Watch: Frank Harmon, FAIA- F. Carter Williams Gold Medal Winner
F. Carter Williams Gold Medal Award- Frank Harmon, FAIA
The F. Carter Williams Gold Medal Award is the highest honor presented by the Chapter to a member of AIA North Carolina. It is awarded to an individual in recognition of a distinguished career or extraordinary accomplishments as an architect. The award is named in memory of Raleigh architect, F. Carter Williams, FAIA. This year we honor Frank Harmon, FAIA.
Born in Georgia and raised in Greensboro, NC, Frank began his architectural training from 1959- 61 at North Carolina State University (NCSU) School of Design. Following graduation he quickly moved to London to immerse himself in that city’s cultural landscape and to spend a year at the Architectural Association (AA). What was suppose to be one year abroad turned into 11, interrupted by a brief return to New York in the early 1970s to work for Richard Meier. It was in London where Frank started his first practice.
Frank’s decision to return to North Carolina in 1981 was based on his desire to live and work in his home state. Frank’s career has disproved the conventional wisdom that challenging commissions and enlightened clients exist only in sophisticated metropolitan centers, and his occasional forays into the construction process gave him a trust in wholesome materials and confidence that he could use them to make elegant spaces. The result is what Architectural Record deemed of Frank’s work, “a vernacular modernism as slyly sophisticated as any found in New York or London.”
More than 30 years after his return to the state, Frank Harmon is the face of North Carolina architecture. Through his words, his deeds, and the work of his firm, he has brought to a national audience a glimpse of the unique character and architectural culture of his home state. That is, the creation of architecture so deeply rooted to the influence of place that one could hardly imagine it existing elsewhere. It is architecture that capitalizes on the potential of the delicate balance between modernist sensibilities and the pragmatism of the vernacular.
As his nominator for this award, Jeffrey Lee, FAIA pulled from Christian Norberg-Schulz’s Principles of Modern Architecture in describing Frank’s design sensibilities by quoting, ‘Regional character is an essential property of any authentic architecture. As all buildings form part of a concrete ‘here’ they cannot be alike everywhere, but will have to embody the particular qualities of a given place.’
Long before “green” design entered the general lexicon, Frank was committed to environmental stewardship through sustainable architecture and construction. He wanted to – quote, “make a difference,” and therefore committed his firm to the principals of sustainability in every one of its projects. That commitment led him to study vernacular buildings that he realized were designed to be sustainable because they had to be. Soon his reputation for modern, innovative, regionally appropriate and sustainable design grew nationally and attracted a series of talented interns and young architects to his office, who shared his passion for environmental stewardship and sustainable design.
Among the many award-winning architects who have emerged from under his wings are Ellen Cassily, Vinny Petrarca, Erin Sterling Lewis, and Matt Griffith. Phil Freelon, FAIA comments in his letter of nomination for Frank, “He has left an indelible mark on the region and his positive impact will be felt for years to come through the many students and architects he has mentored.”
Such is the work of Frank Harmon. He gathers around him in a studio environment, a select group of talented interns bringing his firm energy, optimism, and the willingness to take risks. Frank both encourages and tempers this talent with a quiet sense of confidence, a keen sense of architectural history and the unwavering commitment to make a difference.
Frank cares about how his buildings enhance the lives of those who use them. He cares about how they are crafted and detailed. He cares about how they tread softly upon their sites and he cares deeply about the contribution his buildings make to the architectural legacy of North Carolina.
Frank is generous with his resources whether it be information, ideas, or most importantly, his time. In recent years, he has become a sought after sponsor for those aspiring to achieve fellowship in the AIA. He receives numerous annual invitations to chair design awards juries and is quick to extend invitations to others in the design community to participate. He frequently gives of his time to participate in the review of student projects beyond his own teaching commitment and AIA members all witnessed the commitment Frank made to do whatever it took to bring the North Carolina Center for Architecture and Design to fruition.
While Frank’s accomplishments are many, none were more important than that of the partnership he had with his late wife, landscape architect Judy Harmon. For 42 year’s the two built, not only enviable professional practices, but equally nurtured an enduring life and family, with son Will and daughter Laura. Their professional and personal lives transcended into their community when in 1991 the family completed their Modernist home and gardens near the NC State campus. It was their oasis in the midst of a busy university neighborhood that they shared with colleagues, friends and students.
John Atkins, FAIA concluded his nomination letter for Frank with these fitting remarks, “As one looks at Frank Harmon’s enviable record and achievements as a designer, there is a tendency to neglect the leadership skill he quietly but passionately exercises in helping his clients and students achieve something far better than the ordinary. Jim Collins, the modern day guru of business leadership, described in his book, From Good to Great, “Level Five” leadership – the top level – as that which “builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will.” Frank exemplifies this highest level of leadership. It is reflective of his Southern roots. “
It is with great respect and immense pleasure that AIA North Carolina presents Frank Harmon, FAIA with the 2013 F. Carter Williams Gold Medal.