Exclusive Interview: Kathy Hancox, AIA
Kathy Hancox is a licensed architect and co-owner of HK Associates Inc., located in Arizona. Their residential and small commercial projects feature clean lines along with a beautiful use of material and form. Two of their projects, Barrio Historico House and Courtyards House, won Southern Arizona's AIA House of the Year Award; an accomplishment to be very proud of. We are so pleased that Kathy agreed to take a moment to tell us more about her journey to becoming an architect, and her approach in design!
Tell us a little bit about your journey to becoming a licensed architect.
I knew that I wanted to be an architect when I was 12 and my parents hired a young architect to design an addition for our house. He showed up with beautiful watercolor renderings of his designs and I immediately knew architecture was for me! After architecture school I chose to work for small design focused firms where I would have lots of responsibility and get to experience all aspects of the profession. I was fortunate to work on many different project types with many talented people. This ultimately led to completing the licensing process, and starting a practice.
What piece of advice would you give to women on that journey now?
Believe in yourself and the value of your unique point of view. I've always thought of myself as an architect who happens to be a woman, but the reality is that women's voices have been under represented in the creation of our built environment.
It is said that having a good mentor can help you learn and progress. Did you have a mentor as a young architect, before going out on your own?
Over the years I've had many great mentors: teachers, employers, and co-workers. We have a lot to learn from each other and I've taken a great deal from every part of my journey. You never stop learning.
Have you ever encountered any obstacles working as a female in a traditionally male-dominated field over the years?
Yes! But for the most part I think that stereotypical ideas can be overcome by working hard and doing a good job. However, on the couple of occasions where I found myself being paid less than a less-experienced male co-worker or as the only female in an office being expected to make and serve coffee to the men (I don't even drink coffee!), I decided that leaving for a job where I'd be respected was the only way to go. Being your own boss is also an excellent option!
What made you take the leap to start your own firm?
I've always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I started my first business when I was an architecture student - designing and selling t-shirts on the beach during summer break. As a creative person, it's very fulfilling to be able to design a business and interact with the world on your own terms.
How did you get started? And do you have a co-founder?
My husband, Michael Kothke, and I met in first year architecture school when we were 18 and have been together ever since. After graduation, we collaborated on a few projects but for the most part had separate but parallel career paths. After 10 years of working for significant firms in Vancouver and San Francisco, we had the opportunity to move to Tucson to work together with Rick Joy. I think it was inevitable that our next step would be to go out on our own. We are different but we've been together so long and share so much in common that collaboration is natural to us.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
My days are always different - split between site meetings, client meetings, design time, drawing production, product research, and general office stuff. For the last couple of years we've had several projects under construction at the same time, so we spent a lot of time in site meetings and driving from project to project. We're currently working on a new house project, so I like to keep some days dedicated just for designing so I'm able to get totally immersed in the creative process. We try to never schedule meetings on Monday mornings so that we can prepare for the week ahead.
What is the most rewarding part of being the Principal of your own firm?
As Principals we invest heavily in creating a vision for an architectural practice that can enrich life, further insight, and reveal meaning; the most rewarding part is when we get to experience the ways that our designs make a positive impact on our clients' lives.
What is the hardest part/biggest challenge to being Principal?
Because architecture is a business, you have to balance creative aspirations with financial realities for both the projects and the practice. At the end of the day, you have to make things happen and put food on the table. We love what we do but everyone needs to get paid!
What type of work does your firm focus primarily on?
Our projects are typically residential and small commercial (though we have experience on a wide variety of project types, including large institutional projects).
What is your philosophy on design?
Regardless of project type, scale, or location, our creative approach is client and site specific, structuring spaces and moments that are timeless and contextual. For us, architecture is a process of revealing that results in places that reveal. Our palette is material authenticity, proportion, light, shadow, reflection, and the interplay of view and movement - framing foregrounds, middle-grounds and backgrounds, connecting inside and out. We work closely with our clients to understand their specific needs, constraints and aspirations. From this, we develop a full and deliberate design that holds the potential to offer further insights as the project is realized.
What motivates you in your daily practice?
The desire to create and realize.
Where do you draw inspiration from?
We don't consciously apply one-to-one inspirations in our work, however, through the work we've come to recognize that we share affinities with other creative fields and individuals. For example, for us, once a work of architecture is inhabited by our clients, it's fullness begins. The artist Marcel Duchamp famously said that "the spectator makes the picture." We share an affinity with Duchamp around this sensibility - that between intention and realization there is a "difference." For Duchamp this difference IS the work. For us, this moment occurs when the acts of daily life and the cycles of the environment meet our original design intentions. It's at this moment that the architecture reveals.
Out of all the projects you've worked on, what is your favorite project completed to date?
I love them all equally! But specifically, each project has moments or attributes that are unique - and that we draw from as inspiration for the next project.
What do you think of the training that young architects are getting today?
My partner, Michael Kothke, is also an award winning educator. Through his teaching at the university level we have a unique window on the challenges and opportunities of today's young architects. Today's students are exposed to rapidly evolving technologies and tools in an increasingly complex world. This has the potential to overwhelm core creative learning. In the face of these challenges, architectural education needs to stay technologically and culturally relevant, while still remaining fundamental. Humans need to be taught to think creatively and critically, and our capacity to reveal insight, and to offer judgement through reflection needs to be nurtured. It's an exciting tightrope act. At times, we value the relatively simple studio-centric education that we received, but are also jealous of the many modes of exploration and expression at the finger tips of today's architecture students.
What is one thing you would tell/share with our community of Galchitects?
The architecture profession, and the world needs you!