Image: view of Rashtrapati Bhavan (“Presidential Palace”, formerly Viceroy’s House), New Delhi, architect Edwin Lutyens.
“Emanuel Vincent Harris OBE RA (26 June 1876 – 1 August 1971), often known as E. Vincent Harris, was an English architect who designed several important public buildings.
He was born in Devonport, Devon and educated at Kingsbridge Grammar School. He was articled to the Plymouth architect James Harvey in 1893; in 1897 he moved to London, where he assisted E. Keynes Purchase, Leonard Stokes and Sir William Emerson. From 1901 to 1907 he worked for the London County Council before setting up in private practice.
He was primarily a classicist; A. Stuart Gray wrote: “Some of his buildings suggest the influence of Sir Edwin Lutyens, but are bolder, balder, and less subtle or more frank depending on ones point of view.” His work was often criticised by modernist architects. In his acceptance speech when he was awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal in 1951 Harris is reported to have said: “Look, a lot of you here tonight don’t like what I do and I don’t like what a lot of you do …”.
He became an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1942. He died in Bath in 1971 and is buried in the village of Chaffcombe, Somerset.
“…In 1901 (or 1902 – sources vary) Harris joined the London County Council’s Architects’ Department, working under William Edward Riley on tramway generating stations, some of which he made notably architectural. He won the Royal Academy’s Gold Medal and travelling Scholarship in 1903, set up independent practice in the following year and began entering competitions, coming second in Torquay Town Hall, sixth for the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, fourth for Crofton Park Library and second again for Dartmouth Town Hall…
Harris joined the Art Workers Guild in 1935.
The commission for the unbuilt Board of Trade offices was re-awarded by an Office of Works selection committee in January 1934 and redesigned to accommodate the Air Ministry in 1936, construction beginning in 1939 and halted a second time by the outbreak of war. In general concept it still followed the 1913-15 scheme and remained stone-faced in deference to the Whitehall setting.
Harris was sixty-nine at the end of the Second World War but he continued in practice to complete the Bristol Council House and build the Whitehall offices, revised yet again in a still larger and much bolder form to meet Treasury requirements. New commissions continued to come in, notably Kensington Library built 1955-60 and still in his pre-war classical brick-and-stone idiom.
Harris was appointed OBE in 1950, an honour which bore scant relationship to the scale and quality of his best work. Somewhat controversially he was awarded the Royal Gold Medal in 1951: by that date the younger architects saw his work as outdated and the half-built Whitehall offices had clouded his reputation. He was aware of it and his terse acceptance acknowledged it: ‘Look, a lot of you people here tonight don’t like what I do and I don’t like a lot of what you do, but I am proud and honoured to receive the Royal Gold Medal’.
On his retirement from practice to Chard in Somerset, Harris gave his house at 10 Fitzroy Park, Highgate, to the Burgh of Camden. He had designed it himself with the assistance of Donald McMorran. Ethel Harris died in 1965. Harris himself died at Cranhill Nursing Home, Bath, on 1 August 1971, and was buried in the churchyard at Chaffcombe where a monument by Arthur Bailey marks his grave. As he had no children his estate was divided between the Royal Academy and Chard School in accordance with his will.
Harris designed only one work in Scotland, an addition to Tullich Lodge, Ballater. But his influence was marked in the works of John Watson II who was in his office 1927-33 and similarly continued to design in a classical idiom after the Second World War, while his brick and stone municipal architecture seems to have influenced the work of James Miller in the mid-1930s. Watson remembered the office regime as strict and austere but not unkind: no smoking, tea or coffee, not out of any meanness but a distaste for any form of untidiness or any hazard to drawings which might upset workflow. The practice was unusual in that it was almost wholly dependent on competition wins for large projects, although he did design a racquet court for Stephen Courtauld in 1924 and Atkinson’s Scent shop in Old Bond Street, London, in 1927.
Harris himself was small in stature and had absolutely no small talk. In Arthur Bailey’s words his practice: ‘required no social attributes or the patronage usually associated with architectural practices…he had no time for letters, meetings or officialdom…having won a competition, it was there to be built’. He designed everything that mattered himself, again in Bailey’s words: ‘The purely classical proportions were printed indelibly on his mind, and he would take a roll of detail paper, pin it to the top of his board and proceed to detail from cornice to skirting rolling the paper from his feet in the process.’
From the London Remembers website:
“A plaque, Rivington Street EC2, inscribed:
London Borough of Hackney
Electricity generating sub station.
Transformer station for tramway system. Designed in 1905 by Vincent Harris. Architect with London County Council. Built 1905 – 07.
(This building is extremely similar to one in Islington Upper Street, opposite Lloyds Bank.)”