Wallace K. Harrison

Wallace K. Harrison was born in Wooster, MA, the only son of middle-aged parents. When he was fourteen and a freshman in high school his mother died and his father simply just disappeared. Harrison could not stay in school and needed to find a job. He took a job as an office boy in a construction company making shop drawings. He left after three years to become a junior draftsman with a leading Worcester architectural firm. While there he attended night classes at Wooster Polytechnic and enrolled in the Saturday studies at the Boston Architectural Club studio.

In 1916, with thirty-five dollars in savings, he moved to New York City and applied for work at the architectural firm of McKim, Mead & White and took a job as a draftsman. His savings from this job and from his service in the Navy in World War I allowed him to study in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. He returned to New York joining another architectural firm and free-lancing with others. Then he won a scholarship allowing him to travel in Europe and study in France and Italy for two years. After his return to New York he became partner in a number of architectural firms and formed Harrison & Abramovitz, the firm that designed the Fish Church.

The Fish Church embodies Harrison’s personal Modernist style. He wanted to use modern technology to produce a new kind of sacred building that celebrates the beauty of being alive. He listened to what Donald Campbell, First Presbyterian’s pastor in 1952 said about American Presbyterian theology. Campbell explained that this theology “addressed a God who was as much a part of everyday life as he was a transcendental being – a concept that the new sanctuary should somehow convey” (1989, Newhouse}.

Major Projects*

  • The Rockefeller Apartments, commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller, facing the Museum of Modern Art Sculpture Garden, 1936
  • Trylon and Perisphere for the 1939 New York World’s Fair
  • The Clinton Hill Co-ops, Brooklyn, New York, 1941–43
  • The Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, 1951
  • Sophronia Brooks Hall Auditorium, Oberlin, Ohio, 1953
  • The First Presbyterian Church (»The Fish Church«), Stamford, Connecticut, 1958
  • The Time-Life Building at Rockefeller Center, New York City, 1959
  • The Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza, Albany, New York 1959–1976
  • Hopkins Center for the Arts, Dartmouth College, whose details foreshadow the Metropolitan Opera House, 1962
  • Lead architect for the United Nations Headquarters complex, coordinating the work of an international cadre of designers, including Sven MarkeliusLe Corbusier, and Oscar Niemeyer, 1962
  • Erieview Tower, Cleveland, Ohio, 1963
  • The New York Hall of Science at the 1964 New York World’s Fair
  • Air traffic control tower, LaGuardia Airport (1964)
  • Hilles Library, Harvard University, 1965
  • Master plan for the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, coordinating the work of Pietro Belluschi,Gordon BunshaftPhilip Johnson, and Eero Saarinen, and the Metropolitan Opera House for the center, 1966
  • Master plan for Battery Park City, New York City, 1966
  • The Exxon Building at Rockefeller Center, 1971
  • The National City Tower, Louisville, Kentucky, 1972


* From obituary at http://eng.archinform.net/arch/3417.htm

(1989) Newhouse, Victoria, Wallace K. Harrison, Architect, New York, NY, Rizzoli