INSPIRE% is our new initiative where will we present personal stories of amazing people who embody our vision of equitable practice, fostering and keeping talent within the profession and elevating the value of Architecture to society. Our first interview is one of the most inspirational of all.
Pamela Tang, Project Manager at Barcelon + Jang Architecture shares her story of success and perseverance; how she re-entered the profession after taking an extended leave of absence to raise her four children.
Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
I was one of the Missing 32% working to resume my career and become a licensed architect. After receiving both the Master of Architecture and Master of Science in Civil Engineering from MIT, I put my career on hold to raise my four children and take care of my family. In the fall of 2012, when my youngest left for college, I decided to reenter the profession. Within twelve months, I passed five AREs and became proficient in AutoCad and Revit. In February 2014, I started working at Barcelon Jang Architecture and am currently the Project Manager and assistant designer on an occupied rehabilitation, multi-unit residential building.
Why did you choose to study Architecture?
Through the MIT-Wellesley Exchange program I took an introductory class in MIT’s School of Architecture with Professor Jan Wampler as a freshman. Jan introduced me to a process of design exploration that stimulated me to think in ways that made learning exciting and accessible. I saw possibilities and I loved being challenged to integrate multiple disciplines, to problem-solve, and to participate in shaping habitable spaces. During those formative years I experienced built form through the thoughtful instruction and guidance of some notable teachers and practitioners -- Ed Allen, Leon Groisser, Stanford Anderson, Fernando Domeyko, Maurice Smith, Shun Kanda, Kyu Sung Woo, Donlyn Lyndon, Richard Tremaglio, Klaus Herdeg, Barry Zevin, Gunther Nietschke, and John Habraken – and I was inspired to make architecture my life’s work as well.
What inspires you on a daily basis?
The people around me.
What are 3 of your most influential projects and why?
1. As a freshman at Wellesley College I created and later completed the first individual major in Architecture at Wellesley through the MIT-Wellesley Exchange Program. Through an initiative that required formal review and approval by the College I created a new curriculum of study for an interdisciplinary major that satisfied both the College’s academic major requirements and my own academic interests. Wellesley approved my individual major without amendments to the program of study I had designed. As the pioneer in the major I wrote extensive reviews of the classes I took at MIT. This enabled future Wellesley students looking for a road map to pursue their interest in Architecture. Architecture is now a recognized interdepartmental major at Wellesley College.
2. In graduate school I had the opportunity to travel to China with Professor Klaus Herdeg and students from Columbia University School of Architecture to conduct a seven-week travel-study program coordinated by Tianjin University’s Department of Architecture. Tianjin’s faculty saw the need for the evolution of traditional Chinese architecture into a contemporary architecture that would embody the principles of China’s rich architectural history and preserve the cultural identity of China’s built environment. The inevitable transformation brought on by rapid development modelled after the West prompted the Chinese to learn from architecture programs in the west. This exchange was one of the first programs of its kind. When I formally presented my work to the faculty and students at Tianjin their enthusiasm validated my education. This study was documented in the program publication compiled by Professor Herdeg and later grew to become the subject of my Master of Architecture thesis at MIT, which became the first MIT thesis to document and analyze traditional Chinese Architecture.
3. Shortly after joining Barcelona Jang Architecture the firm won a couple of awards to rehabilitate several multi-unit residential buildings for the city. As the newest hire, I shadowed the principals as they prepared the projects and assembled the studio team and consultants. Revit allowed me to immediately contribute to the office. Not only was I able to build the Revit model for one of the four buildings in Phase One, I was able to set up a Revit training program for the office. My years away from Architecture and raising my family gave me the opportunity to take on many volunteer assignments at my children’s schools. Unknowingly, as I served, I acquired many communication and management skills. Reinforced by my education, training, and life experience, these skills have provided me with the key ingredients to meet the complex challenges of project management. This BJA project has put me back on track to licensure.
What is the greatest challenge/difficulty that you have had to overcome in your professional career?
Returning to the profession after being absent for an extended period of time has been the greatest challenge. In an industry that is knowledge-based and now technology driven, in addition to demonstrating that I have the intellectual capacity and stamina to operate professionally, I need to be versatile in the latest tools of the trade as well. Preparing for the AREs and learning AutoCad and Revit was an excellent way for me to review and learn about the changes that have taken place in the industry. Passing five of the AREs on the first try demonstrates that I am qualified and committed to resume my career. Revit skills allow me to immediately contribute to the office.
While preparation is important, I believe that timing and luck precede knowledge and skills in on-ramping. With NCARB’s IDP requiring that 1,860 hours of the 5,600 hours needed for licensure be acquired while under the employment of a licensed architect in the State of California and that those hours be properly distributed into 17 different core experience areas of varying minimum requirements, having that first job is critical on the path to licensure. As we recover from the Great Recession, the surge of construction activity in the city is allowing firms to hire again. However, how realistic is it to expect that every reentry can be well-timed to job growth? On-ramping needs to be properly supported and barriers to re-entry should be addressed.
What do you believe has been one of your greatest accomplishments to date? Why?
My greatest accomplishment to date is my family and the four children my husband and I have raised. While it was a decision I struggled with, I enjoyed wholeheartedly the time I took off from my career to raise my children and it shows. They have been our first priority and I am grateful that I was able to be there for them as they shaped their identities, memories, interests and lives. While a parent’s work is never done, I feel that I can now wholeheartedly resume my work in architecture. As my youngest said to me before he left for college, “It’s your turn, Mom.” I agree.
If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 24 year-old self?
Your life as you know it now will be changed forever next year. You will be faced with hard choices that will isolate you from your work and your friends. Life will feel unfair but you must grow into a new set of responsibilities, a new life. It is time to give back. When you least expect it a door will open and you will be given a choice to resume.
What is the best advice that you ever received and how does that apply today?
"Be patient, we cannot have everything at the same time but we can have everything in good time."
How do you see Architecture changing in the next 10 years? What would your role be in the future?
We will continue to lose our best and brightest unless we are able to secure a financial future for our profession that is commensurate with the demands of the profession. As our training and skill sets are easily transferable other professions competing for creative mindsets capable of providing practical solutions will make offers that will be difficult to resist. My immediate goal is to become a licensed architect.
We have heard that while the general public respects Architects, they have little knowledge about what we do. Do you have any thoughts about how we can bridge the gap?
We must start in our schools and educate the general public from a young age.