James Pratt was born in Stamford, Texas on March 25, 1927. His parents, James Reece Pratt and Margaret Barret Pratt, were in the second graduating class at Southern Methodist University. His mother was voted most popular girl and named president of the senior class. When James Pratt was four years old, his family moved to Fort Worth where his father, a banker, worked under Texas businessman and politician Jesse H. Jones at the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC), established during the Hoover Administration to combat the ill effects of the Great Depression. The Pratt family then moved to San Angelo for work, and in 1935 James Reece Pratt died suddenly of leukemia. Margaret Pratt promptly moved her son to University Park in Dallas where James would grow up. At the age of 12, a trip to the San Francisco Fair in 1939 helped shape Pratt’s view of the world and foreshadowed his future architectural consulting for the State Fair of Texas.
Pratt was a member of a dance band in high school that played at venues all over Dallas. Sources of musical entertainment dwindled in the city as young men over the age of 18 were shipped off to war, granting the band frequent gigs wherever and whenever. After graduating high school in 1945 and attending the University of Texas in Austin for a year, Pratt joined the Navy where his major duties involved shipping troops back home from the Pacific. He returned to UT and graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture in 1950.
Pratt gained an architect’s license in 1952 and spent several months supervising construction projects in the Texas towns of Dublin and Hamilton and a hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. He decided to pursue a masters degree and was admitted to Harvard where he met four design masters: Alfred Roth, Kay Fisker, I.M. Pei, and O’Neil Ford. These architects remained important sources of inspiration in his later design work. Earning his Masters of Architecture in 1953, Pratt boarded an Italian cargo ship in New York and spent 18 days sailing to Naples. After stops around Italy, Pratt arrived in Zurich where Alfred Roth had secured him the opportunity to live in the attic of architecture critic Siegfried Giedion’s home while working at the Haefeli Moser Steiger firm (HMS) on designs of a proton synchrotron and synchrocyclotron for CERN in Geneva. Pratt spent weekends in Strasburg, Ulm, Stutgardt, Paris, Venice, Barcelona, and Andalucía before returning to Dallas in 1956.
Broad and Nelson, with whom Pratt worked during and after college, offered him a job upon arrival. James Pratt and Hal Box, the late Texas architect, academician, and classmate at UT, worked together on expanding the Mercantile Bank. The duo earned a national and international prize for their work and decided to form a partnership with Philip Henderson, an alumnus of Eero Saarinen’s firm, which would allow Pratt to travel and study while the new firm worked on projects domestically. Pratt made his first study trip to Japan for three months in 1962 to analyze garden design. In 1965 American architect and urban planner Edmund Bacon invited him to a conference on urban design at the American Academy in Rome. Trips to Egypt, Greece, and the Turkish coast would follow, including a month in Persia in 1970. Despite further trips to Afghanistan, India, Finland, Russia, Cambodia, China, Tunisia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, and the Galapagos, the city of Rome would remain one of Pratt’s most beloved destinations.
Pratt, Box, and Henderson’s urban design work began with a “Study of Downtown Dallas” in 1957, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Dallas Planning Council, and the Dallas Museum of Art. A similar study on the expansion of the state capitol government buildings was put together two years later. The firm consulted for the State Fair of Texas for seven years, connected Fair Park to downtown and the Dallas Convention Center, planned trade marketplaces for Trammell Crow in Dallas, London, Taipei, and Cairo, built and planned hotels in Vanuatu, Fiji, and Samoa, and constructed six off-campus student housing projects for colleges in the western US. Willis Winters, a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, once recognized Pratt, Box, and Henderson as “one of Dallas’ greatest design firms.”
Mr. Pratt is retired and currently lives with his wife, Joanne Henderson Pratt, in New Mexico.