use. I ended up pursuing architecture as a result of a convincing history course and my first studio, though I initially became interested in it during high school when I would make regular visits to the Kimbell Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth.

Reading it back to myself, this answer testifies that architecture is a variable mix of art and science. I think issues that connect our profession to larger societal issues are very important, but on the flip side, there is so much within the profession to absorb in order to someday practice it at a high level. I really enjoy architecture, as it allows its practitioners to flip back and forth between being generalists and specialists, often at high speeds.

Pen, pencil, or computer?

Right now, I am an AutoCAD/Rhino and a black Pilot V5 Extra Fine pen/sketchbook person. I typically do most of the heavy lifting on screen and sketch alongside it to figure out details, or to pose questions to myself.

The recent fuss about the “death of drawing” feels unnecessary and outdated. I think the complaint is really about design quality, which can be absent for many reasons, one of which may be the medium of the design process. To paraphrase Frank Zappa, “Drawing isn’t dead, it just smells funny.”

I repeatedly return to a short text on drawing by Eduardo Souto de Moura:

No one draws just for the sake of drawing. Drawing is not a hobby; drawing, in architecture, means having to solve a problem.

Architects draw because they have to, not for pleasure as at the school of fine arts […]

Drawing, in architecture, is racing against the clock, using whatever comes to hand: a box of matches, a bus ticket, a packet of cigarettes turned inside out, the air-sickness bags that you find on planes, or even a notebook, which doesn’t have to have quality paper. When paper is of good quality, and thick, it intimidates us. We hold ceremonies, it inhibits our gestures, and it is not the weight of the paper that we are going to leave to posterity.

He also has this great bit later on, about flourish:

When we realize that the results we are obtaining are not particularly good, then we may start indulging in attractive hatchings, adding shades of graphite and delaying what cannot be put off: “the Construction of Form” (as for adding colors, let’s not even talk about it). (Emphasis added.)

I think this highlights the existential imperative for the architect to draw, and the call to be a conscientious but un-frivolous Form maker.

What is the one building that you just had to see for yourself?

My most recent notable architectural pilgrimage was seeing the Seattle Public Library during a trip to the Pacific Northwest in August of last year with my younger sister (a non-architect). The day of our visit was her birthday, but she was a good sport and walked the entire stacks spiral with me with only a minimum amount of complaining, even as I laid on the floor to see how the concrete worked under the shelves.

Seatle Public Library by OMA – photos by Jack Murphy

I think that library sets the standard for how broader trends in culture can coalesce into novel architecture, and how diagrams can actually be translated into successful buildings. The visual impact and structural resolution of the diagrid is amazing, and I was happy to see every corner of the library in use on a normal weekday afternoon. It gives me hope that adventurous architecture can be both publicly-funded and publicly loved in this country.

Do you listen to music when designing? What kind?

Yes! I have a voracious appetite for music in general that consumes a lot of my brain. At the office, my willingness to soundtrack the workplace combined with my telephone voice has earned me the nickname of DJ Front Desk.

For me, style of music is tuned to the task at hand. If I’m doing something really generative, it will typically be silence or some ethereal pop or ambient soundscapes. For mid-level tasks where I’m interrupted regularly, it is bouncier hybrid electronic stuff, indie or art rock staples, soul selections, or classic jazz albums from various eras, so that I can leave for a bit and not miss much. And for the production-centric headphone times, I turn to more intense rhythmic pieces, like the appropriately-named genre of house music, or more abstract but still hypnotic items like this. There’s also a lot of inspirational funky disco throughout. Finally, I find a lot of new music through mixes, so recordings like this are on repeat until I wear them out and find out about all the artists featured.

Architect’s aren’t known for their hobbies … do you have one?

I make time for a number of hobbies. Lately, I’ve been making a lot of text art using a typewriter in a project called "textual healing." These small pieces explore the graphic potential of text in different ways, from the formal to the poetic. I’ve shown the work at Big Medium’s EAST and WEST tours in Austin, and at the Marfa Book Company in Marfa.

Pieces from my "textual healing" exhibit during the EAST 2014 – photo and artwork by Jack Murphy

I like to write. I’ve been doing that regularly for our magazine Texas Architect for about 18 months. I also contributed to an outfit called BI (now defunct), which maintained a design writing blog. I helped to edit and produce their book, titled "FREE." 

FREE – image courtesy BI Publications

I also contribute periodically to other publications; most recently I had a set of paired photographs and texts in PLACE-HOLDER, a journal from the University of Toronto.

I also like to play music and collect records. Playing music was important to me earlier in my life, and I practice it when I can. These extracurriculars are of course in addition to the regular adult tasks of spending time with loved ones and friends, eating well, being outside, reading the non-fiction parts of The New Yorker, and generally trying to stay informed about how the world is changing.

Instagram @yhprumkcaj

"Architects Talking to Architects" is a series on the Texas Society of Architects blog that spotlights members from across the state at different points of development in their career. All participants are given the same set of questions, with instructions to answer any six, giving them the opportunity to highlight the items they feel are most interesting. Is there someone you'd like to see featured in "Architects Talking to Architects"? Email communications@texasarchitects.org to let us know.​