The MIT Alumni Association’s new president is not easily cowed. When Greg Turner ‘74, MArch ‘77, arrived at the prestigious New York offices of I. M. Pei ‘40 for a summer job in 1976, his peers were graduates of the country’s most highly regarded architecture schools. That—and working with a world-class architect—could have been intimidating, yet Turner quickly got comfortable.
“I thought I was much better prepared than most of the people I was working with, especially dealing with the technical aspects of design,” he says. “I know I got a much broader and deeper education in architecture at MIT than I would have elsewhere.”
Building Career Skills
Turner, a New Jersey native who earned two architecture degrees at MIT, had initially enrolled at Boston College. When he looked at transfer options to study architecture, he thought his chances of getting into MIT were slim, but he got a call inviting him in for an interview and the connection was made. His next two years were hard work because he had so many courses to make up. “One thing kept me sane—the golf team,” he says. “It’s great to get out and enjoy the camaraderie. I still go out in any weather. It’s like the old Scottish tradition—a little cold and rain. I like it.”
He knew he wanted to start his own firm, so he carefully built his skills. When he returned to I. M. Pei & Partners after earning his master’s degree, he focused on architectural design. His next job, at Philip Johnson/John Burgee Architects, gave him the opportunity to work on a major postmodern building, AT&T’s corporate headquarters in New York City. “I drew just about every part of that building and learned about details and architectural technology,” he says.
Next, he looked around the country for places with expected growth—a requirement for a successful architecture firm—and chose Texas, which was then flush with oil-industry revenues. He landed a job in Houston with CRS, founded by Bill Caudill ‘47, and learned project management skills. In 1984, he decided to strike out on his own, founding R. G. Turner Architects in Houston—just in time for oil prices and S&Ls to crash and unemployment to surge. A call from his pastor resulted in a church commission, which led Turner’s practice from its intended clientele—major corporations—toward churches, schools, and workplaces.
Today known as Turner Duran Architects, the firm has collected many awards over the years. Turner has LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accreditation and uses skills from his practice and an MBA earned at the University of Houston to lead the community-development aspects of major building projects.
“We work with nonprofits. They don’t have full-time facilities managers—they have volunteers,” he says. “We help them learn how to marshal their resources in an organized process so they get the input and buy-in from their communities in order to support the building program—to pay for it and to make it a reality. It really starts by getting people to work together. In many ways the building is the secondary part of the effort.”
Turner lives in Houston with his wife, Ann; their four children range in age from teens to 20s. He will be bringing his community-building focus to his year as president of the MIT Alumni Association starting July 1. “That’s been integral to the volunteer work I do for the MIT Club, the Alumni Association, my church, and school boards I’ve been on,” he says. “We used a lot of the same processes—bringing the community together to get a project defined and moving forward.”
Turner earned a Bronze Beaver award in 1996 for his many volunteer efforts on behalf of the Association, his class, the MIT Corporation Development Committee, and the Alumni Club of South Texas.
“To me, it’s always about supporting MIT’s mission—how can we make MIT better?” he says. “MIT is such a special and invigorating place. I don’t take MIT for granted, and I hope nobody else does.”