VISION Keynote: Design

Frank Harmon Headshot

Frank Harmon, FAIA

Frank Harmon, FAIA, is an award-winning architect and author of “Native Places,” a collection of thoughts and hand-drawn sketches that illustrate the value of looking closely at buildings and places.


Architects have many tools with which to engage our community. Two of the most important are drawing and writing. As architects we are uniquely qualified to notice the nuances of the world around us. The shape of a plowed field, the fabric of cities, the stones in a cemetery wall — all carry a message about how we inhabit our place. If we can express our observations of the world around us more clearly, we can encourage others to look more closely as well. Thus, we can contribute to community not only by what we build, but also by creating awareness and conversation about place.

For this seminar, he will use examples of Native Places sketches to talk about community building: “The Rural Studio in Newbern, Alabama;” “The University of Virginia;” “City Life in London;” “Thick Walls/Thin Skin;” “Douglas Airport in Charlotte;” “Wazee Street, Denver;” “Luncheon Under the Linden Trees;” and others. These sketches speak to community and the city fabric. They also indicate overlooked details that can be discovered when one takes the time to sit and sketch.

This presentation explores Harmon’s belief that drawing and writing are not obsolete skills — that both disciplines allow us, as architects, to develop a natural grace in the way we design our projects and engage the world around us.  How, then, can clarity and simplicity in writing help us to become better communicators? How does drawing allow us to build a dialog around designing our communities?

Frank Harmon’s work, which begins with simple sketches, has been described as “buildings rooted in the earth, warmed by the sun, with fresh air flowing through the windows and made of materials friendly to the touch.” As a result, his firm’s work has won numerous design awards and is widely published. In 2012, his firm was ranked 17th among the top 50 firms in the nation by Architect magazine based on design excellence, sustainability, and financial performance. His firm recently completed the Center for Architecture and Design in Raleigh, NC, the first AIA headquarters built from the ground up.

Harmon has presented his Native Places seminar at AIA Kentucky, AIA Tennessee, Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, and at the Project Design Committee at Georgia Tech Institute of Technology. He also presented the seminar during the Rural Studio’s 20th anniversary celebration in Newbern, Alabama.

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