A Williams Life:
Host: Gordon Earle ('75)
Producer: Jon Earle ('09)
Web production: Kathy Bogan ('75)
With additional support from Joe Bonn and Martha Coakley (co-presidents of the Class of '75), and Mark Robertson ('02) and Ryan Ford ('09) from the Williams Alumni Office.
On this episode of A Williams Life, we explore the personal and professional world of Pamela Hawkes, a national leader in historic preservation, whose work focuses on the integration of contemporary design within historic settings. During her long and successful career, Pamela has directed a wide variety of award-winning designs, including Boston’s Liberty Hotel and Symphony Hall, the Cambridge Public Library, and the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire.
And that’s just a short list of her many high-profile projects in New England and beyond.
For example, Pamela has led multi-disciplinary teams to create strategies for landmarks owned by the National Park Service, National Trust for Historic Preservation and the General Services Administration, as well as non-profit clients such as the Huntington Library, Art Museum and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Whether aware of her contribution or not, many of our classmates have undoubtedly seen and experienced Pamela's work.
The episode begins with a discussion of Pamela's four years at Williams and how her experiences at the College influenced her career. We then turn our attention to three of Pamela's projects that demonstrate the range of her work. These include: the New Mexico home of Georgia O’Keeffe, one of Pamela's childhood heroes; the Crandall Library, located near Albany; and the design and construction of an all-girls school in Tanzania.
If you would like to know more about Pamela's work, please visit her website: https://www.scattergooddesign.com/about
Click on one of the links below to listen to the podcast, or jump to the transcript below the photos.
[00:00:00] GORDON EARLE: I want to start by welcoming everyone to A William's Life. Our conversation today is with fellow classmate Pam Hawkes. And while you may not know it, I suspect many of you have encountered Pam's work over the years, especially if you've spent time in the Boston area. In her long career as an architect focusing on historic preservation, Pam has helped transform such iconic buildings as the Cambridge Public Library, Symphony Hall, and the former Charles Street Jail, now known as the Liberty Hotel.
And that's just a short list of her many high-profile projects in New England and beyond. The "beyond" part of our conversation will include talking to Pam about her work in New Mexico on the home of Georgia O'Keeffe, one of her childhood heroes. Then we'll travel halfway around the world to Africa and discuss Pam's work on an all-girls school in Tanzania. Just one word of advice before we get started— I strongly encourage everyone to visit the Williams Life website, 75creates.com, and review Pam's work either before or during our conversation. It is truly extraordinary.
Before we get to your work, let's start where we usually do at Williams, what brought you to the Purple Valley?
[00:01:13] PAMELA HAWKES: Well, looking back, it feels like a wonderful random accident because I was pretty much set to go to Brown. I'd had an older friend and neighbor who was at Pembroke and so I applied to Brown in spring of my junior year and actually was accepted in September and my mother said, are you really sure this is where you want to be?
And so we set up a college tour of northern New England, and I think we stopped at Middlebury and maybe Bennington. But I had a fantastic interview with Lauren Stevens who was Dean of Students, who was really supportive, seemed to really appreciate who I am and what I could bring and talked to me about the environmental studies major. And then we went out and we went to the art museum, the college art museum, and I heard four guys singing a capella in the quad and discovered that there was a bakery on Spring Street. And that was pretty much all I figured I needed to be happy there.
[00:02:14] GORDON EARLE: A croissant in the morning to tide you over.
[00:02:16] PAMELA HAWKES: Chocolate chip cookies in the afternoon, too.
[00:02:19] GORDON EARLE: You were in the first class of women that attended for four years. Looking back, what was that like for you?
[00:02:26] PAMELA HAWKES: I think for me it was for the most part a really positive experience. I certainly heard about stories. I had friends who were at my, one of my best friends from, from childhood was at Princeton, and she had some not so great experiences. But I really valued the chance to have so many guys and have good friendships. And I actually spent a semester at Smith experiencing that kind of an environment, and didn't find it that much more supportive and really missed the kind of casual relationships that we had.
[00:02:58] GORDON EARLE: I want to talk to you a little bit about this webinar I listened to again, uh, that Martha Coakley had with fellow members of our class, all women. And while they would all say they would attend Williams again, they talked about the challenges. And I want to quote from those interviews. And, uh, here's one set of quotes: "I didn't fit in," "felt like an outsider or an imposter." Which made them, the women, express the fact that maybe they didn't feel good enough to attend Williams. Does any of that resonate with you? Because these were all very highly successful women.
[00:03:33] PAMELA HAWKES: Well, absolutely. And for me, it was less because I was a woman. I had Julie Winkler and Chessye Hill were my roommates and they'd both gone to private school. So I was convinced I was the only person who hadn't gone to private school, that everyone else had a kind of, they, everyone else had friends already. Everyone else had a secret language. They knew what clothes to wear. And I also, and they'd gone to AP classes. So I felt like I really had to catch up. I listened to that podcast, too, and I just, I just wanted to cry because I thought about all of us who were there, feeling apart and searching for connection, and if we just shared what we were feeling, we might have had a different experience.
[00:04:22] GORDON EARLE: Did you seek out those connections and conversations?
[00:04:25] PAMELA HAWKES: I didn't per se, I think I was afraid to admit that, you know, what I was feeling. And I also think that my one regret, one of my regrets about my experience at Williams was that there were so many more men than women that I had great relationships with the guys, but relatively fewer relationships with women. And we weren't sitting around in our dorm rooms talking about things. We were out doing stuff with classes and activities and things like that. So it really never seemed to be a time where we sat down and said, what's going on with you? How's it going?
[00:05:03] GORDON EARLE: There was a slightly different theme from the women expressed in the podcast, and I'll quote again, uh, it says, uh, one of them said, "I felt I was part of an experiment, a guinea pig, being part of that class." And when I talked recently to a Black member of our class, he used the same words, "guinea pig," "experiment," being a minority at Williams. So does that resonate with you at all?
[00:05:27] PAMELA HAWKES: I mean, I, I can't say. To a certain extent. And maybe what I was thinking about this also, just that there's also part of me that has actually welcomed being in a different environment. My parents took me to Europe when I was 13. I'd grown up in a small town with very little diversity, and going into these foreign countries, realizing that people in France actually spoke French. Like, you know, I just started studying French and they use, you know, they roll their Rs in that weird way that our French teacher was trying to make us do.
I think I also found that in this larger world there were more opportunities, but there's also a part of me that also then stands back and wants to try to kind of figure out what's going on. So I think I spent a lot of time trying to not feeling, that it, feeling it like it was my job to figure out how to succeed there, and in some ways I think that's also why working in a male-dominated profession like architecture was part of taking on that challenge
[00:06:38] GORDON EARLE: In terms of the feelings that some of the women expressed in the podcast, they use the word "anxious" and in a couple of cases, "depression." Does that strike a chord in any way?
[00:06:49] PAMELA HAWKES: Yeah, it does. I think that, in retrospect, I was really lucky I was in the Purple Valley and not in Providence, Providence. Because for me, I could go out and walk down to the pond or go out and walk up in the hills or get out on my bike and kind of leave that behind and come back again. But I didn't know then about how, how much connecting with other people can make a difference for that.
[00:07:16] GORDON EARLE: I'll conclude with one other observation from the podcast that Martha asked everyone were they strivers or survivors, and I wonder where you would put yourself.
[00:07:27] PAMELA HAWKES: I guess I'd have to call myself a striver; that for me, kind of buckling down and doing the work, I was really aware that I had a fantastic opportunity and so studying as hard as I could, auditing classes when I could, making the most out of it was the way that I found to succeed, you know, less so necessarily relationships and leadership, which is something I had to learn about later.
[00:07:57] GORDON EARLE: One other thing on the webinar, people talked about the reaction of some upperclassmen, and there was a T-shirt apparently, some of them wore that said, "Coeds go home." I don't know if you saw that T-shirt or not. Did you experience any attitude from upperclassmen?
[00:08:17] PAMELA HAWKES: I think we knew it was there and we certainly knew kind of where it was coming from. I think that I credit the college with also having outlawed fraternities before we got there. So I feel like compared to Princeton or Dartmouth or other places like that, the social situation was a lot more fluid and maybe even, which I think was helpful. I certainly found much more welcome than rejection, as far as that one.
[00:08:48] GORDON EARLE: I just want to segue a little bit from Williams to what you ended up doing with your life. You were originally a printmaking major, and then you had a conversation with a professor that changed the direction of your, of your life, really. Uh, tell us about the conversation and what happened.
[00:09:04] PAMELA HAWKES: Well, it was probably two days before we graduated and we had a party of dancing and dinner for the whole class. And Ted Sande, who stopped me, I think on his way out, he, there were faculty there too, and said, "I'm leaving Williams to become architect for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. And I think historic preservation might be something that would interest you." And I've been trying to figure out why he would have said that, and I'd taken his American architecture course and his modern architecture course, and for the modern architecture course, we actually, one of the assignments was to design our own house, and I had a fantastic time with it. And I think maybe that experience and talking with him about that. And then also my senior show was drawings and prints of spaces on campus that had been transformed in some way, like the studios in Goodrich Hall, which used to be a chapel and then became art studios, might've clued him into the fact that I was looking at those kinds of things and thinking about them.
[00:10:14] GORDON EARLE: Have you ever thought what would have happened if you hadn't had that conversation?
[00:10:17] PAMELA HAWKES: I haven't actually. I know that I had no clue. I mean, I didn't even really put it together. I was panicked. I burst into tears after I left, you know, as we were driving the hairpin turn on Route 2 out of the valley, because I had no clue what I was going to do. And fortunately, I went back and kind of regrouped and ended up doing uh, volunteer work for both the local landmarks nonprofit and the art museum and, and then applying to grad school with Ted Sandy's help.
[00:10:49] GORDON EARLE: Well, other than this conversation, which changed your life, I'm always interested in where people get their inspiration early on. And I know that you, uh, talk about an early experience where you wandered through a 19th century fort. Tell us about that experience and how it also affected your life.
[00:11:07] PAMELA HAWKES: Well, Fort Williams was about 90 acres on the coast of Maine, a 10 minute walk from my house. It was built in, uh, during the Spanish-American War and pretty much abandoned after World War II. So by the time it was sold by the government to the town in the 1960s, the windows were broken, everything was overgrown, it was a huge magnet for every kid in town. It was creepy and scary but also a place where you could wander through and see envelopes or rusty bed springs and think about who were the people that lived here and how did this place come to be? And I think that sense of mystery stayed with me. And then actually, Sheafe Satterthwaite taught a course in environmental studies, which I must've taken probably my first year, where we were required to write about a place. And so I researched that place and I learned how to read landscapes and places through their history. So suddenly I went back and saw that place with a whole new set of knowledge about where the ships came in and where the munitions were kept and a whole level of knowledge about that that really intrigued me. And I realized that you could do that at any place, whether it was a state in [New] England or a suburban lawn in California. And that was something that he really turned my eyes on to.
[00:12:37] GORDON EARLE: I'm just wondering, kids have a lot of experiences when they're growing up. I'm just wondering why that one in particular, because you describe it in great detail in terms of what you saw and how you were impacted by it. Why did that experience stay with you, as opposed to others that didn't?
[00:12:51] PAMELA HAWKES: Well, I think it was a couple of things. One is that I had to divert from there, I had a grandmother who was really passionate about history and heritage, and who used to take us out and have us pretend that we were Pilgrim ancestors or whatever. So she already had shown me the stories in those places. But then this sense of, I think also the, the contrast between what must have been then and what it was now, to walk and, and feel the crunching of glass under your feet as you kind of wandered through these barrack buildings. And also the sense of loss. And the sense of waste, and I think that the sense of wanting to make a difference in that was what really promoted me to do it. Be thinking about doing that, too.
[00:13:44] GORDON EARLE: And you had an emotional reaction to that, and that turned into sort of a lifelong passion.
[00:13:50] PAMELA HAWKES: Yeah, and I have an emotional reaction to most places that I get to work on. You know, often it's more, I get more intrigued and excited before we do stuff. Afterwards when everything's fixed up and perfect, sometimes it's, it's, it's also exciting, but not as full of possibility as it is before. You know, we've chosen one path to go down as opposed to the beginning when it could be anything.
[00:14:18] GORDON EARLE: There's always another project and always more excitement to come.
[00:14:22] PAMELA HAWKES: And ultimately in that particular place, most of the buildings were demolished. So there are probably five or six left. They decided to make it a recreational area. And I think the sense of waste of that, the incredible waste of energy and an investment in that was something that also really resonated for me.
[00:14:43] GORDON EARLE: I want to talk about three of your projects that we agreed on in advance to talk about, but set the scene for us. Give us a sense of your, uh, design philosophy and approach before we talk about these individual projects.
[00:14:57] PAMELA HAWKES: I think for me, there's always been a tension and a balance. You know, I started out in preservation and then I went into architecture, never expecting that actually design would have such a strong appeal for me. And so, my interest has always been in making history part of the present. I love historic house museums. I've been privileged to work on a number of them, but I guess I'm less interested in the kind of painstaking restoration and more in creating places where everyone can experience heritage and making it look like it belongs in our time, and so and reflects the values of our times, and there's a real tension there often. And again, I think that's part of this negotiating in new environments that how is it that I understand a place well enough to find the right way of making it speak to the future.
[00:15:59] GORDON EARLE: Let's go to some examples. And these are ones that you wanted to talk about. So that's your philosophy. We can talk about how it comes to life. And one building you want to talk about was the Crandall Public Library. So tell us how that project came about and what you did.
[00:16:16] PAMELA HAWKES: The Crandall Public Library is in Glens Falls, New York, which is about an hour north of Albany, and it was originally designed in 1931 by Charles Platt. It's a beautiful brick Georgian building, sits in a park, which Platt also designed, and looks a lot like a mansion. And the one historic photograph of the interior that we had was of six white guys sitting in suits and ties in Windsor chairs, reading newspapers. It could be a men's club or any kind of very relatively exclusive place, even though it was a small building. But Glens Falls actually the library serves three communities, three blue-collar communities, with paper mills and a history that's today pretty challenging, and the library is serving families, providing them with books and games and parenting skills, and so this Georgian building didn't necessarily reflect the kinds of services that they offered.
And it had been added to over the years. It had 15 different levels, which was a challenge for book carts and baby carriages and anyone with a wheelchair. And for us, the biggest challenge was that they had actually, we were the third architect that they had hired. And the first hurdle to get over was that they, it was an 18 million-dollar project. Twelve million was going to be funded through a public bond to be voted on in a referendum. And so we knew that the design had to be approved essentially by the communities and we did what we, you know, we do architecture, but often designing the whole process, especially when you're working in the public realm is really important.
And we would, whenever we went up, when we started the project, we would set up a morning meeting with the staff and building committee, usually an early afternoon meeting with the trustees, a mid-afternoon meeting with the press, and then an evening session with the public. Showing them pretty much the same thing or variations of that. And starting by actually inviting the community to tell us what they wanted. I think before we've even invested ourselves in a design to hear from them, what did they want? And they talked about being able to access the park, being able to access, you know, easy to access parking and other things around it, a place that was welcoming. And so we actually created an addition that came out from the park to the main street. So you can actually walk in off the main street at grade level with counters that looked a lot like Starbucks or, you know, the kinds of bookstores that were morphing into coffee shops those days, and also lots more glass overlooking the park so that people could see out into the park and also see in if you were walking by in the park.
And it was a success. You know, the referendum was passed and they, the towns voted it. We got ready to go into the next phase of design because it's pretty normal for a project like that, that they only go through schematic design because you don't want to invest in the complete project if it's not going to fly. And we started thinking about what materials should it be? Brick, stone, terracotta. How are we going to keep it within budget? And we made some revisions and came back and did our usual routine. And the headlines the next day were "stop the library's ugly plan." The press accused us of baiting and switching, you know, that they—
[00:20:06] GORDON EARLE: Promising one thing and delivering something else.
[00:20:08] PAMELA HAWKES: Exactly! And we thought we were improving it. They even had an online poll, so you could vote for whether you liked the old version or the new version. And I don't remember which one won. But we spent a lot of, a little time swearing at everyone and being frustrated, you know, why didn't they understand?
[00:20:28] GORDON EARLE: You don't seem like the swearing type.
[00:20:30] PAMELA HAWKES:In our studio, you could certainly hear stomping of feet perhaps. And, then realized that we just needed to explain to people what we were doing. I have a fantastic project manager who was very skilled with graphics and drawing and he did a series of diagrams that showed how the elements in the new building were relating to the old building. And we came back and we explained and ultimately were successful.
[00:21:04] GORDON EARLE: Did the pushback continue? Or did it pretty much go away after you did the communication?
[00:21:10] PAMELA HAWKES: It actually pretty much went away. I think we may have had a few people who had particular peeves, but by and large, it was an incredibly supportive community. And we were lucky. We had a local architect who also had their ears to the ground always and would say, you know, you're going to see this person and they're going to say that. And that was again, uh, almost a translator for us. Glens Falls doesn't seem like a foreign country, but anyone who's working from out of town faces that.
[00:21:42] GORDON EARLE: Yeah, you are an outsider.
[00:21:43] PAMELA HAWKES: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:21:45] GORDON EARLE: Tell us how you measured success, not just that you had the project completed, but things happened, circulation went up. So tell us about your measures of success and how you achieve them.
[00:21:57] PAMELA HAWKES: It was, we finished in 2008, so it was actually just as the recession hit and I think proved in many ways what the value of the library was. I think they doubled the number of visits annually and issued a lot more library cards and that for me is the greatest level of success. I mean it won awards. Also I must say that the reporters who took us to task earlier wrote wonderful reviews when we finished it. So, and that's, there's a real satisfaction in that too, for sure.
[00:22:32] GORDON EARLE: So the media did eventually come to your side?
[00:22:35] PAMELA HAWKES: They did.
[00:22:36] GORDON EARLE: That's great.
[00:22:37] PAMELA HAWKES: Yeah.
[00:22:38] GORDON EARLE: Let's switch to another project now, maybe less high profile in some ways, but deeply meaningful to you. And it was the work you did on Georgia O'Keefe's home and studio in New Mexico, which I know was deeply personal to you. So how did you get involved in that project?
[00:22:56] PAMELA HAWKES: Well, I should start by telling a little bit about the building. O'Keeffe actually owned two houses in Abiquiu, New Mexico. And in 1945, she bought a kind of a half-ruined traditional adobe home right in the center of the village. And in the process of restoring and renovating it, she actually made some modernist interventions, which included five windows that were about 16 feet wide. Much, much larger than the traditional size of an adobe opening, which is typically three or four feet. And no one was quite sure how those were being held up. And then she also covered the traditional adobe with cement stucco, which was a modern material and, you know, supposed to be maintenance free. But if there are any roof leaks or if water comes in from underground, the adobe actually can fall apart and you'll never know it because the cement stucco doesn't show cracks. And so—
[00:23:56] GORDON EARLE: Until it cracks and breaks down.
[00:23:58] PAMELA HAWKES: Until it ends up in a pile of dust. And so the conservation staff at the museum was concerned that that might happen. And they called up my colleague at, the chair of the department at Penn, where I was teaching at the time, and explain what, what the issues were and said they were looking for a couple of, for some people to help them actually plan a process, a study to try to understand what was going on and also write a grant to the Getty Conservation Foundation.
And they contacted me and a good friend of mine who's a conservation engineer who I teach with and work with a lot. And the two of us teamed up and helped the museum write a grant, which actually wasn't successful, but they were able to use it to get funding from a private foundation. So we were able to start the work and it involved both looking at various ways of analyzing and testing to try to kind of see through the stucco, which was not easy, but working with an engineer from Colorado and another architect who was a specialist in adobe from Texas and bringing our minds together to look at the adobe and then also look at the larger risks around the sites.
It was surrounded by national parks. And when I went back last year, the site was surrounded by those large forest fires that were in the Santa Fe area. So we were looking at everything from how did the fire trucks get from the volunteer, you know, fire department to the site to how would climate change change rainfall, winds, weather and things like that, which I find really intriguing these days to kind of, in some ways imagine what the risks might be and what we can do about it.
[00:25:49] GORDON EARLE: Now when you were working on this, Georgia O'Keeffe is a childhood hero of yours. Was she in your head when you were doing this work? Did you hear her voice or somehow think about what she might be thinking about the work that you're doing?
[00:26:03] PAMELA HAWKES: Well, I always start every project by trying to understand how and why it came to be. So I had the—and we had the great good fortune because she actually wasn't on site during the three years that the house was being restored because Alfred Stieglitz had just passed away. And so she was here in New York settling his estate for three years. And a friend of hers, Maria Chabot, was in charge of the work. And so there was a—I had a ton of correspondence between the two of them that I was able to read. It's been published and also was available with the museum. And so I could read what they were saying, compare notes, you know, understand, look for that little clue that says I was, went to Santa Fe today to talk about how to support the windows. And today the steel for the window in the studio came. So it was like, yes, okay, we've got that.
It also, for me, the whole issue of the adobe was a really interesting one because not only was it a conservation issue, but it had artistic elements, too, that she decided in 1959 that she'd had enough, that she loved the, the texture of the adobe, she talks about the women coming and replastering every couple of years and, and her description, you can, it's like, touching someone's skin almost and the natural finish is cracked. It's almost like a not a lizard skin, but it has an incredible texture to it. But she said I can't go through redoing this every couple of years and also the local source for the finish had gone away so she said let's stucco it. And she went to Ghost Ranch, her other house, so she wouldn't have to watch it happening.
And that was one thing, you know, her decision to do that was an important turning point for us understanding the site. But another historian who has been doing research for the museum noticed that she said she bought the house because of this door in the patio, and that she had to have that. And she painted that door about two dozen times. But after the house was stuccoed, she only made one more painting. And she didn't actually paint the texture in her paintings, but it was what drew her eye to it. And so for us, the interesting challenge is do you honor her decision to cover the stucco, or do you perhaps try to restore the finish that originally attracted her to it?
[00:28:44] GORDON EARLE: And what did you decide?
[00:28:45] PAMELA HAWKES: We didn't, we were able to punt on that, because the museum was not interested in taking up, there are actually two layers of stucco, and it's a big project. And what we've done is to set in place a number of questions for them to ask when the time comes to replace the roof and do other things like that.
For me, it's those challenges that are the most interesting thing about what we do. You know, sometimes there isn't a right answer or sometimes you have to make the answer and say, these are the reasons why I did this and hope that the future generations agree with you.
[00:29:22] GORDON EARLE: But this is a unique case because you are thinking not of just any owner or a group of owners, you're thinking about a particular owner with a particular mindset and a particular artist. And that's what you have to consider.
[00:29:35] PAMELA HAWKES: And she was a, she was a kind of down-to-earth, practical person. I think that's why she put the stucco on. And I think she would have said, what are you thinking? You know, why are you quibbling about this? Just keep it the way it was. But it would be nice to be able to ask.
[00:29:52] GORDON EARLE: Where did your fascination with George O'Keefe come from?
[00:29:55] PAMELA HAWKES: Life magazine published a cover article on her when I was 16, and I tore out all the pages and pinned them up on the wall, you know, the red poppies and the black iris. And I'd always loved flowers. I was fascinated by this woman who was an artist, who didn't have a family. She was not known as a homemaker or a socialite. She was known for her art. And I think for me, that was one of, you know, few kinds of heroes that I could look to. And I think looking back now, I'm also aware that she painted and drew space, that those flowers were flowers, but they were also, you were drawn into them in a way that is very spatial. And she drew, you know, she painted buildings also, and so I wonder how much of what she was seeing also resonated with what was ultimately of interest to me.
[00:30:51] GORDON EARLE: Did working on this project change your perception of Georgia O'Keeffe?
[00:30:55] PAMELA HAWKES: It certainly deepened my understanding of what she had done and accomplished. Of how much she designed her life, in addition to doing her paintings. She designed her clothing, she had very distinctive suits that she wore. She was very much aware of her own image in a time when, of course, there were very few women at the level that she was in her career.
I think I also got to know her as a person. One of the remarkable things about what we were doing is that two of the people who had worked for her are still working at the site. And so, Pita Lopez, who is the site manager, would talk about sitting with Ms. O'Keefe in her bedroom, which is this tiny room with an enormous window that looks right down the valley, and reading to her at night, because she had macular degeneration, so she couldn't see. She would read aloud to her, and to see this incredibly human side of her was also really moving.
[00:31:58] GORDON EARLE: So you really picked their brains, the people who knew her.
[00:32:01] PAMELA HAWKES: Oh, yeah. Well, it was hard. I mean, how could you not? And to, to take a tour of the house with one of them is like, you know, it's going behind the scenes in a way that's really remarkable.
[00:32:13] GORDON EARLE: Well, let's now shift to a different part of the world, a pro bono project that you're working on in Tanzania. Could you tell us about the project?
[00:32:22] PAMELA HAWKES: Sure. We, my husband Scott and I, had decided to take a year off in 2012. It coincided with me leaving Boston and moving to Portland and also with a, uh, a sailing trip from Portland to the Mediterranean. And when we, we spent years dreaming of it and talking about it, and there was always something about taking our yacht through the Mediterranean that was wonderful, but also a little bit made me uncomfortable.
And we also used to sit by the news every night and see disasters and poverty and people with far less than we had and say, as architects, we should do something about that. And so we decided that we would have three or four months during the winter season, not good sailing, that we would use to volunteer somewhere.
And I looked at a lot of different options from the UN and Architects for Humanity, but ultimately we came back to a project that had inspired us a few years before that. There was a couple in Portland, Maine who founded a nonprofit; he's the director of the art museum in Portland, she teaches African Studies at Bates. And they had lived in Tanzania for two or three years in the '90s and then gone back in 2006 to a village that had been very special where they'd gotten to know the elders very well. And the elders said, the little kids have to walk too far. They can't go to elementary school. Will you build a school for us?
And they got a dozen of their friends here in New York to donate and built a school for, uh, with 16 classrooms and teacher houses and ultimately a health clinic and doctor's housing. And friends connected us and we got together with Aimée Bessire, who's the founding director. And she said, "Oh, it'd be great if you went, it'd be wonderful if you went to Tanzania. We don't have anything for you to do because we haven't raised the money at the time, but there's a place you can stay and you could look at what we've done and tell us what we could do better. You know, we've been doing a lot more renovation projects. We always run over budget. We run over schedule. You could help us manage stuff."
And we said we sort of each had faith in each other. She had faith that we'd be able to do something worthwhile and we had faith that we would get something out of the process. And just before we were ready to go in January, they were approached by a local politician who said, we really need a girls boarding school in this district. And so we went with the request to design a campus for 400 girls and spent three months researching what schools were in, you know, I had to first figure out what a primary school and a secondary school was, what were their customs, what did people expect, work with the district to see what their expectations were, understand the campus and ultimately developed a master plan, by the time we had left, more or less.
[00:35:39] GORDON EARLE: Are there unique challenges working overseas in Tanzania as opposed to working in the US? And what are they?
[00:35:45] PAMELA HAWKES: Oh, absolutely. I mean, first of all, the language. Everyone speaks English. They learn English in secondary school, and so it is very much the language of government, but it's not the language of intimacy, I would say. And we tried, but learning a language after age 60 is really, really hard, especially one that's not something you can necessarily pick up easily. It's not like French or German or even Chinese. So that was one thing.
And then I mean, I'm only 10 years later beginning to understand how much we didn't know, because even though we came in open to having our expectations changed, we didn't realize how much us being in the room changed how people behaved.
[00:36:34] GORDON EARLE: Tell me more about that.
[00:36:35] PAMELA HAWKES: I think it's, again, something I've just been looking back at, that looking at our early meetings with the district, for example, we'd have meetings just like we'd have in Glens Falls or Cambridge, where we put out ideas and say, what do you think of this? And we didn't get much feedback, you know, everyone said, Oh, looks good, just fine. And we didn't know what to do with it.When Aimée, the head of our NGO, came she would joke with people in Swahili. We couldn't do that, although we can at least say hello and how are you and how's your family.
But I also know that as a representative of someone who's going to come in and do a project and bring the money to do it. And as white people and Americans, that we came in with, you know, wearing a big hat. And I also have learned just recently that most of these people learn in the traditional schooling to question your teacher, to even correct your teacher on something is punishable with a switch.
I guess I would love to go back and say, what could we have done to make it okay for them to share doubts? What could we have done to make them understand what we were doing better, instead of everyone saying, yes, looks good. How soon can it get built? Which is in reality, I think what they were probably thinking.
[00:38:13] GORDON EARLE: I know in your work, whether it's in the US or overseas, you respect local culture, customs and ways of living, which you've been talking about, but how did you work on those aspects specifically in Tanzania? What were you trying to respect so that your project would succeed?
[00:38:31] PAMELA HAWKES: There were a couple of things that I can think about specifically. We were really lucky because while we were there, they actually did get funding to do renovations for a primary school near where we lived. And so we got to see the construction crew at work. And so the construction traditions were actually our first revelation because they built with no power there. You know, they would haul the stone in on a bicycle. They would dig the trenches by hand in flip-flops, but they did amazing work. They built the base for the floors with what they call hardcore, which is essentially granite boulders that they split with a pickaxe and then fit together like a mosaic. It's beautiful. And then they cover it with concrete. And so we found a way when we did our first new buildings, which were the science labs, to actually expose that on the base of the buildings, so that we could celebrate that craftsmanship.
The other thing we did was we'd been living in a pretty—the traditional houses there are mud brick and thatch roofs and they're colored like the surrounding dirt, and they're soft in the landscape. And the new houses that are being built are cement block and tin with gable roofs, and they're big and shiny and white, and they stick out like a sore thumb. And so we actually designed two teacher houses for this first campus that were a play on the house we were living in, but the house we were living in, the roof would be 100 degrees in the middle of the day, and we were reading a lot about double roofs as a way of cooling, so Scott actually figured out that by adding some trusses on top, we would build a traditional, a regular gable roof with two sides, and then we would add trusses on top of that and add another layer of the roof, which would actually create a four-sided, much more gently arched roof, much more like the thatch, and also ways that the hot air would escape, rather than coming into the house. And he worked it out with the guys on the site and then they built it. And some of them actually ended up doing that in their own houses, which we think is the kind of ultimate seal of approval.
[00:40:59] GORDON EARLE: So it sounds like you learned a lot from this.
[00:41:02] PAMELA HAWKES: Oh, absolutely.
[00:41:03] GORDON EARLE: And, and lessons you could take for your other work as well.
[00:41:07] PAMELA HAWKES: Yeah, absolutely. And I think lessons for life, too. Larger life, you know, people always say, oh, this was such a wonderful thing you did. And we got so much more out of it than whatever we could contribute. I think partly just appreciating how much we have and how little it takes to make a difference in a place like that.
[00:41:30] GORDON EARLE: We talked about how do you measure success, and there's one detail from this project: I understand that the girls who live in the dorm do better on national exams than girls that don't. Do you know why that is?
[00:41:45] PAMELA HAWKES: Well, what kid in America longs for the opportunity to do homework? But these girls, they get up at 5:30 or 6 a.m., they dress, they go into the dining hall and study for two or three hours before classes start and then they come back and do sports and then they study before they go to bed, often nine or ten. If they were not living at the dormitory (and right now the dormitory only has 50 beds in it) and the school has six or seven hundred now, I think. They're walking back and forth to school, which takes an hour or more. When they get home, they're expected to gather water and firewood, help with the small kids, probably help with cooking. And by that time it's dark and you can't do homework. So it's an opportunity, and it's also safe. Many parents will not send their girls to school because of the risk.
[00:42:49] GORDON EARLE: Along the way.
[00:42:50] PAMELA HAWKES: Along the way, absolutely.
[00:42:52] GORDON EARLE: Before we move on, will you be going back to Tanzania? Do you see a future for you and Scott there?
[00:42:58] PAMELA HAWKES: We do, in different ways. We actually went back in February and had a chance to see the dormitory compound completed and do some check in with the girls, with the teachers, with the authorities about what was working and what wasn't working with the idea that this might be a prototype that could be built at other secondary school campuses.
But we actually were also engaged by another non-profit also based in the Portland [Maine] area, which has been funding tuition for girls in secondary school for the last 10 or so year, in the Arusha area.They purchased a piece of property in December, and we got to see the site, actually meet a local architect, who's terrific, and then talk with them about building a headquarters for them that will include housing for up to 36 girls when all the girls come from secondary school to participate in leadership programs that they have. It'll have sports fields because they do a lot with gender-based violence and teaching about birth control and things like that through sports, which is fantastic. Housing for the director and volunteers and a library for local kids who come and are able to use textbooks and things like that.
[00:44:20] GORDON EARLE: It sounds incredibly rewarding, both for you and Scott, and for the people you work with. I'm wondering if we take a step back from these three projects about things that keep you up at night, things that you worry most about. I know the projects vary from town to town, country to country, but what are the biggest challenges that you've had to face and what do you worry about?
[00:44:45] PAMELA HAWKES: Well, we always worry about whether the roof leaks, and whether the mechanical systems work.
[00:44:49] GORDON EARLE: You should come to my house!
[00:44:50] PAMELA HAWKES: Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, everyone has a story, right? For us, you know, particularly in Tanzania, it's this tension between how much innovation to bring versus working with a team. I think we feel really lucky because we're working on small enough projects. And for me, a lot of studies, so much less risk involved in that than when you're actually building something.
[00:45:20] GORDON EARLE: I'd like to talk to you a little bit about your role as a woman, as an architect, and I read in one of the descriptions that you had said, quote, you'd been in too many construction meetings as the only woman. And I wonder what that felt like.
[00:45:35] PAMELA HAWKES: Well, construction, I think for any architect, unfortunately, construction can be an adversarial process. And I had nightmares before the first project I was doing construction administration on. I think that the field in general was also pretty male-dominated. I was incredibly lucky in retrospect that both after I finished preservation school at Columbia, I worked for two three years with a fantastic woman architect in Washington DC, Mary Oehrlein, who was smart, and no-nonsense and elegant and basically said, this is the way we're going to do it. Taught me a lot about how to be a professional. And then two years after finishing architecture school, going to work for Ann Beha, who was also a fantastic role model and to be able to work with her to build the firm.
You know, I feel like I backed into architectur,. that I went to preservation first. And then I said, well, I need to know about this architecture stuff so I can do preservation better. Design was never part of my kind of vision, but when I got to school, it was what I loved and it turned out I was good at it. But to excel in design in, you know, in the world of architecture is big, big—you have to put yourself out there and be willing to say, I'm doing it and I'm doing it the best. And I think in, in our practice with Ann, we also kind of backed from preservation into design so that we excelled by knowing our stuff. And I think for many women, that's the strong point. You just learn more and know more than anyone else. And eventually they have to give you the work.
We took on, for example, working on museums because we had to balance the buildings and the collections and we could figure out the science and we get the people who knew what needed to be done and we get everyone to talk together and then we translate it for the clients and that ultimately morphed into renovations for museums and additions for museums and brand new museums because we built up the experience that way, starting with the stuff that we knew.
[00:47:54] GORDON EARLE: Tthere was construction and design or wherever, how did it impact your work, this gender imbalance?
[00:48:01] PAMELA HAWKES: I have to say, again, I was so lucky to have found the mentors that I did. I mean, I did spend a few years in male-dominated firms and got out, not because it was more, it wasn't explicit, but I know that if I had stayed there longer, I would not have accomplished what I did, that I was always with women who said, we can do this, you need to do this, you need to get licensed, you need to be involved civically in the profession and take leadership positions. And I think in that sense, as at Williams, that I felt that the difference of being a woman was more of an asset. That we were coming into a time when they said, well, let's invite them because we should at least have one woman in our selection, you know, the five finalists, and then you could go in. And once you had a chance, you could go in and win the job.
[00:48:58] GORDON EARLE: With the best idea and with a strong presentation and a strong personality, you can win out.
[00:49:03] PAMELA HAWKES: Yeah, absolutely. But if you can't get in the room, then you can't. And I think that's what I'm so aware. The statistics are still tough for women. I think it's nearly equal graduates, but a much, much lower percentage of women who are licensed. The percentages for minorities are even smaller.
[00:49:26] GORDON EARLE: Let me get to another aspect of your work, which I found interesting, what little I know about architecture. It's highly technical with computers and animation and this kind of thing. And yet you still value hand drawing, place a high value on that. Tell us about that. Why that's still part of your life in this highly technical world.
[00:49:48] PAMELA HAWKES: It's interesting because the things you mention are tools. So architecture is no more about triangles and parallel lines and computers than writing a novel is about a typewriter or a word processor. Architecture is about looking and listening and taking what you've heard and translating in a way, making connections work, finding something new and in my case, something old and bringing them together.
It's interesting because, you know, I just went to the Georgia O'Keefe [exhibit] at the Museum of Modern Art. The title of it is, "To See Takes a Long Time."
[00:50:32] GORDON EARLE: That's very profound.
[00:50:33] PAMELA HAWKES: It is. We were hand-drawing in Tanzania because we actually, that's all we knew. Neither Scott or I had done any computer work before we went to Tanzania. All of the other more talented, more educated folks in our office would do that. We'd do loose sketches to start with. We'd go back and mark up what our incredibly talented staffs had done. I knew maybe how to open an AutoCAD drawing, but that was about it. And so when we were in Tanzania, we were off the grid and if we'd wanted to work on computers, we would have spent all of our time running across to the health outpost where they had a solar collector and it took hours to recharge our laptops.We drew and we drew and we redrew. And for me, there's a muscle memory that comes both in seeing and putting it on the paper. Then in putting it on the paper again and again, so that you begin to understand what's the relative size of the children's library versus the circulation desk. And then you begin to be able to manipulate that and make it your own.
I know now, because I have learned how to use AutoCAD, I know that when I draw a line in AutoCAD, it has a beginning and an end and a particular length. When I draw a line on a piece of paper, it could be anything. It could be an inch long or a hundred feet long. And then I can look at it and I can turn it upside down and I can make it be different things before I begin pinning down exactly what it is. And I think that for me is a real difference. I'd be the first to confess that I know that people are doing amazing things. And then I, because I'm less fluent in that language, I'm not able to. But I do value these old fashioned ways.
[00:52:40] GORDON EARLE: Is AI going to be a part of architecture looking forward?
[00:52:46] PAMELA HAWKES: I think it will be. I think that what I talk about drawing and redrawing is what AI does. I know that in AutoCAD, I can draw a line and then I can copy it and I can mirror it and I can scale it and I can do all these things with a kind of click of a button. But then the question is, what do I have when I've finished? I think the larger question is how much learning that we don't know about is happening while we're doing that, making mistakes and redrawing it. If the machine is going to do that, how do we learn? I think also the entry level positions, you know, the drafters that start out, no one starts out knowing how to put a building together. You have to do it through trial and error. It's no different, I suspect, than writing, and anything else. And it's going to be very interesting to see what happens.
[00:53:50] GORDON EARLE: Is having a liberal arts education and training valuable for what you do?
[00:53:56] PAMELA HAWKES: Absolutely. As I've been teaching,and mentoring students, I'm very aware that I took a very untraditional path. I was 30 by the time I was through architecture school and licensed. Scott was an architecture major in undergrad. I feel like everything, every place I've been has contributed to what we've done. The thing I love about architecture is that I keep learning from each thing. I never took a history course at Williams, even though the history department was fabulous. I'd love to go back and be a history major, but I've learned about a freed slave who ran a barbershop in Natchez before the Civil War. I've learned about J. P. Morgan, all different aspects of American life through what I do. And I think that's because I had this really broad grounding in understanding how to hear and listen and look at places in different ways.
[00:55:05] GORDON EARLE: You've almost defined the value of a liberal arts education.
[00:55:08] PAMELA HAWKES: I hope so.
[00:55:10] GORDON EARLE: You've had a long career, successful career. Are you as excited about projects now as you were when you were starting out?
[00:55:18] PAMELA HAWKES: Absolutely. Right now we're working on the only living Shaker village left in the US, which is totally cool.
[00:55:26] GORDON EARLE: And where is that?
[00:55:26] PAMELA HAWKES: It's in New Gloucester, Maine, so 45 minutes from where we live. They're re-envisioning themselves for the 21st century. Their motto is, "You are welcome." And that includes people with disabilities, people of different gender identities. It's not what you would associate with Shakers, but it is for me, absolutely inspiring.
I used to think when I was just out of grad school that I was going to be out of a job. I worried that I was going to be out of a job in 10 years because we had all these great federal programs, we were doing all this restoration. Everything was gonna be fixed in 10 or 15 years. But of course we've learned to value things now that were built in our lifetimes, which is very scary, and we've also learned that there are incredible stories that we've completely ignored. Native peoples, Black African-American peoples, women, LGBT history, so there are so many stories that are yet to be told. I think I'm also aware that some of those stories are not mine to tell. Now the opportunity for me is to be much more of a mentor and a facilitator than to be actually doing the work myself.
[00:56:44] GORDON EARLE: Let's end on a couple of personal questions. I know that you work for these large firms, were very successful. And then 10 years ago, you started Scattergood Design with your husband, Scott. And I'm wondering what made you take on that transition?
[00:57:01] PAMELA HAWKES: It was partly a practical one, which is that I was practicing in Boston and Scott was practicing in Portland. We realized that Scott's eight years older than I am; the number of weekends that we could spend together was actually limited. Moving back to Portland for me was an obvious choice. We also made a decision to have a different kind of practice than we'd had. Both of us had run these, helped run these larger firms. We spent most of our time marketing, worrying about whether or not the people who were working for us would have jobs, and managing, dealing with clients and everything else, and not getting to do the design or in my case the research and writing that we really loved. So we said, we're going to set up an office with no employees. That's given us tremendous freedom. And also said, let's try to make the world a better place while we're at it. And we've managed to do that.
[00:57:59] GORDON EARLE: And you can do this at our age because you have the wisdom and experience and the contacts so you can do the work and not worry about the marketing.
[00:58:06] PAMELA HAWKES: You know, we're incredibly lucky. We've mentored a number of younger professionals and they all want to do exactly that, but it's much harder when you're starting out and especially knowing the financial burdens that they all have, that we had in smaller amounts when we started out.
[00:58:26] GORDON EARLE: What's it like working with Scott, your husband?
[00:58:29] PAMELA HAWKES: Oh, well, it's how we came together. Architecture brought us together, but there's no question that it is the most challenging part of our relationship. He was the first architect I worked for, so he was passionate about what he was doing. He showed me how to build models and be part of that. He is so smart and creative and curious, and I've always admired that. And he's been a fantastic mentor, but it turns out that in 30-plus years away, I've discovered that I'm fairly opinionated and a bit stubborn, and so working together can be a challenge. To be honest, we work about 36 inches apart, but we—
[00:59:17] GORDON EARLE: Close enough to throw things at each other!
[00:59:19] PAMELA HAWKES: Absolutely. But we also have different interests and strengths, so quite often we'll be working on completely different things. And that, I think, has also been a secret to our success, that we each have a chance to kind of run down the road a bit on our own.
This project that we're doing in Arusha is one where we're working more closely together. So we're learning how to work together. We're getting some good coaching along the way. There's no question that it's also incredibly exciting to be working on a creative endeavor like that with someone that you love and respect.
[00:59:55] GORDON EARLE: That's great. Something that I know you like doing together is sailing and it's summer. And so I think we'll end on your next sailing adventure. Where are you going this summer? And how is that going to go?
[01:00:08] PAMELA HAWKES: We're hoping to get about four weeks and ideally get to Nova Scotia. Meg Race, my college roommate, is in Nova Scotia with her husband, Paul Halley. They came down for dinner this spring and we promised that we were going to take them out for a sail, so we'll see whether that happens. Also, the Maine coast is so beautiful and there are places you can go and be away from everything and incredible beauty.
[01:00:34] GORDON EARLE: I think you should moor your boat up there and have Meg do a nice portrait or painting, watercolor of you.
[01:00:40] PAMELA HAWKES: Absolutely. Well, that would be great. That would be great.
[01:00:43] GORDON EARLE: Anything else you'd like to comment on in terms of Williams, your life, work, and what the future holds?
[01:00:54] PAMELA HAWKES: No, I feel so fortunate to be doing something that I love and to have lots of other things that I'd love to get back to: more art, some writing,more time with friends and family. That's, I think, my biggest hope. Also just so aware of how many opportunities that I've had. The chance to give back,whether within my profession or within the community or foreign places has really been something that I'd love to keep doing.
[01:01:30] GORDON EARLE: All very exciting and a lot of interesting projects ahead and more sailing. So with that, Pam, thank you very much. I've enjoyed our conversation and it's been a real pleasure.
[01:01:42] PAMELA HAWKES: Thank you, Gordon. It's been a pleasure too, and I'm looking forward to the next ones as well.
[01:01:51] GORDON EARLE: I want to thank Pam for making the trip down from Maine to be part of our conversation today. And I also want to thank everyone for tuning in to what I found to be a fascinating conversation. A reminder, if you want to put Pam's work in context and truly understand it, please go to A William's Life, which can be located at 75creates.com. And this is Gordon Earle, and I look forward to our next conversation, and hope you'll all be with us then.