Ramon Murray is a landscape architect and principal of Murray Design Group in Altamonte Springs, Florida. He serves on the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board, which oversees 100 undergraduate and graduate programs throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Murray is the first African-American graduate from the University of Florida’s program to become a licensed landscape architect. He has been licensed in the state of Florida for over 30 years and is involved with the LAAB’s and BlackLAN’s efforts to increase diversity within the profession.
How did you get into the industry?
I grew up near Kennedy Space Center in Brevard County which had a very strong public school system. Through special academic programs, I was able to participate in science research curricula where I studied how gravity affects plant growth. I also took drafting courses all four years of high school. A mentor, who knew I wanted to pursue architecture as well as my interests in plants and engineering, advised me to look at landscape architecture as a career. That was really the first I’d heard of the profession. Later in college, I was re-introduced to the field and realized I was interested in shaping the outdoors through design and engineering.
What are some misconceptions people have about the industry?
I think when most people hear ‘landscape architecture’ they only hear the word ‘landscape.’ When I was younger, I thought the field was limited to plant installation and the maintenance. I didn’t realize so much more went into landscape architecture—the synthesis of hardscapes and landscapes—the importance of scale and perception of space. At the beginning of my career, most of our projects were led by engineers and architects, but now there’s more awareness of what landscape architects bring to the table.
What has the quarantine taught you?
Here in the South, we rely on air-conditioning a lot. But we need to get outside, enjoy the fresh air, take a respite from being captive in our own offices and homes. I think the importance of the outdoors has grown exponentially this year.
What is the key to good design?
I used to teach at the University of Florida before I started this practice, and teaching design was always interesting. Design is complex. Good design is exploratory. The process is not linear. You investigate the plan, test it, and rework it. And it isn’t always about what we see. Good design is as much about what happens below the ground as what is occurring above the ground. The trees we plant must have nutrients. The structures we build must have a solid foundations in order to stand. Good design is contextually-based and considers the end-user, whether that’s a person or an entire community.
What is the best part of your job?
In a firm of two, I wear so many hats. I have to market, write and negotiate contracts, manage the project, manage the clients, keep the books, and so on. But at the end of the day, it’s about having a happy client and seeing people enjoy the spaces that we designed.
What are you most proud of?
There are so few black landscape architects who are business owners. I am proud I’ve been able to survive the economic downturns of 9-11, the Great Recession of 2008 and, so far, this pandemic. I’m also proud of our community-based projects like the ones in the City of Eustis—they’ve built six of our designs in the past 10 years. That’s significant for a small design firm like ours.
How do you give back?
We’ve been fortunate to have done a lot of pro-bono work. We’ve designed about 20 landscapes for charitable organizations that benefit first-time home buyers as well as wounded veterans. I’ve served on several regional and national boards like The Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board (LAAB). And just as important, I’ve been involved with programs in Florida and Michigan that introduce landscape architecture to high school students.
What is the biggest issue facing the industry?
Economically, landscape budgets are one of the first to cut when there is a need to value engineer. Socially, there is a lack of diversity within the landscape architecture profession in both private and public practice. I am encouraged by the attention this problem is receiving today.
What is your happy place?
I really enjoy being in my backyard. However, I’ve been playing tennis since I was 10. My happy place is definitely when I’m on the court and not thinking about anything else but the game.