Tommy Neal Cowan, FAIA, Receives Lifetime Achievement Medal

Described by his local and national peers as a “born leader,” “talented architect,” “game changer,” and “titan…whose influence will ripple through our ranks for years,” Tommy Neal Cowan, FAIA, received the Texas Architects 2011 Lifetime Achievement Medal on October 28 at an awards ceremony in Dallas.

Tommy N. Cowan at the Evening Gala where he was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Medal.
Cowan on the steps of 500 Chicon, the Texas Architects permanent headquarters he helped to secure in 2010.

Tommy Cowan, FAIA, retired from Graeber Simmons & Cowan in 2009, where he was a founding principal and managing partner of the 50-person Austin architecture firm. Previously, he worked for 3D International and Brooks Barr Graeber & White.

A self-described “Austinite for life,” Cowan earned a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin in 1968 and a Master of Architecture in 1970, while teaching and working full-time for Brooks Barr Graeber & White.


His interest in design and architecture began in the fifth grade when a teacher invited him to compete in Austin’s Wellesley Junior Art Show. Two of Cowan’s architectural drawings were submitted and both won top honors. From that point on when asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he replied, “An architect.”


Devoted to the American Institute of Architects at all levels and to his community at large, Cowan has served the AIA in many roles. At every level of service, he was the key leader in establishing significant, long-term sound fiscal policies.

Recent accomplishments include securing a permanent headquarters for Texas Architects at 500 Chicon; facilitating an accurate membership count at the national level in 2010 to achieve a third director for the Texas Region; and serving in a pro bono capacity as Texas Architects interim executive vice president (2010-11), while assisting in a national search for a permanent EVP.

He is a past Texas Architects president, AIA Austin president, TAF/TAC director, AIA regional director, and AIA treasurer. He co-founded the Austin Foundation for Architecture and has singlehandedly raised more funds for AIA Austin than anyone, ever.

Cowan sets a high bar as a mentor, focusing on education for all children and nurturing leadership within the “youth” of the architecture profession. As a member of the community, his generosity stretches wide. He has fundraised for the Rodeo, the UT Band, AISD student programs, and volunteered as a “standardized patient” at Texas A&M Health Science Center, which represents only a handful of his varied engagements.

To quote 2011 AIA First Vice President Jeff Potter, FAIA: “In true Texas style, Tommy Cowan is legendary.”

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