Pam Chandler grew up in Houston, and began her architectural career in 1986 as an intern in the Los Angeles office of Jim Stafford, cofounder of the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SciArc). While at Stafford’s office, she developed an eye for detailing and materials while working closely with Stafford on the renovation of his own residence. Chandler graduated from the University of Texas School of Architecture at Austin in 1987 where the Faculty selected her for the Leon Whiteson Award. She returned to Los Angeles and Jim Stafford & Partners where she worked on the design and development of an office building in downtown Los Angeles.
In 1988, she joined the Santa Monica office of William Adams Architects where she worked on a range of residential projects. She served as Project Architect for the Second Street Condominiums in Santa Monica, featured on the cover of the January 1993 ARCHITECTURE magazine. Chandler was Project Architect for the Garcia Apartments, a 30-unit affordable housing project for the City of Santa Monica. Chandler also worked on the restoration and addition to the home of architectural historian Esther McCoy by Rudolph Schindler.
Returning to Texas in 1993, Chandler joined the office of Paul Lamb, one of Austin’s finest residential architects. In the fall of 1998, Chandler joined Patrick Ousey, AIA as a partner at FAB Architecture LLC.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in the suburbs southwest of Houston. Fort Bend County became one of the fastest growing counties in the country, but my childhood experience left me yearning for authenticity of place. As a result, I have always lived in neighborhoods that, while evolving and changing, retain a sense of history that make them unique from others around them.
If you were not an architect, what other profession would you have pursued?
I initially entered the University of Texas as an interior design major. However, part of the curriculum was first year design in the architecture school. Through the course of that year, it became clear to me that the rigor and discipline involved in the practice of architecture is what motivated me.
Pen, pencil, or computer?
I am old enough to have started my career when everyone was still using a lead holder and electric eraser to craft working drawings, and I still swoon when seeing an old set of hand drafted drawings. I remember the sense of care and craft that many of us took when producing a set of drawings, which has been difficult to replicate with computer drafting. I have returned to traditional drafting on occasion, but sadly found it to be cumbersome — probably because I no longer have a drafting station set-up as I once did.
What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?
I think we have all run up against the person that just needs some “blueprints.” While that is the extreme, I think many laypeople, especially those that are not creative themselves, have a hard time understanding that we are not just pushing buttons, there are no formulas we work with, that we are truly creating, responding to the unique conditions of a given problem…. and if we do our job well, it looks effortless.
What is the best thing about being an architect? What is the worst thing about being an architect?
I love that my job does not involve doing the same thing day in and day out. We are constantly faced with new problems to solve, and if not new problems, at least we are looking for new solutions. But the best part of being an architect is seeing a project to completion and having it exceed a client’s expectations. The worst thing about being an architect — riding the economic ups and downs.
Tell us a story from your time in architecture school.
I took a “visiting critics” studio at UT that was to have three visiting architects over the course of the semester, each conducting a five-week charrette. However, the second visiting architect canceled at the last minute. The students were all disappointed by the knowledge that a fairly prestigious architect that we were all looking forward to engaging with would not be coming, but also that a five-week chunk of our semester was now left vacuous. I remember all of us students gathering in the studio one evening to discuss what we could/should do with this time. One of the students had just spent her residency in Robert Venturi’s office working on the design of a furniture exhibit that was showing at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. She suggested that we get the school to take the money they were going to pay the visiting architect and fly us to New York to see the exhibit, and then we would come back to design and build our own furniture. The powers-that-be signed off on the idea. This resulted in the first thing that I would design with my now husband and partner Patrick Ousey — a pretty quirky transformer made of chainlink components that was to serve a multitude of tasks in an imaginary loft-like setting, including arms with drapes that would extend out to create a changing area. These ‘wings’ prompted Charles Moore to tag it “the angel,” which we found to be apropos since we were off to Los Angeles the following semester for our residencies.