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A Broad Perspective: COOKFOX's Pam Campbell on Leadership and Fostering Creative Ecosystems
Madame Architect
New York, New York, USA
Architecture, Media, Blog
Julia Gamolina
Date Published: 
Women, Diversity, Leadership, Interview, Architecture, Sustainable Design, Green Building
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2020-08-16 17:41:23
2020-08-16 17:54:04
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Madame Architect
Pam Campbell is a Partner at COOKFOX, having joined the firm in 2003. From the start, she was an integral member of the design team for the Bank of America Tower at One Bryant Park, the first LEED Platinum skyscraper in the world. Pam was instrumental in attaining the LEED certification through coordinating the architectural component of the process as well as the New York State Green Building Tax Credit application. She also led the adjoining Stephen Sondheim Theatre project, the first LEED Gold certified Broadway Theater, completing all phases from conceptual design to construction administration, involving state level historic preservation approvals.

Currently, Pam is the partner leading the Marymount School, a new building for an independent all-girls school located on the Upper East Side in Manhattan that will employ sustainable features to be incorporated into the curriculum. Prior to joining COOKFOX, Pam worked in the UK and Germany. In her interview, Pam talks about her roots in Scotland and growing in her career, advising young architects to broaden their perspectives.

How did your interest in architecture first develop?

I am from Scotland, where you have to choose a career path when you’re quite young. By fourteen you start narrowing down subjects at school, and that starts to narrow down what university courses you can do. Scotland is a relatively socialist country; public service is valued and at an early age you have to figure out what you’re good at and start contributing. Many in my family are in medicine. Both of my parents were doctors and both of my sisters entered nursing. I knew early on I did not have that calling. I’m grateful for people who do, and more than ever right now I think we all appreciate those that choose to devote their lives to healthcare, but I was self-aware enough to know it was not for me. But I believed I could contribute and be of service in a different way.

I loved making things, and I think that was what led me to finding out more about architecture. In the US people can come to architecture later, there’s a wider, broader education; here it is more often a straight line, and I am a product of that. I had a friend at school who I’ve known since we were eight years old; her uncle was an architect. When we were sixteen, he took us to the architecture studios at Glasgow School of Art. We saw the drawings boards and model making, and I thought, “This is what I want to do.” A year later I was sitting in one of those drawing boards.

What did you learn about yourself in studying architecture?

University was really tough; the critics were tough. But, I loved it. Everything was new. I loved the challenge of facing tasks that were constantly unfamiliar - I found it very motivating. It was also very competitive, which was a driver, and the fact that I was learning constantly added to the challenge. I felt like I was working toward something worthwhile. It seemed like, and still seems like, there is so much to learn. I’m still learning new skills, meeting new people, and this has kept me interested in my career.

How did you get your start in the field?

I did internships in Scotland. But my first full-time position was after finishing my bachelor’s studies at the Mackintosh School of Architecture in Glasgow, where the studios looked out at the amazing Mackintosh designed art school building, which I find too upsetting to walk past now after the fires.

I moved to London at twenty and was very lucky with the office that gave me a job - Michael Wilford & Partners. It had been Jim Stirling’s firm, he was a big personality in UK architecture, and Michael and the other partners were carrying on his legacy doing great work. They were not large, about 30 people in the London office. In fact I did not apply to any large firms, I do not exactly know why as I had no frame of reference, but only smaller ones drew me. They gave me a lot of opportunity, there were no limitations on my role or responsibility.

I had an amazing couple of years there. I loved the studio environment, and we were in Fitzroy Square, which was a very architectural neighborhood – Arup’s offices were there, Grimshaw’s, it was like Chelsea in New York until we were all priced out. But my project was in Manchester, so I ended up moving there and I loved that too. Being on the site,