Watch: Edwin F. 'Abie' Harris, Jr. FAIA- F. Carter Williams Gold Medal Winner
F. Carter Williams Gold Medal Award- Edwin F. “Abie” Harris, Jr., 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 Edwin F. “Abie” Harris, FAIA.
The foundation for Abie’s nomination lies in his service to the profession as an architect in government, and an acknowledgement of the skills and tools he used to better his communities and the professionals with which he worked.
Abie distinguished himself as a student at NC State. He won the Paris Prize in Architecture in 1958 and other design competitions after he graduated. He studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and following his European experiences and a brief tour in the Army, he apprenticed with his mentor Horacio Caminos and with Leif Valand.
He began his career, with fellow School of Design graduates Bob Burns and Ben Taylor, as they established Envirotek. In 1968 Abie wrote Campus Environment and Planning System, a comprehensive critique of the NC State campus and its procedures, which led to his appointment as Director of Facilities Planning in 1970. He was challenged by then Chancellor Caldwell and Design Dean Henry Kamphoefner to improve the campus architecture. He would lead campus planning as University Architect until he retired in 1998.
Abie’s career was defined by service to the architectural profession utilizing good design to improve the campus environment. As the University Architect he transformed the quality of the campus and improved the professional interface between architects and campus clients.
He created a campus master plan and a unique development process that involved him as client, critic, and architects’ design team member. He always encourage creative work from his designers.
His planning process organized projects and transformed the campus into a humane university environment of urban courtyards and award winning architecture. His commitment to design excellence has permeated university policy and significantly raised architectural design standards. His selection process was respected by architects and continues to serve as a state model for many campuses in the UNC system. Abie always advocated for design excellence and adequate architectural fees with the State Construction Office .
Following one selection process for one major building on the campus, former national AIA president, Scott Ferebee, FAIA commented that quote, “it was the best selection process that he had ever been involved with,” even though his firm was passed over for the job.
As an architect Abie believed that achieving an appropriate university environment required good architecture as its foundation and that good architects, facilitated by a supporting design process, creates good architecture. As University Architect, Abie’s design management and his master plans for the main, and Centennial campuses, enabled architects to create environments that transformed his campus into a beautiful place and continues to guide their development.
Summing up Abie’s achievements at NC State, Harry Wolf, FAIA noted, quote
“Mr. Harris, with great patience, and political savvy beyond his years, guided, or prodded, many architects into producing work, in some instances their best work, on sites thoughtfully considered, following careful strategies of courtyards, circulation patterns and vistas. He managed to nurse this mangled old patient of a campus back to vital life.”
- In 1974 he authored the Campus Master Plan, which went on to receive an AIA North Carolina Honor Award.
- In 1984 he created the initial campus design concepts of the newly acquired Dix Hill property now know as Centennial Campus and was instrumental in the development of the new campus’ master plan.
- In 1987 in recognition of his contributions to university planning Abie was elevated to Fellowship in the AIA.
- In 1991 the NC State School of Design awarded its very first Distinguished Alumnus Award to Abie.
- Under his leadership more than 60 major buildings and additions totaling 3.5 million square feet of space were built – about 1/3 of the total campus building area.
- In recognition of all these achievements Abie was honored with the Frank B. Turner Award, given jointly by the four largest design organizations in the state to a government agency design professional for outstanding contributions in shaping the visual environment.
- Following retirement, Abie continued campus consulting with Wake Forest University, NC Biotechnology Center, Guilford College, NC State and the Penland School of Crafts where following the completion of its master plan, he served 8 years on its Board of Trustees.
- He also taught design courses at Penland and continues to serve on its Leaders Council
- He recently contributed his architectural drawings to the Special Collections of the D.H. Hill Library where they will be permanently archived at the school.
- Dail Dixon, FAIA wrote in his nomination for Abie about his contributions to Penland, quote
- “The Master Plan established guidelines that celebrated and secured the historic fabric of the campus, located new facilities and enhanced connections between buildings providing opportunities for unstructured student interaction and spaces for quiet reflection that are at the heart of the Penland experience. His guidelines codify support for craft in new buildings, environmental stewardship, interaction with the broader community and famously, the directive to, “preserve the reasonable disorder” of the unruly historic campus beloved by the Penland community.”
- Presently, Abie primarily works as an artist. His drawings of Raleigh historic buildings and others are widely exhibited.
- Recently his paintings of J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations travelled nationally in a unique exhibition & concert where he draws live, as musicians play.
- He is also a founding artist in the newly created Roundabout Art Collective on Hillsborough street in Raleigh.
It is with great respect and immense pleasure that AIA North Carolina presents Abie Harris, FAIA with the 2014 F. Carter Williams Gold Medal.