Art: Cheops' Architect

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Hospitals for Nothing. Harrison took a course in construction engineering at Worcester Tech. But there must be better places than Worcester, he decided, to find out about architecture. When he was 20, he went to New York and applied for a job with the most famous firm of architects in the U.S., McKim, Mead & White. They had put up half the nouveau riche palaces in Newport, R.I., and had just built the Morgan Library in Manhattan, while some Bellevue Hospital buildings, the Racquet and Tennis Club and several Columbia University buildings were among the projects on their drawing boards. Harrison wanted the job so much that he said he would work for nothing. He was taken at his word and set to drawing plans for a book on hospitals one of the partners was writing. But within a fortnight he was a junior draftsman at $20 a week.

In his spare time, Harrison tried to fill out his education. At the parish house of Calvary Episcopal Church, where he roomed for awhile, the curates kept a dictionary beside them at mealtime. Whenever a word was in question, they would look it up. "I got an education by absorption there," he says. On his days off, he walked around New York studying such wonders as Fifth Avenue, Wall Street and the Woolworth Building. While still working for McKim, Mead & White, he got himself enrolled in the atelier of a top architect, Harvey Wiley Corbett, where in the evenings he drew, drew and redrew, while Corbett passed from desk to desk, criticizing and encouraging.

In World War I, Harrison enlisted in the Navy, and wound up as an ensign, navigating a sub chaser in the Adriatic. He saw little action, but he did get to

Paris, and soon after his discharge he went back to see some more of it. By 1920 he was living in a Left Bank lodging house, eating bean soup in a restaurant "so cheap not even Frenchmen would go there," and hearing excited talk about Corbusier and the new German moderns.

The boy from Worcester still had to catch up on freehand drawing, math and physics—things his contemporaries had learned in college but that he had to learn in Paris cram schools. He stayed up nights arguing with young moderns. He did not take easily or kindly to modern notions in architecture. "I remember arguing my head off against those fellows. I said you couldn't possibly put a glass window at the bottom of a building. It just wouldn't look as if it were going to stand up."

Home again after a year of Paris, Harrison found the tides beginning to turn. The Renaissance revival was losing momentum; the skyscraper boom of the '205 was under way. Harrison left McKim, Mead & White and went to work for Bertram Goodhue, who had just woh a competition for the Nebraska state capitol. Harrison worked on some of the dome designs for the capitol, and became one of Goodhue's top designers.

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