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Hollyhock House

Hollyhock House detail
Hollyhock House
(by Frank Lloyd Wright)
Photos by Mark Willis

Entenza House

Entenza House

Entenza House
Entenza House, 1937
Top and middle photos
by Mark Willis
Bottom photo by Steven Saute
copyright 2007


Bauer House
Bauer House, 1938
Photo by Steven Saute
copyright 2007


Pumphrey House
Pumphrey House, 1939
Photo by Steven Saute
copyright 2007


Schwenk House
Schwenk House, 1940
Photo by Steven Saute
copyright 2007


Johnson House
Ralph Johnson House, 1947-48
Photo by Mark Willis

Harwell Hamilton Harris


Harwell Hamilton Harris was born on July 2, 1903 in Redlands, California. The son of Fred Harris, an architect and rancher, Harris grew up in the Imperial Valley area and later attended San Bernardino High School. In 1923, he moved to Los Angeles to attend the Otis Art Institute and in 1925, he began to study drawing and painting with Stanton Macdonald-Wright at the Art Students League.

Harris' ambition to be a sculptor, however, was changed after visiting Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House. Soon thereafter, he applied to the architecture program at the University of California at Berkeley. He never attended the program, however, as he found employment with Richard Neutra and R.M. Schindler. Neutra discouraged him from attending formal classes in architecture although he did attend classes given by Neutra at the Los Angeles Academy of Modern Art. While in Neutra's office, he worked on such seminal projects as the Lovell Health House and the Rush City Competition. During this period, Harris became familiar with the principles of the Modernist movement and served as secretary of the American chapter of the Congrés Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM). In 1931, Harris met his future wife, Jean Murray Bangs, who would have a strong influence over his life and his professional career. They were married in 1937.

"Neutra discouraged him from attending formal classes in architecture."

In 1933, Harris left the Neutra office to establish his own independent practice in Los Angeles. His first commissions were for small homes, based on a modular system, in which he applied the modernist principles he had learned in the offices of Neutra and Schindler. Among these early homes were the Pauline Lowe House (1934) in Altadena and the Fellowship Park House (1936). Fellowship Park, Harris' own house, won the 1936 House Beautiful Small House Competition and established his reputation in California. In 1937, John Entenza, the influential editor of California Arts and Architecture, commissioned Harris to design his own home. The Weston Havens House (1939-40), dramatically perched on a hillside outside of Berkeley, used inverted gables in a novel structural solution that allowed Harris to maintain sensitivity to this peculiar site.

With the advent of World War II, it was difficult to obtain new commissions and building materials were scarce. Harris designed several model homes including an early solar house (1946) for the Libbey-Owens-Ford glass company and the "Segmental House" (1941) for the Revere Copper and Brass Company. Designed with the returning veterans in mind and utilizing a modular system, the segmental house could grow from an inexpensive, one-bedroom home to a six-bedroom, four-bath house to accommodate the growth of a family over the years. Harris also designed the Ingersol Utility Core for Donald Deskey at this time. In 1943, Harris moved to New York where he taught at Columbia University and was involved in the CIAM Chapter for Relief and Postwar Planning.

Upon his return to California in 1944, Harris and his wife Jean rediscovered the work of Greene and Greene. The influence of their Japanese-inspired bungalows can be seen in Harris's work of the 1940s including such projects as the Ralph Johnson House (1947-48) in Los Angeles, the Gerald M. Loeb Pavilion (1947) in Redding, Connecticut, and the Clarence Wyle House (1946-48) in Ojai. Harris's sensitive use of native woods added to the intimate quality of these homes.

In 1952, Harris accepted the position of Dean for the School of Architecture at The University of Texas. Although he lacked both formal architectural training and administrative experience, he expanded the School's programs and attempted to revolutionize the methods of teaching. Harris directly involved some of the students in the design process when he collaborated with them on the Texas State Fair House (1954), offering them actual experience with the design and construction process. Harris hired new faculty whose innovative ideas clashed with the traditional Beaux-Arts methods still in use in Texas. Later known as the "Texas Rangers," Harris hired Colin Rowe, John Hejduk, Robert Slutsky, Werner Seligmann, and Herbert Hirsche. The autocratic nature of Harris's new theory for teaching design, however, created enormous tensions within the school, which interfered with his own private practice. As a result, Harris resigned as dean in the summer of 1955. He moved to Dallas where he continued to practice, designing homes that were brilliantly adapted to the harsh Texas climate. Among his many Texas works are the J. Lee Johnson House (1955-56) in Fort Worth, the Seymour Eisenberg House (1957-58) House in Dallas, and the Dallas Trade Mart for Trammell Crow (1958-60) in Dallas.

"He attempted to revolutionize the methods of teaching."

In 1962, Harris accepted a teaching position at the North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He continued his private practice, designing numerous buildings including the Stanley Bennett House (1970), the Saint Giles Presbyterian Church (1967-69), and a new, combined home and office for himself (1968). Harris retired from teaching in 1973 and from private practice in 1975.

Harris has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Richard Neutra Medal for Professional Excellence (1982). Harris's work was published extensively and has appeared in numerous exhibitions, including the Museum of Modern Art (1939, 1943, 1943, 1945, and 1953), the National Gallery of Art (1957), and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum (1977). In addition, several one-man exhibitions of his work have been held at the North Carolina State University (1981), the Museum of Art in Fayetteville, North Carolina (1982) and The University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture (1985). Harris was made a fellow in the American Institute of Architects in 1965 and received an honorary doctorate from North Carolina State University in 1985.


Source: Texas Archival Resources Online

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