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The ArchRecord Interview: Marshall E. Purnell, FAIA

January, 2008

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Interview by James Murdock

Marshall E. Purnell, FAIA, was appointed the 84th president of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) at a ceremony in December, taking the helm from outgoing president RK Stewart, FAIA. Purnell is the design principal of Devrouax + Purnell Architects, a 35-person firm that he and his business partner Paul Devrouax started in 1978 in Washington, D.C. Its portfolio includes several large-scale sports and entertainment facilities such as the Washington Convention Center; the Verizon Center, formerly the MCI Center; and a new ballpark for the Washington Nationals, which it currently is designing with HOK Sport. The firm also specializes in monuments. It is working with Roma Design Group on the new Martin Luther King Memorial, to be located on the National Mall, and it designed the African American Civil War Memorial, in Washington, D.C. RECORD’s news editor, James Murdock, sat down with Purnell in 2007, before he assumed the presidency, to learn more about him.

Marshall E. Purnell, FAIA
Photo courtesy American Institute of Architects
Marshall E. Purnell, FAIA


Why did Purnell decide to run for the 2008 AIA presidency? In a word, he says, “service.” (0:54)

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James Murdock: What will be some of your priorities as the 2008 AIA president?

Marshall Purnell: The 2007 AIA president, RK Stewart, identified three different areas that he wanted to stress for his year in the presidency: sustainability, diversity, and emerging professionals, who are the younger architects coming out of school and getting into the profession. We’re not going to solve any one of those issues in one year. They’re issues that are going to take some time to see some improvement on. These are things that RK wanted to stress during his year and I have no intentions of trying to make them go away during my year. I’ll be trying to make it even better and build on it. There may be some other things that creep in.

JM: Tell me about some of the other groups that you’re involved with, in addition to the AIA.

MP: I served on the alumni board of the school of architecture at the University of Michigan for several years, and eventually I was elected president. Then I moved on to the university-wide board, where I served for nine years. I resigned so that I could stay involved with AIA, where at the time I was on the executive committee.

About five years ago I got involved with City First Bank of D.C., which is a community development bank; I was its chairman for about two-and-a-half years, until October 2006. That was very interesting to have an architect be the chairman of a bank, a non-minority owned bank in D.C., and to see how investments are made and what information you use to make key decisions about who gets funded and in what parts of the city. As an institution we focus on those parts of the city that are underserved. I still serve on that board although I’m no longer chairman; I had to cut back a little bit.

JM: Is the idea of service about giving back?

MP: I don’t consider it giving back, so much. I consider it that you’re trying to make the place you live better. It’s not like I feel like I’ve made it and I’ve got to give something back. I feel like I’ve got to keep giving so I can make it and so that others can make it. It’s not so much giving back as just giving.

Does Purnell think that architects do enough to give back to the profession and society? What were some of Purnell’s proudest accomplishments during his two-year term as president of the National Organization of Minority Architects?
Read all this and more on page 2 of the interview.

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