For Harry Wolf, architecture is all about problem solving, not ego. “Architecture is at the service of man, not the architect,” he says. He seeks to find the essence of the problem each new building needs to address and offers simple, graceful design resolutions. Take, for example, a parking structure he’s currently designing for a new cardiovascular center at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). The original plan called for a seven-story building blocking the view from patients’ rooms. Wolf’s design, which he nicknamed the “stealth garage,” instead takes advantage of the sloping site and moves all but one level underground. Patients will now view a pavilion-like structure and a ground-level soccer field.
A modernist, Wolf has designed nearly 300 understated, elegant structures, including the NationsBank Florida Headquarters (now owned by Bank of America) in Tampa and the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in Charlotte, NC. His work has earned him five American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Honor Awards, considered the nation’s highest honor for architectural excellence, and more than 30 regional and state AIA honors.
Currently, two of Wolf’s parking-garage designs are displayed in the National Building Museum’s “House of Cars: Innovation and the Parking Garage” exhibit, which runs through July 11, 2010. His Mickey and Friends Parking Structure at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, holds 10,500 cars and is longer than New York’s Chrysler Building is tall. The design for the UCSD Revelle Parking Structure is an enormous circular urn that appears to recede from the viewer from every vantage point.
Wolf received his bachelor’s degree from Georgia Tech and entered MIT for an additional year and a half of study to earn his bachelor of architecture degree. “MIT was a place where I could find out who I was instead of being an imitation of someone else,” he says. After graduation, he worked at Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill in New York, served in the National Guard in Germany, and opened his own firm, Wolf Architecture, in North Carolina. After a few years, he decided to return to New York, where he stayed for 21 years. He then moved to California, where he now lives in Malibu. He has four adult children.
In all his projects, he believes in evolving as an individual and an architect. “I think the greatest challenge,” he says, “is to remember that architecturally, when you’re quoting yourself, you’re in trouble.”