Design Identities: Edwin Harris
Co-founder of EVOKE Studio Architecture, Edwin Harris believes that remarkable architecture enhances the lives of its occupants. For over a decade, he has consistently generated exciting designs that are decisive, focused, and rooted in clear objectives and novel concepts.
“I was initially drawn to car design and shoe design – I didn’t even know that industrial design was a thing,” said Edwin Harris, co-founder and design principal at EVOKE Studio and professor of the practice at the College of Design. “Then my grandfather suggested I become an architect – at that point, I couldn’t name one architect. I had never met one, I didn’t know anything but that architects design buildings. All I knew is that you get to create things, you get to draw, and so from that point on, I pushed towards architecture.”
Edwin’s grandfather was a pivotal figure in his career trajectory towards becoming the architect he is today. After introducing the idea of architecture as a career path, his grandfather continued to help him achieve his dreams. Edwin applied to the College of Design three times – two unsuccessfully, before finally being accepted.
“My grandfather called up Phil Freelon and told him that my grandson wants to become an architect,” Edwin remembers. “So, Phil Freelon met with me on a Friday in his office and he said ‘we’re going to get you into the school of design.’” He maintained a positive relationship with Phil, even working at the Freelon Group for nine years before founding EVOKE.
While at The Freelon Group and Perkins+Will, his visioning for projects like Emancipation Park garnered him recognition as an emerging designer for the global firm. Emancipation Park embodies much of what would be the founding principles for EVOKE.
Former slave Reverend Jack Yates led community members of Antioch Baptist and Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas to purchase land for Juneteenth celebrations in 1872. Under racial segregation, the park was the only one in the city for Black people to use. The park underwent $33 million in renovations in 2017, led by Perkins and Will with Phil Freelon heading the design team.
“We believe that great design has the capacity to improve the lives of people. So, we’re really ambitious about design and its capabilities – every project that we take on, from the smallest to the largest – how can we create spaces and designs that are going to improve the lives of anyone who experiences them,” says Edwin.
He feels that his own personal ambition is driven by the desire to build upon the sacrifices of the previous generation.
“As a black person in America, our ancestors fought so hard for freedoms and made sacrifices for freedoms that they never achieved and they did it for us,” he adds. “I’m trying to strive for greatness, not just for myself but for the people who come before me. I want to be able to tell them, ‘look, [your sacrifice] wasn’t all for nothing.”