Harwell Hamilton Harris was born in 1903 in Redlands, Ca. He studied at Pomona College, then transferred to Otis Art Institute in LA, to pursue his interests in sculpture and painting. It was during his studies at Otis that he came in contact with fellow sculpture student Ruth Sowden, who, with her husband John, was having a home built by Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright. At her suggestion, he visited the Hollyhock House, built for Aline Barnsdall, ostensibly designed by Wright, but overseen by Rudolf Schindler and Lloyd Wright. His experience viewing the Hollyhock House, combined with his discovery of Wright’s Wasmuth Portfolio, was an an epiphany, leading him to abandon his fine arts studies, and pursue architecture instead. He immediately applied to UC Berkeley in 1928, and was accepted.
Another friend told him about The Jardinette Apartments, being designed and constructed by Wright’s colleague, Richard Neutra. He saw the address of Neutra’s studios on Kings Road, which Neutra shared at the time with Rudolf Schindler, on a sign outside the site. He visited him, hoping to find some guidance and inspiration. Neutra and Schindler recognized the admiration he shared with them for the Wasmuth Portfolio. Since Neutra needed assistance on the Lovell House he was working on, and thought that the enthusiastic and talented Harwell Hamilton Harris could learn much more working for him than he ever could in a classroom, he asked him to join his project.
Harwell Hamilton Harris worked alongside Gregory Ain and Raphael Soriano. He learned, along with them the importance of self-promotion from master publicist Richard Neutra, who believed it was as important to be published, as it was to be built. Under Neutra’s tutelage, Harris learned the fundamental principles of the Modernist movement. He became secretary of the CIAM (Congrés Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne), and prepared elements of Neutra’s Rush City Reformed, which were presented during lectures abroad.
He left in 1933, to start his independent career. Harris capitalized on the lessons learned at the Neutra studios, and the acclaim he achieved as a collaborator there. Commissions soon came his way, including his first, the Pauline Lowe House, featured in House Beautiful magazine in 1934. The acclaim he received for this design garnered other prestigious projects such as the Weston Havens House in Berkeley, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, which was voted by AIA as one of America’s important buildings. In 1937, John Entenza, editor of Arts and Architecture, and the future organizer of the famous Case Study House program, gave Harris the great opportunity to design his own home, and participate in the program. The relationship between Entenza, as the preeminent purveyor of modernism in his magazine, and Harris, who he promoted with zeal, would prove to be a turning point in both of their careers.
Much like his mentors, Harris applied the modernist approach to his design. Incorporating organic materials, marrying indoor space with the outdoors, along with his perspective of color theory and fine art perspective, he brought his own unique signature to his designs. In the 1950’s, Harris left California for Texas, to become the Dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Texas. A group of modernist architects in the faculty there, drawn to Harris, became known as the Texas Rangers. He established private practices in Dallas and North Carolina, where he continued to work until his death in 1990.