HAROLD ADAMS in memoriam

Adams ’61 remembered as visionary design executive, interdisciplinary education champion

Harold Adams ’61, whose storied design career includes working with President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy on federal building projects and leading the transformation of a one-office architectural firm in Baltimore into RTKL, a leading, global practice, passed away April 12, 2022, at age 82 after an illness. 

His survivors include his wife, Janice, children, and grandchildren.

Adams’ legacy includes a decades-long advocacy of interdisciplinary education, which is represented by his endowment of a professorship in each of the college’s four departments with an emphasis on projects that involved several disciplines. 

“Adams leaves a monumental legacy in the design world and in education at Texas A&M,” said Patrick Suermann, interim dean of the Texas A&M College of Architecture. “His work with the Kennedys, his leadership at RTKL, and his determination to prioritize interdisciplinary education for students at the college has a considerable impact today and in the future.”

He also spearheaded the Harold L. Adams Interdisciplinary Charrette for Undergraduates, an intensive, weekend-long charrette that drew students from all of the college’s departments to work together in interdisciplinary teams to reimagine an existing part of campus or propose a new campus development.

Adams was still in his early 20s when his remarkable career hit full stride.

Working alongside the Kennedys

Soon after earning an architecture degree at Texas A&M, Adams received a call from Edward Romieniec, one of his Texas A&M professors, about a redevelopment project in the heart of Washington, D.C.  

Intrigued by the opportunity, he moved to D.C. as a junior designer for John Carl Warnecke and Associates of San Francisco to incorporate the design of new modern public buildings into the historical aesthetic of Lafayette Square, which is located directly north of the White House. 

Once home to Henry Adams, Dolly Madison and other notable historical figures, the storied past of the square captured the attention of President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy, who attended numerous meetings with Warnecke and Adams as the project proceeded. 

Eventually, the scope of the project grew much larger than Warnecke originally anticipated, so he left Adams in D.C. as project manager and moved the rest of his operation to the firm’s headquarters in San Francisco. 

More high-profile projects followed.

Soon, Adams’ work included new additions for Bobby and Ethel Kennedy’s home in McLean, Virginia, renovations on several Kennedy family homes in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, and meetings with President Kennedy to discuss possible sites for his presidential library.

That project took on an entirely new dimension after the president’s assassination Nov. 22, 1963, as Adams’ focus suddenly turned into a need to create Kennedy’s gravesite at Arlington National Cemetery and accelerate the plans for the presidential library.

From one office to a global presence

Still in his late 20s, but with so many high-profile projects already in his resume, Adams was recruited by partners at RTKL, a small, struggling firm in Baltimore.

 The firm’s leaders gave him six months to reorganize the business and make it profitable. “I restructured the organization, focusing on managing cash flow, establishing good personnel policies and treating people well,” he said. The firm was back on track within a year and was incorporated a few months later. Adams was appointed RTKL president — at age 29.

A gifted leader, he continued to move through the firm’s ranks, to chief executive officer and chairman. During his tenure, RTKL grew from a one-office firm with 45 employees to a leading global company with multiple locations around the world and more than 1,200 employees. The firm’s notable projects include the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, the Saudi Arabia Embassy in D.C., the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, the urban design for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and rebuilding the Pentagon after 9/11. 

After he retired, he served as chairman emeritus of the firm.

Showered with awards and honors

His many, extraordinary achievements resulted in a very long list of awards and honors throughout the years.

A Texas A&M University Distinguished Alumnus and an Outstanding Alumnus of the College of Architecture, Adams received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Texas A&M in 2019.

The American Institute of Architects awarded Adams with two of its highest honors: the Kemper Medal, for his leadership in the profession, and membership in its College of Fellows. Adams also served as chancellor of the College of Fellows in 1997-98.

He was also honored with the Society of American Military Engineers’ inaugural Max O. Urbahn Medal for achievement in architecture and has been inducted into The National Academy of Construction. 

Adams was one of the first United States citizens to hold a first class Kenchikushi license, an architecture license awarded by Japan’s Ministry of Construction, and was also a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

Giving back to Texas A&M

Adams always believed it was important to give back to Texas A&M by creating opportunities for its students today and in the future.

In addition to helping establish the Interdisciplinary charrette in 2018, Adams showed his support for a broad-based education by endowed professorships in each of the college’s four departments to support interdisciplinary teaching and research. Additionally, he gave $100,000 to develop the Janice L. and Harold L. Adams ’61 Presentation Room, a space dedicated to the college’s interdisciplinary and diversity efforts.

His history of service to the university included joining the College of Architecture faculty in 2018, serving on the Chancellor’s Council and the college’s development advisory council, the Dean’s Advisory Board and Construction Industry Advisory Council. He has also served as a faculty fellow of the Hagler Institute for Advanced Study.

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