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By Design

After a distinguished career in architecture, Harold Adams '61 returns to Texas A&M University as a professor of practice.

By Diane L. Oswald

Director of Communications
College of Architecture

By Design

After a distinguished career in architecture, Harold Adams '61 returns to Texas A&M University as a professor of practice.

By Diane L. Oswald

Director of Communications
College of Architecture
Harold Adams '61 is a professor of practice in Texas A&M University's College of Architecture, where he shares lessons from years of industry experience with his students. 

The world was delivered to Harold Adams’ family home between the covers of Reader’s Digest, a monthly magazine packed with stories of human interest and travel. But it was an article written by Pietro Belluschi, dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture and Planning, describing architecture as a career that captured the young boy’s imagination and changed his life forever.

“As a child, I loved drawing and making things,” said Adams, a 1962 graduate of Texas A&M University. “I had a woodshop where I built chairs, bookcases and a variety of other furniture to sell. When I read that article and learned about architecture, I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do!’”

Laying a Foundation

As his high school's valedictorian, Adams received scholarship offers from several Texas colleges,  but none of them had an architecture program. Knowing that one was offered at Texas A&M, he made the trip from his hometown of Palmer, Texas, to tour the campus. “I just loved it,” said Adams. “I was convinced from that day forward that Texas A&M was where I would study to become an architect.”

When Adams was admitted, architecture was a five-year degree program housed in the School of Engineering. During his freshman and sophomore years, students in architecture, construction science, landscape architecture and urban planning shared several common core classes. “We developed friendships outside of our vocational interests, and that broadened our understanding of how the professions work together on projects,” he said.

Adams became active in the Memorial Student Center Student Conference on National Affairs, the Design Student Society and served as editor of the student publication, Architecture Plus. In 1962, he received the M.N. Davidson Fellowship Award, making him one of architecture’s first scholarship recipients. During the summers prior to graduation, he gained real-world experience with two renowned architectural firms: Pratt and Box Architecture in Dallas, which shaped the city’s skyline through innovative design and urban development; and William B. Tabler Architects in New York City, which specialized in designing hotels, including the New York Hilton near Rockefeller Center.

“The job and living in New York were terrific,” he recalled. “A classmate’s aunt was director of the New York Civic Center, and she could get us discounted tickets to anything. We went to shows that featured the original famous actors and musicians, sometimes seeing two or more each week!”

  • A Young Creative

    As a child, Adams loved drawing and making things. He had a woodshop where he built chairs, bookcases and a variety of other furniture to sell. These early experiences helped prepare him for his career in architecture.
  • Lafayette Square Project

    In Washington, D.C., Adams worked as a junior designer for John Carl Warnecke (pictured) and Associates of San Francisco to incorporate the design of new modern public buildings into the historical aesthetic of Lafayette Square. The storied past of the square captured the attention of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, who among others, are credited for preserving the area’s 19th century row houses.

Ground Floor

After graduating from Texas A&M with his architecture degree, the excitement of New York City called Adams back. But one week after starting a job there, he received a call from Edward Romieniec, one of his Texas A&M professors. “He asked if I might be interested in moving to Washington, D.C., to work as a designer on a very exciting redevelopment project,” Adams remembered.

Intrigued by the opportunity, he moved to D.C. as a junior designer for John Carl Warnecke and Associates of San Francisco to incorporate the design of new modern public buildings into the historical aesthetic of Lafayette Square. Once home to Henry Adams, Dolly Madison and other notable historical figures, the storied past of the square captured the attention of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, who among others, are credited for preserving the area’s 19th century row houses. 

The scope of the Lafayette Square project grew much larger than Warnecke originally anticipated, so he left Adams in D.C. as project manager and moved the rest of his operation to the firm’s headquarters in San Francisco. “I was propelled into a leadership role that is all but unheard of today,” recalled Adams. “To this day, I don’t know the real reason he selected me to manage the project, but what a great opportunity.”  

High Rise

Adams’ work with Warnecke went on to include the Naval Academy master plan, the Hawaiian State Capitol, new additions for Bobby and Ethel Kennedy’s home in McLean, Virginia, renovations on several Kennedy family homes in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and early meetings with President Kennedy to discuss possible sites for his presidential library.

It was an exciting time for the young architect, but on Nov. 22, 1963, Adams and the firm received a somber new mission.

“The day President Kennedy was shot was one of the saddest days of my life,” said Adams. “The following week, I was in Texas for Thanksgiving to introduce my family to Janice, my new bride, and I got a call. I was to report back to D.C. as soon as possible. We needed to design President Kennedy’s gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery and accelerate plans for his presidential library.”

Office Hours with Professor Harold Adams 61

What are your hobbies?
 “I have a farm and raise beef cattle.”
 
What is your favorite type of music and who is your favorite artist?
“I enjoy country music. Willie Nelson is probably my favorite artist. His music reminds me of listening to the radio when I was growing up.”
 
What is your dream car?
“A 1957 Ford Thunderbird. On my 50th birthday, Janice bought me one! It is painted robin’s egg blue with a white top.”
 
How do you want to be remembered?
“I’d like to be remembered as a nice person and as someone who keeps his word.”
 
Besides President and Mrs. Kennedy, what other famous people have you met?
“I met several other members of the Kennedy family, Secretary of State Robert McNamara, President Harry Truman at his library, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Prince Charles and several other foreign presidents and leaders.”
 
What is next for you professionally?
“Many people tell me that I should write a book. I’d like to do that if I can find the time!”
  • Kennedy Connection

    Throughout his career, Adams worked on multiple projects for the Kennedy family, including several family homes, the early stages of President John F. Kennedy's presidential library and, later on, his gravesite in Arlington National Cemetery. The Caroline became the first private plane used in a presidential campaign by John F. Kennedy when he was a Massachusetts senator.
  • Gaining Notoriety

    During the course of his career, Adams headed several large projects that introduced him to the likes of the Clintons, Prince Charles, and many other foreign presidents and leaders.
  • President of RTKL

    Adams was appointed RTKL president at age 29. A gifted leader, he moved through the ranks of chief executive officer and chairman. During his tenure, RTKL grew from a one-office firm with 45 employees to a global company with multiple locations around the world and more than 1,200 employees.
During the Harold L. Adams Interdisciplinary Charrette for Undergrads, students from each of the College of Architecture's different majors work together to create and present a project to faculty jurors. 

Following President Kennedy’s assassination, Warnecke spent less time with his firm. His absence created an air of uncertainty that proved to be a catalyst for change, and Adams found himself being recruited by the partners at RTKL Associates in Baltimore, Maryland.

The small firm was struggling, and they gave him six months to reorganize the business and make it profitable. “I restructured the organization, focusing on managing cash flow, establishing good personnel policies and treating people well,” he said. The firm was back on track within a year and was incorporated a few months later. Adams was appointed RTKL president at age 29.

A gifted leader, he moved through the ranks of chief executive officer and chairman. During his tenure, RTKL grew from a one-office firm with 45 employees to a global company with multiple locations around the world and more than 1,200 employees. The firm’s notable projects include the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, the Saudi Arabian Embassy in D.C., the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, the urban design for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and rebuilding the Pentagon after 9/11.

New Development

Today, Adams is back in the classroom at the Texas A&M College of Architecture, only now as a seasoned expert, sharing the benefit of his education and experience with students and peers. He frequently visits classes to give lectures and meet with student groups. In his professor of practice role, he is influencing the next generation of not only architects, but also landscape architects, urban planners, construction professionals, animators and graphic designers.

As an advocate of interdisciplinary classes and experiences for students, Adams also developed an intense, weekend-long event for students to address real-world problems called the Harold L. Adams Interdisciplinary Charrette for Undergrads. The event brings together one student from each department in the college and one student from the college’s university studies major to conceptualize, design and create virtual 3D models of building and landscape development proposals, assemble construction and site plans, and then present their completed projects to faculty jurors. The charrette engages students throughout the entire workflow process, giving them a glimpse of how the different disciplines approach a common project.

“These students don’t necessarily know one another,” said Adams, “but they quickly learn to work together to address the challenges they are given. It is amazing how sophisticated their solutions are after working together during a single weekend.”

Reflections on President & Mrs. Kennedy

Listen as Harold Adams '61 remembers his work with the Kennedys.

Capital Expenditures 

The College of Architecture is celebrating its 50th anniversary and will launch a capital campaign by the end of 2019 to help fund a $20 million renovation and expansion of Langford Building “C” in support of interdisciplinary education. Constructed in 1969, the building will see an almost 50 percent increase in usable space, including new studio, collaboration and research spaces, and classrooms and offices for graduate students and faculty.

“The university has made a generous commitment to help fund the project, but we are relying on private gifts to support a substantial part of this growth,” said Jourdan. “The guiding principles for the project are to create flexible, interdisciplinary spaces that facilitate student and faculty interaction and support the growing technology demands of our disciplines.”

Expansive Learning

To further encourage collaboration across disciplines, Adams established endowed professorships in each of the college’s four departments to support interdisciplinary teaching and research. Additionally, he gave $100,000 to develop the Janice L. and Harold L. Adams ’61 Presentation Room, a space dedicated to the college’s interdisciplinary and diversity efforts.

“Harold is a driving force behind interdisciplinary education in our college,” said Dawn Jourdan, executive associate dean and professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning. “He understands the necessity of equipping students with both the theoretical and experiential knowledge of collaboration, and he is investing his time, talent and treasure to strengthen this strategic initiative.”

Adams has received numerous accolades for the impact he has made on his profession and university. The American Institute of Architects awarded him with two of its highest honors: the Kemper Medal, for his leadership in the profession, and membership in its College of Fellows. He is also an Outstanding Alumnus of the College of Architecture and a Distinguished Alumnus of Texas A&M.

He has a long history of service to the university, including serving on the Chancellor’s Council and the College of Architecture’s Development Advisory Council, Dean’s Advisory Board and Construction Industry Advisory Council. He has also served as a faculty fellow of the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study, and in May 2019, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Texas A&M.

“I think it’s important to give back to Texas A&M,” said Adams. “The university has given me so much, and I want to create opportunities for students today and in the future.”

To learn how you can support architecture students and faculty through gifts to the building campaign, scholarships or programs, contact Larry Zuber below. 

Contact:

Larry Zuber

Assistant Vice President for Development
College of Architecture