Beth & KATHLEEN; Part TWO
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.
Today, Beth and Kathleen discuss the beginning and initial evolution of their relationship.
Next week we will learn more about what the Women's Housing Coalition does and the future of their relationship.
I first started working with Women's Housing Coalition when I worked for Hord Coplan Macht, about 20 years ago, while working on the Margaret Bennett House.
Through this project, we developed a relationship with the developer, and when I went out on my own a couple of years later, Polly Duke gave me a call and said they were looking for Women-Owned businesses for their upcoming project, the Margaret Jenkins House, another Women's Housing project. From there, it was still more of a relationship of working with the developer and the contractor - Women’s Housing was the service provider.
I began to get more involved and started attending some of their events, and began understanding more about Women's Housing Coalition. This led to more projects after that, like Linden House, and being more involved in historic buildings. Women's Housing have all of these beautiful historic buildings that you occupy, so for me it began about making beautiful, thoughtful homes for your residents. That was really the beginning, in terms of this architectural relationship.
So when I started four years ago with Women’s Housing Coalition, the Linden House was about a year old.
One of the things that drew me to the Women’s Housing Coalition was because when you think of Single-Room Occupancy, which three of four of our buildings are, you think it’s going to be drab, institutional, and that people aren’t going to feel like it could be their home. I was attracted to Women’s Housing because I didn’t get that sense at all.
With Linden House only being open for a year, there were still some things on the punch list that needed to be cleared. I got on the phone with you, and you were really supportive and knowledgable about what was going on - more importantly you weren't like, “Hey I finished that a year ago, go take a hike!” It was always a really nice relationship and always felt like I could continue to use you as an expert or as a memory of the space.
When I realized that you had not only done Linden, but Jenkins, and had an understanding of Bennett, I felt like I hit the jackpot! You knew three out of four of our buildings, and that was pretty darn cool. And as you know, I spent a fair amount of time really learning and picking your brain. I came from a construction and project management background, so there were a lot of things that didn’t really make sense to me, and you filled in those blanks. That was really fun and exciting to have someone who cared about what we were doing as well as had the institutional memory that had totally disappeared from the staff on my side.
Then your firm joined with the others to form the collaborative, RE/PUBLIC*. We were approached to create an exhibit about ‘home,’ and you all wanted to compete in a competition for the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA). It was an incredible relationship, because I was treated like a partner and we really talked about the goals of what could make a cool exhibit in addition to how we could get the message across about homelessness and affordable housing. To show that it’s not so simple to do some of these things that many people think, “Hey with a little bit of help you can be back on your feet and making lots of money and supporting yourself and will never need public assistance again!” — that just isn’t the reality of many people in affordable housing, and it is not the reality for the people within our program.
I think BMA project was a really pivotal point in our relationship, it was about more than just providing architectural services, it was about beginning to understand the breadth of the problem. You were such a critical piece of that and of the whole proposal. It made it exciting too, because it wasn’t just about ‘problem-solving’ — I felt like we were able to better understand, and perhaps redefine, what homelessness encompassed. People have such strong concepts of these terms, preconceptions I suppose, so we really were able to parse that out.
The BMA project, for me, was where a friendship was formed. I felt comfortable calling you with other ideas. Especially when we approached the idea of a film series — reaching out to the community, and raising awareness for housing and homelessness, and the clientele that I work with. You were great because you offered contacts, and different films that you had seen. Like with “The King of Howard Street,” the play by Anthony Williams which was an incredible resource, and it had a great response when we showed the recording of it. I feel that you have become such a wonderful person to call up and say, “Hey, I have this idea…What do you think?” You have just been a great sounding board.
*The RE/PUBLIC team included PI.KL Studio in addition to K. Lechleiter Architect and LED BETTER STUDIO (now Twopoint Studio), and later BE|THE|TO Studio.
I have a similar reaction to thinking about how our relationship has evolved. Through working on a proposal for an exhibit, we did become friendly and we gained a lot of mutual respect and understanding — learning much more of the nuances of what each person did. But I think it also put us on a common playing field about what my issues are with affordable housing and homelessness and I was probably able to give the team a bit of insight into the population that they’re serving when they work on those types of projects. So, that really deepened everyone’s knowledge of the approach that you need to take on projects like this, and I think an approach to life in general. [Kathleen’s] film series is very focused on affordable housing — it could have had other focuses. In a celebration of your 15 years in business, I’m sure there are other things that could be focused on. Through choosing that as your focus, I think it made you more socially-conscious and aware of what the issues are, and it gave me this wonderful thing to forward around to people and say, “Hey, there is this film series! This is what it is trying to do,” and you know once again we created a win-win, and I love the idea that when you work with someone it doesn’t have to be a win-lose, there are other people in the world these days that think for you to win, someone else has to lose, and I have always been someone that believes you can carve almost anything into win-win scenarios when you are working productively with people. That just because you’re hiring somebody, or working with somebody, thinking that it has to be a limited pie - I think we need to build the pie together so that everyone suffices.