Tom Owens ’73 was a sophomore construction science student at Texas A&M when the late John Harris ‘54 spoke to the student chapter of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) on campus. Harris’ presentation was on the key role of the developer in creating communities. That informal talk by the executive from Houston-based Hines development firm sparked Owens’ own career interest. Forty years later, Owens and others who were inspired by Harris’ integrity and professionalism are honoring him in the new academic home of construction science at Texas A&M.
The John A. Harris Entry Gallery will serve as the gateway to the Francis Hall Construction Science Center in the middle of the College Station campus. Francis Hall, completed in 1918 as the first home of veterinary studies, is one of Texas A&M’s oldest buildings. The university is beginning a $9.5 million renovation, supported by $5 million in private donations from former students and friends of the Department of Construction Science.
“We are tremendously pleased that this space will be a tribute to an Aggie who had such an impact on the construction industry,” said Joe Horlen, Texas A&M construction science department head.
Construction Science Pioneer
An obituary in the Engineering News-Record described Harris, who passed away in 2008, as “a pioneer in commercial development around the world.”
After earning a civil engineering degree, Harris served in the military and worked in Houston area construction firms before he began a 42-year career at Hines in 1966. As executive vice president in charge of the firm’s Conceptual Construction Group, he worked with the company’s visionary founder and chairman Gerald D. Hines to oversee construction projects around the world. In that capacity, he implemented Hines’ philosophy that high design and practical construction solutions can work together to create great buildings. With Hines, he worked on some of Houston’s most famous buildings, including Penzoil Place, the Galleria, Wortham Theater Center, One Shell Plaza and St. Luke’s Medical Tower. Their work literally recreated the skyline in 16 countries around the world.
In the Footsteps of His Mentor
Harris also inspired individuals like Owens, who, after receiving his degree in building construction, actively pursued a career at Hines and is now senior managing director and chief risk officer. When he heard about the Francis Hall renovation campaign, Owens and Jerrold Lea, executive vice president for conceptual construction for Hines, contacted many of John Harris’ personal and professional associates, inviting them to join him in a memorial gift to honor Harris’ life and career. To date, contributions from more than 60 donors to the Harris gallery total nearly $500,000.
According to Owens, Harris was a tough but fair taskmaster who brought out the best of architects, contractors and subcontractors. “So much of the professionalism that we have came from the standards he set,” said Owens. Through their support, the donors to the John A. Harris Entry Gallery hope to inspire that same level of professionalism and integrity in future generations of Aggie construction professionals.
Learn more about how you can support the Francis Hall Renovation Project.
Assistant Vice President for Development
College of Architecture
(979) 845-5113 or (800) 392-3310