Robert S. Harris, FAIA, (1935–2023) architect, professor of architecture, civil leader and urbanist, passed away on October 3, 2023. Robert served as dean of the USC School of Architecture for ten years from 1981 to 1992, as well as director of the Master of Architecture Program (1993-2004) and director of the Master of Landscape Architecture Program (2006-2011, 2012-2014). Robert has been president of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and was one of the first five educators in the United States to be named Distinguished Professor by the ACSA, an honor that has been bestowed on only 175 architecture faculty from north America since its inception in 1984.

Robert Harris was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised by his parents Bell and Jerry Harris alongside his older brother Richard. Harris was married to Sandra Lou Robbins in 1959 and they had three children; Diane, Elaine, and Janet. Harris later married Elizabeth Vanderzyl, who passed away in August earlier this year. 

As a young person, Robert showed an early aptitude for drawing and a keen interest in architecture. He obtained a BA in Architecture from Rice University in 1957 where he was awarded the Hohenthal Scholarship. In 1960, he received an MFA from Princeton University where he was named a Lowell Palmer Fellow. Robert was elected as the president of the American Institute of Architecture Students during his college years, exhibiting leadership skills at an early age.

In 1960, Robert began his academic career at the University of Texas while simultaneously working as a partner in the architectural firm Taniguchi, Shelman and Harris Architects, based in Austin, Texas. He joined the University of Oregon in 1967 as a professor of architecture and was promoted to dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts in 1971. He was instrumental in the founding of the University of Oregon's Historic Preservation Program in 1980, the first of its kind on the West Coast. 

Robert was appointed dean of the School of Architecture at the University of Southern California in 1981 and was the leading force in repositioning the school from a regional institution to one with prominence in Los Angeles and known globally as an elite international design program.

As an extraordinary academic leader, Robert placed a focus on design research and urban design, and the impact of urban development on people as well as on the existing fabric of the city. He was a particularly effective teacher and sought ways to create feedback from studios and seminars that were constructive and helpful to students. He was compassionate and cared deeply about the individual development of students. 

Robert served as dean during the university's first major fundraising campaign and his personality and advocacy for giving back led to several endowed chairs and funds for major remodeling projects including the library, a school center, a shop, and additional office space for faculty.

After a decade as dean, he took responsibility for building the Graduate Architecture Program and a new graduate degree program in Landscape Architecture. He received the USC Faculty Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015 in recognition of his eminent career and notable contributions to USC, the profession, and the community.

Robert's expertise went far beyond his academic contributions. In Los Angeles, he co- chaired the Downtown Strategic Plan Advisory Committee and the Mayor's Design Advisory Panel. He was also the founder and past-president of the Urban Design Advisory Coalition. He received a Community Planning and Design Honor Award from the AIA California Council and was named an Honorary Member of the ASLA. Robert was instrumental in the establishment of degree programs in historic preservation at both the University of Oregon and at USC, and was a past-president of the Los Angeles Conservancy.

Donations may be made to the USC Architecture Scholarship Fund and noted as given in honor of Robert Harris.


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