Beth & KATHLEEN; Part One
On July 6, 2018 Beth Benner, the Executive Director of Women's Housing Coalition, and Kathleen Lechleiter, President and Principal of Twopoint Studio, sat down to discuss their evolving relationship. Over the next three weeks we will share the conversation.
Up first Kathleen and Beth discuss K.Lechleiter Architect's change to Twopoint and what is to follow.
Next week we will learn more about what the Women's Housing Coalition does and how Kathleen started working with them.
K. Lechleiter Architect, our firm, has been around for 15 years - which is why we celebrated this past year with a film series. Up until now it has primarily been a sole practice, with just occasional people off and on that would work with me.
Now David Lopez, of LED BETTER STUDIO, who I have collaborated with for over 10 years will be joining us. So, we are going from 1 to 4 people! We’re changing the name to reflect this change, and this idea of “two points.” It’s about balance, it’s about the space between points, it’s about points of view, and that together we have more strength and offer more to our clients.
We are moving our space and will continue the film series through the year, and we are now looking at other opportunities to engage people - and in different ways. We would like to continue that type of involvement. We have tried to volunteer with different organizations - whether it’s on the board with WHC or the Fells Point Design Review Committee, finding ways to be involved with the community is important to us.
This change is not just about capacity, David brings a lot of experience, and I think we balance each other well. David is an incredible technician, and we also both have backgrounds in teaching, so we are always able to have a healthy dialogue.
From my perspective, I think it sounds so exciting. I have interacted with - as you call him, “Lopez,” so funny because I am a last name person, but that just feels awkward to me - with David, obviously with everything with the RE/PUBLIC when we went for the exhibit, but also in some brainstorming. David has been very interested in the Tiny House Movement, and in working with the people of Baltimore we pushed to see if that was something that could be done. To be able to brainstorm about that kind of stuff with more than one architect was really exciting. He was able to bring a new perspective, and we were able to bring these ideas back to the Board. At that meeting, there was a lot of discomfort about it - questioning how you make sure it isn’t viewed as substandard housing, or that it isn’t viewed as a white privilege notion of telling people what they deserve. So, I’m not sure where that will all go, but I found that to be a very great experience to have met with the two of you. So the fact that this relationship is being more formalized will bode well for all of your clients, since I have already seen that start to happen for us.
With Twopoint Studio we are also looking to push a research component, which I think will help show we aren’t just providing basic architecture services - which we do, and we can do that all day, all night. However, I think in order to be better architects and better people in society we need to expand that. The research and the development of that started with our interest in teaching and pushing some of these concepts within the housing studio at Morgan State. Also with other projects, like Lexington Market which was visioning and planning. Delving into the background information and context of a project, so before anything physical happens on a design project, you are getting everyone involved - which of course is something we are still working on, figuring out how this is best done and successfully implemented. We’re very interested in that, and I think that also ties into our past involvement with Light City projects - it is the ability to work a different side of the brain. They are short projects, they surround community engagement, and they are just fun. With this last one, for Neighborhood Lights, we worked with the community and really closely with their garden club. It was a permanent installation and done in less than 6-months. It was well received, and the community was able to get another grant off of that so that they could continue expanding upon their programming. So, in that sense, we were a seed that got the other things rolling.
Those are some really fun projects to be a part of, and I think that research, with it exercising that other part of the brain, will really push us to be stronger architects and designers.
It seems like architects are in a tough place, they are always working for someone and bringing someone else’s vision to light. So, the extent in that they are able to get involved in social community issues and things like that really shows them how to infuse either what the clients mission is into their design or push a little bit of social issues into people who were really thinking about them.
One of the ways Baltimore has grown recently is through extreme gentrification. That has been problematic for large parts of our city, and one way that HUD tries to fix that is through these mandates that aren’t well executed, or people work to find their way around them. With people like you and David, who are focused on both sides of the problem, hopefully as a society and as a City, we can figure out how to start integrating these things into design and into projects and think of solutions that don’t push people out, but instead engage people and allow them a leg-up that they never had before.
From my perspective too, people get caught up in the day-to-day stuff, because you have to run your business, and make sure that ends meet, etc. But I think that it is important to remember that you need these moments to look back a question why you are in this business.
Hopefully, we will be able to foster that at our office. Whether it is with students coming through or young architects, between our employees or the people that we bring in for the film series — we really want any opportunity for dialogue.
It is really important to not get caught in the rut, and I know that I am guilty of that at times, and to do that we need to give ourselves space and time to reflect.
You earlier mentioned how there are multiple definitions of success, and I think what you have just described is defining your own success and Twopoint’s success in multiple ways. I think it is exciting, and that it is a new way to think about things, and I hope that it is a huge success for you, but mostly I hope that more people follow this lead. I think it is exciting to see all these aspects pull together with this merger of two really great people.