Oscar L Harris was born on October 6, 1943, in a section of the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, affectionately known as “Sugar Top.” Considered the center of African-American culture in Pittsburgh, the Hill District was a collection of world class neighborhoods during its heyday from the 1930s to 1950s. After obtaining a Bachelor of Arts at Lincoln University and briefly attending Howard University’s School of Architecture, Harris obtained a Master of Architecture from Carnegie Mellon University. Soon after he moved to his adopted city of Atlanta and began to reshape the city’s transportation infrastructure and skyline with iconic buildings and projects that define America’s most popular Southern metropolis. Harris has been inducted into the College of Fellows in American Institute of Architects (AIA) and, through his exceptional volunteer service in providing scouting for disadvantaged youth in challenging urban and rural areas, was selected to receive the 2014 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award by the Atlanta Area Council, Boys Scouts of America. The honor aims to celebrate the fulfillment of the civil rights leader’s dream of justice and equality for all.
In 1977, Harris founded Turner Associates Architects and Planners Incorporated. For over 35 years Turner grew to become one of Atlanta’s leading architectural and planning firms. With innovative and leading edge work that included the expansion of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and the legendary Centennial Olympic Park, Harris has become one of the most influential businessmen and prominent architects in the South.
Mentorship and exposure for minorities to the profession of architecture has been at the center of Harris’ career. He has continually sought opportunities to expose disadvantaged youth to the professions of architecture, engineering and construction. Over 10 years ago, Harris founded the Atlanta Center for Creative Inquiry Incorporated, a primarily after-school program created to introduce minority high school students to the architecture, design, construction, development and planning professions. The program has transformed countless lives and serves as the one the biggest personal accomplishments of Harris’ career.
During his StoryCorps interview, Harris passionately describes his design philosophy rooted in architecture as “symbols of civilization” and how the profession also uses this philosophy to limit opportunities to African-American architects and business owners. Throughout his career, Harris strived to create these symbolic creations – symbols of Atlanta’s culture, its people, its politics, as well as its hardships and victories. Today, Harris’ symbols can be experienced from transportation and community revitalization to education and civic and urban projects. He also shares stories of overcoming personal challenges, racial discrimination, and systemic barriers to start his own practice, as well as seeking new opportunities to kick start his career. He discusses his ability to leverage joint ventures to gain access to signature projects like expanding Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport; where he moved from the role of a sub-prime partner to leading multi-million dollar project prime partner. He offers a roadmap and lessons learned for future architecture firm owners and entrepreneurs that start with finding a love of architecture.
Today, Harris is retired and spends his time as an artist. His “focus is on trying to help the next generation of architects grow and go on to do some fantastic things.” Harris believes building a strong community will support a better Atlanta and a brighter future for the city. Harris shares his life’s work and experience in his recent book, Oscar: The Memoir of a Master Architect, which follows his remarkable life from childhood to becoming one of the most influential minority architects of his time. Harris is a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Incorporated. He is married to his wife Sylvia and has three children Todd, Tarik and Myka.
The symbolic creations of Oscar L. Harris embodies our civilization here in Atlanta and around the country, and his vision, leadership and mentorship of the next generation truly makes him one of NOMA Atlanta’s Trailblazers of Change.
Author: Garfield Peart | May 10,2015 | © NOMAATLANTA
Notable Atlanta Projects:
ATLANTA AIRPORT ATRIUM
FULTON COUNTY GOVERNMENT CENTER
MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. VISITORS CENTER
CONCOURSE E ATLANTA AIRPORT
CENTENNIAL OLYMPIC PARK LIGHT TOWERS
ATLANTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS ADMINISTRATION BUILDING
KILGORE STUDENT CENTER MOREHOUSE COLLEGE
GEORGIA STATE STUDENT CENTER
ATLANTA AIRPORT MASTER PLAN
SAM NUNN FEDERAL CENTER
ATLANTA POLICE HEADQUARTERS BUILDING
DEKALB COUNTY JAIL
DEKALB COUNTY JUVENILE COURTHOUSE
ATLANTA FULTON COUNTY COURTHOUSE
MULTIPLE MARTA STATIONS
THE LOOK OF THE CENTENNIAL OLYMPIC GAMES
OLYMPIC FIELD HOCKEY STADIUM
ALLIANCE ACADEMY THEATRE
Member of Fellows in American Institute of Architects (AIA)
2014 Whitney M. Young Jr. Award by the Atlanta Area Council, Boys Scouts of America.
Founder, Atlanta Center for Creative Inquiry, Inc.
Oscar FAIA Website
Trailblazer Photo Gallery: