Wallace K. Harrison’s Quotes

Wallace K Harrison Quotes from the Journal of the AIA June 1959, A Lay Report on Harrison’s Stamford Church:The Final Question, by Wolf Von Eckardt

“Your starting point is always the human being.” … “The amount of space his rear end requires when he sits, the things he intends to do in the building, his relation to others, his mores et lares, his customs.”

“First we worked for months on the floor plan. The chancel, the choir stalls, the organ, space for 800 seats, the balcony for an antiphonal choir and overflow crowds – the arrangement for all the things Don Campbell and the congregation wanted. I groped for a religious atmosphere. I considered stone columns and beams and even flying buttresses, but soon threw them out. Too expensive.

Also we wanted the acoustics as near perfect as possible. The acoustical people I brought in, Bolt, Beranek and Newman of M.I.T., didn’t want any obstructions to the smooth flow of sound. A square arrangement wouldn’t do. We had to modify and re-modify.”

“Finally we arrived at the shape of an elongated megaphone to spread the sound toward the rear. That determined the shape. The fish symbolism was discovered later. When you are finally done, people will always rationalize.”

“When we finally had the floor plan, came the question: what cover?”

“I wanted to follow Fernand Leger’s concept of contrast: round against flats, contrast in colors. I wanted the narthex dark, the nave light, and the chancel dim again because I wanted to make light and color an integral part of the structure. We have lost the fundamental effect of architecture on the pupil of the eye which the Egyptians mastered.

And I wanted a structure as clear and honest as Gothic. I groped and fussed a year of two. But I don’t think, right off, you should ever know too clearly where you are going.”

“Finally I went to Europe to get away from this thing and perhaps find an inspiration. In Paris I saw two things: Leger’s stained glass windows and the Sainte Chapelle.”

“In the Sainte Chapelle I thought: We could carry the stained glass even higher.” “I was intrigued with folded concrete. It would span the space without supports. At the time nothing of the kind had been done in this country. We didn’t have the engineers and I had to get Felix Samuely, a British engineer, who had done two or three of these things in England. He took two trips here and I went over twice on this job.”

“We had to solve the problem in the cheapest way.”

“There’s no sense kidding yourself. No one in recent times has ever said: ‘Let’s build a monument to God, we don’t care what it costs’.”

“The structure is wonderful.”

“We are only beginning to open up an exciting new world of space construction… of domes and rounded, hyperparaboloid frames to span space.”

“But when you’ve plodded through it all methodically from the beginning—the human needs, the floor plan, the economics, the structure—you still must get an emotional reaction. The answer is to merge art and architecture. At Stamford we did it by bringing in color and the stained glass design.

I would have liked to get sculpture, too. I don’t mean going out to buy it, but sculpture which grows out of the architecture. The future belongs to the integration of architecture, painting, sculpture and landscaping—to what has been called ‘total architecture’.”

“Oh, there are many mistakes at Stamford. But the final question always is: Is the thing beautiful?”

Quote in Architecture in America: A Battle of Styles p.273

“We must approach architecture simply, without fear, without price and with faith in the human being … I believe there are three essential parts of architecture: human, national and technological.”