Harold Lynn Adams: A Living Legacy

An award-winning architect and keen businessman, Harold L. Adams FAIA, JIA, RIBA, was the long-time chairman, president and CEO of RTKL (now CRTKL). Harold transformed a small Baltimore architecture office into a global design practice, but his legacy goes far beyond the business.

In many ways, Harold wrote the rules for how a large architecture practice operates, laying the foundation of what the firm is today and mentoring at least three generations of professionals.

It is our distinct honor to share these remembrances in appreciation of his legacy.

“Even in the company’s earliest days, Harold had the foresight to put in place a series of systems and processes that remain relevant. It was a foundation for growth and international expansion that brought us to today’s practice.”
— Kim Heartwell, CEO

Adams’ influence did not rest at the professional level; his advocacy of interdisciplinary education and advancement of architecture within academia cannot be overlooked. As a graduate of Texas A&M, Harold established the Interdisciplinary Charrette and developed the Janice L. and Harold L. Adams ’61 Presentation Room, a space dedicated to the college’s interdisciplinary and diversity efforts. Additional commitments to his alma-mater include joining the College of Architecture faculty in 2018 and serving on several boards, including the Chancellor’s Council and the college’s development advisory council.

Prior to joining RTKL Harold moved to D.C., joining John Carl Warnecke and Associates, working on notable public buildings that shaped the fabric of the capitol. Noteworthy highlights included a longstanding collaboration with the Kennedys, from new additions to family homes to serving as project manager for the John F. Kennedy Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.

“Harold understood the importance of balancing great design and strong business principles. He understood how to identify talent, support designers, and connect with clients at the highest level. Harold defined what a leader is for a large architecture practice.” Heartwell continues, “he was always looking over the horizon, but he knew that the hardest part was making sure you had the right people in the right place at the right time. And that’s where he excelled.”

Just in his late 20s, Adams joined RTKL. Adams brought a keen business acumen leading the transformation from a single Baltimore office to a global design practice with projects in more than 60 countries as it is known today.

Under his tenure, RTKL became one of the first American architecture firms to practice in China. RTKL also was an early adopter of innovative technology, introducing CAD far ahead of other practices. Adams became president at only 29 years old. He continued to excel, becoming CEO and chairman.

RTKL amassed a significant roster of projects under Harold’s tenure, including the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, the Rebuilding of the Pentagon following the September 11 attacks, the Hayashibara Cultural District in Japan and the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“Through the eyes of a young architect, Harold could be both imposing and warm – it depended on why you were sitting in a room with him! I remember my first meeting with him as a junior architect recently employed, and he was warm and friendly, and genuinely interested in why I had joined the firm. It left an indelible mark that I carry forward and apply to this day.”
— Kim Heartwell, CEO

Adams founded the Large Firm Roundtable for the American Institute of Architects (AIA), connecting leadership from large design firms in a collegial setting to advance the practice of architecture and learn from one another.

The AIA awarded Adams two of its highest honors, the Edward C. Kemper Award, for his leadership in the profession, and membership in its College of Fellows, serving as chancellor of the College of Fellows in 1997–1998. In 2014, he received the College of Fellows’ highest honor, the Leslie N. Boney Spirit of Fellowship Award, for his years of service. He was also honored with the Society of American Military Engineers’ inaugural Max O. Urbahn Medal for achievement in architecture and inducted into The National Academy of Construction.

Other acknowledgments include a Texas A&M University Distinguished Alumnus and an Outstanding Alumnus of the College of Architecture. He also received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Texas A&M in 2019.

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 a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects.

He is survived by his wife, Janice; children Harold Lynn II, Abigail, Ashley John, and Samuel, and 11 grandchildren.