Architects Talking to Architects: Murray Legge, FAIA

Murray Legge, FAIA, is a principal at Murray Legge Architecture in Austin and a founding member of the interdisciplinary group Legge Lewis Legge. His work ranges from architecture and landscape design to public art, and he has been the recipient of many local and national awards, including the prestigious Lyceum Fellowship.

Murray Legge

(L-R) Eva Legge, Lucy Lewis, and Murray Legge in Oliphant, Ontario. – Photo by Deborah Eve Lewis (mother of Eva, co-master of Lucy, and wife of Murray)

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in the small farming hamlet of Whitevale, outside of Toronto, Ontario. It was a tight community of about 100 families surrounded by farmland and wilderness. This historic town had a vibrant mix of people — about half were writers, filmmakers, engineers, and actors who worked in Toronto, while the other half were farmers, millwrights, and blacksmiths who worked in the surrounding county. Our neighbours on Byron Street were an American expat zookeeper, on one side, and an English toy manufacturer on the other.

The village itself is situated in a valley formed by a creek running through the center of town. There was a feed mill, small library, and general store with a post office. In Whitevale, our playground was complete with forests, bluffs, and an abandoned gravel pit. A pond and mile-long millrace powered the mill. In the winter, we would skate the millrace under the cedar boughs covered in snow.

Whitevale Ontario

Whitevale, Ontatio, 1877 – Illustration courtesy Township of Pickering Historical Society

If you were not an architect, what other profession would you have pursued?

I began studying architecture on a dare, with the plan to switch to filmmaking at some point. I really liked the idea of architectural education but, in the beginning, not the idea of becoming an architect. I did become an architect; however, I had the great fortune to marry a very talented filmmaker.

Pen, pencil or computer?

The architecture school I attended, The Cooper Union, considered hand drawing a sacred act, while computer drawing was frowned upon. Computers were seen as stripping the life out of drawing. I was part of the last generation of architects trained entirely with hand drawing. Despite this, I really love the digital tools, for both their design and fabrication potential. I use a combination of hand drawing, modeling, and rendering software. I will often work through details by hand.

Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in many different places, but I do come back to certain works. An example would be Sigurd Lewerentz Flower Kiosk in the Malmo Cemetery. It is a modest building, and quietly inventive and playful in many ways, through its detailing and structure. This building shows that you do not have to wait for an ambitious commission with a big budget to do astonishing work.

I often look outside of architecture for ideas and inspiration. Some constant companions have been the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai and the German botanical photographer Karl Blossfeldt. Both produced work that is focused and craft-oriented while radiating a sense of wonder and awe of the world.

Hokusai: Mount Fuji"Travellers Crossing the Oi River" by Katsushika Hokusai ( c.1830)

Blossfeldt: Pumpkin Tendrils

Pumpkin tendrils photographed by Karl Blossfeldt (1928)

What is your favorite time of year?

Fall is a great time of year. It is interesting having grown up in the north and now living in the south. In the north, seasons are much more intense, and the fall always signaled a goodbye to the short summer season and a shifting to the long interior winter season. Living in Texas, the fall season has a very different feeling to it. With the first cold fronts blowing in from the north, the fall often signals a shift from the intense and challenging heat of the summer to a much more hospitable temperature. It is the inverse of the north.

What community activities do you participate in?

We have been involved in several community activities. For the last few years, we’ve worked with the outstanding nonprofit tutoring center Austin Bat Cave in order to help them develop a permanent home. 

"Architects Talking to Architects" is a weekly column on the Texas Architects blog that spotlights architects from across the state at different points of development in their career. All participants are given the same list of 10 questions with instructions to answer any six, giving them the opportunity to highlight the items they feel are most interesting. If you would like to join in this conversation and be featured in "Architects Talking to Architects," email communications@texasarchitects.org.