From the Ground Up

From high-school worker to principal architect, corporate president and “citizen architect,” Philip Ramirez, has devoted his life to building a brighter future in the Coastal Bend at Turner Ramirez Architects.

By: Kathleen Naderer
Photos by: Michael Giordano

In 1997, 17-year-old Philip Ramirez applied for a rather unusual summer job. While most high-schoolers relax during their summer breaks or earn extra money at food industry or retail jobs, Ramirez decided to go a different route by working for a local architecture firm.

That summer job later turned into a fulltime job and partnership. Now Ramirez is the principal architect and corporate president of Turner Ramirez Architects. “I figured I could either mow lawns or use this skill I’d learned,” he said with a grin.

Ramirez discovered his passion for architecture and design while taking a CAD drafting class at Gregory-Portland High School the previous school year. Although he originally took the class due to his interest in aerospace engineering, his teacher, Ross Lamb, focused mostly on architecture.

Ramirez credited his aptitude for drafting and design to his parents’ influences. His mother (a computer specialist for CCAD’s robotic parts delivery program) and his father (a helicopter mechanic and artist) inspired him to value both technical skill and creativity.

The local architect who gave the young man his first shot was Jack Rice Turner, AIA. Turner’s firm, which was originally established in 1958, was already well-recognized in the Coastal Bend and surrounding regions. Although Ramirez was supposed to simply observe and learn while he assisted around the office, he had a chance to prove his talent to Turner that summer.

Turner had come out of a meeting, looking for an architect. He needed three layouts for a community pool by the next morning. Ramirez was the only other person still in the office, but thanks to his drafting class, he knew how to use a computer to create layouts. So Ramirez volunteered to stay late and design them.

After the presentation the next day, Turner called him into his office. “I thought I was in trouble at first,” Ramirez said. “But Mr. Turner recognized the work I had done as adult level. I had proven myself capable.”

With the encouragement of his parents and mentors, especially Lamb and Turner, Ramirez continued to explore his interest in architecture and won Architectural Plans “Best of Show” at the 50th Texas VICA State Skills Championship his senior year of high school. “I felt validated by the experience,” Ramirez said. “I not only enjoyed doing it, but I was good at it.”

Turner took notice of Ramirez’s potential and presented him an offer: Go to architecture school, continue working for him during the summers and, upon getting his license, Turner would offer him a partnership in the firm. Ramirez naturally accepted the offer.

While attending the University of Texas at Austin Architecture School, Ramirez continued to turn to Turner for mentoring and advice. He returned to Corpus Christi to work for the firm between semesters as promised.

Once he graduated in 2003, Ramirez moved back home, eager to begin working fulltime with Turner at the firm. He was confident that he would be starting at the top, but quickly learned that all beginners first have to pay their dues.

“I wanted the world and wanted it now, but it just doesn’t happen that way,” Ramirez said. “In this profession, it takes a long time to develop your design skills and build a portfolio.” Turner taught Ramirez the importance of patience and perseverance.

It was a long journey, but Turner kept his promise and made Ramirez a partner in the firm after he received his architectural license in 2008. Gradually, Ramirez was able to purchase more shares in the firm, until he became the majority partner.

The firm name changed to Turner Ramirez Architects in 2011, and Ramirez bought the remaining shares of the company from Turner in 2015. Since then, Turner Ramirez Architects has evolved into a collaboration of creative and talented individuals that builds upon Ramirez’s passion for the field of architecture.

In addition to running his business, Ramirez prides himself in devoting his time as a “citizen architect” to helping improve the greater Coastal Bend community and region. “Jack Rice and his wife, Betty Turner, were both heavily involved in the community,” Ramirez said, “and they instilled a sense of community service that has stayed with me to this day.”

For instance, Ramirez served as the chairman of the City of Corpus Christi Planning Commission for the past four years before recently resigning. In 2016, under his leadership, the city of Corpus Christi adopted the first comprehensive master plan in almost 30 years. The plan sets forth the path for future growth and development in the city, which has presented many unique challenges.

“There’s no ‘one size fits all’ for everyone’s American dream,” Ramirez explained. “If you don’t like something, go out and change it. In our community, if you want to go out and affect change, it’s attainable in a way that may be harder in a larger community.”

Another challenge he helped navigate in 2016 was the merger between the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce and the Corpus Christi Hispanic Chamber of Commerce while serving as a member of the Transition Advisory Team. Combining these two historic institutions was not easy, but Ramirez believes it will benefit the city. “My hope is that this will symbolize a broader unity of the business community and community as a whole,” he said.

In November of last year, he also campaigned as chair of a Political Action Committee to renew the 1/8-cent sales tax, which provides funding for road improvements, more affordable housing options and economic development initiatives.

The main reasons behind Ramirez’s involvement in the community are his wife, Michelle Ramirez, and their two children, Miles (4 years old) and Merrit (19 months).

“My personal quality of life and my family’s quality of life directly correlates with the quality of our community,” Ramirez said. “I want my children to have opportunities and prosper here … Through these types of efforts, Corpus Christi will hopefully continue to grow economically and culturally.”

Ramirez is truly grateful for his family, friends, mentors and community who supported him as he strived to reach his dream. “I get to wake up and do something I’m passionate about,” he said. “Hopefully that passion shines through when people experience one of our projects.”

Currently, the team of Turner Ramirez Architects is involved with a variety of prominent and exciting projects in the Coastal Bend. These projects include the new Del Mar Workforce Development Center, which will be located on the West Campus and will train the industrial workforce of the future. Construction on this project is anticipated to begin in the upcoming months.
Another major design project is the Kleberg Bank building renovations, which will incorporate new commercial banking offices and branch bank facilities into an existing office building along South Staples Street.

Finally, Turner Ramirez has been involved in the preliminary design of the proposed Gulf Coast Growth Ventures/ExxonMobil manufacturing facility that could potentially be located in San Patricio County. This project, if constructed, will bring lasting economic benefits to the area.

With these exciting new projects, Ramirez and his team look optimistically to the future, hoping to make it of their own design. To young people in the Coastal Bend with similarly large aspirations, Ramirez advised, “Get involved as early as you can.”

Ramirez praises the technical and vocational programs available in high schools and local colleges, such as the drafting class that inspired him, and the mentors found in these programs, and he encourages students to take advantage of these resources.

Turner Ramirez Architects, located at 3751 South Alameda St., is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. To get more information about the firm or to arrange a meeting with the Turner Ramirez team, call 361-994-8900 or visit www.trarch.com.

Renderings courtesy of Turner Ramirez Architects, Family Photo by Cynthia Mack Photography