Art: Cheops' Architect

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Foot by Foot. Big & little engineering decisions had to be made constantly. Since the buildings were to be air-conditioned throughout, a vast amount of water had to be piped in for the cooling equipment. Instead of using city water, Harrison's engineers cleaned out two huge sewers left over from slaughterhouse days, and installed pumps capable of sucking in 14,000 gallons of water a minute from the East River. Since everybody at the U.N. seemed to favor a different temperature, Harrison had to put in individual controls at every second window. Staffers are not entirely satisfied with the temperature ranges, even now.

Money was the most critical shortage. With zooming costs and an iron-clad budget, Harrison's designers had to redraw the plans for the Assembly Building nine times to make successive economies in size and building materials. The resulting design was too squat, Harrison thought.

He introduced a steel dome to give an impression of greater interior height. And there were other troubles—problems of riveters who were almost unable to hammer in the oversized rivets needed to brace the Secretariat against the wind, of a tiny decoration budget that had to be eked out with paint, plaster and imagination. Harrison was asked last week how he ever managed to get the U.N. built. "The same way you build a railroad," said Harrison. "Foot by foot."

Worcester & Beyond. Wallace Kirkman Harrison is strictly a working architect. He has written no books on what he has done or what architecture might or should do. When he is not tramping around an excavation or arguing with contractors, he can usually be found hard at work in his office—a big (6 ft. 2 in., 210 Ibs.), rumpled figure in shirtsleeves. He talks everyday American with a New England twang, and runs his firm like a football team. He quit school early and came up the hard way. He has very little time for play. In his hurry, singlemindedness and success, he is a character out of J. P. Marquand.

Moreover, if architects are a combination of Mary and Martha, Harrison is mostly Martha. He has no place among such frontiersmen of architecture as Frank Lloyd Wright, Louis Sullivan* and Walter Gropius. He is not even sure that he is a modern. A Harrison-styled building is applied modern—the kind that the purists boggle at but John Doe likes.

Wallace Harrison was born on Sept. 28, 1895 in a small frame house in the center of Worcester, Mass., where his father was superintendent of a local ironworks. Young Wally Harrison saw the automobiles fill up Main Street, saw the old Victorian houses taken over by morticians and auto showrooms.

When he was just 14, Harrison's mother died, and his father grieved himself to pieces. Harrison quit school and pestered a local contractor for a job. "Son," the contractor told him, "you're a damn fool to go into building. Go into farming, that's where the money is." Nevertheless, he took Harrison on as an office boy, and later even let him diagram some stone designs. Harrison soon noticed something about the contracting business: the contractor took his orders from the architect. That decided him: he would be an architect.

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