Pam Harwood is an indefatigable expert on squeezing every minute out of each day. A professor of architecture and a design-build leader, Pam is a practicing architect who designs stunning timber frame homes, wineries, and boutique restaurants. She is the designer and creator of nature playscapes and timber pavilions and is a community activist.
Pam grew up in northern Wisconsin where she spent most of her time outdoors, building forts and playing in the family treehouse with her brothers. Her father was an engineer, and the family’s home was designed by an architect, so she was aware of design and building as a small child.
One state over, Bill Tabberson was growing up with a similar awareness, learning carpentry at the knee of his grandfather, who built intricate spinning wheels, among other treasures. When Pam and Bill met in grad school at the University of Minnesota, friends teased that the two strong personalities wouldn’t both survive a collaborative thesis project. “It’s been a struggle,” Pam teases. Bill’s eyes crinkle up in good humor, and they both erupt in laughter.
Married since 1987, they have two grown children together and a Muncie-based business that operates across all 50 states and into Canada. Their firm designs and builds high-end timber frame houses, educational, retail, and institutional structures for those who love the warmth and artistry of natural materials. That business, Tabberson Architects, employs six full-time staff, all graduates of Ball State’s Department of Architecture, and two interns from Ball State.
At the Department of Architecture
The curriculum in the College of Architecture and Planning is studio-based. The studios involve students in real-world activities and design projects each semester. More than a dozen instructors are committed to this labor-intensive process, which trains students in presenting ideas, building, rehabbing, and reworking those ideas to ensure client satisfaction. Pam is one of those instructors. She came to know all of her current employees through the design-build, community-oriented process. “They gravitate toward us because of the niche market we fill,” she says of her students, past, and present. The same can be said of clients. “We never have to convince anyone to use wood. They seek us out.”
Pam’s early love of nature led her to research the relationship today’s children have with the outdoors, sometimes referred to as nature deficit disorder. Twenty years ago she led students in constructing a series of play structures for the on-campus child care center. Since then she’s become an expert in connecting children to nature through outdoor play. Nature play pockets, and beautiful timber structures for Muncie Head Start, Muncie Children’s Museum, and Maring-Hunt Library are significant educational and quality of life contributions to the community.
She’s secured more than a million dollars in grants to build those projects and has shared her research and experiences at around a dozen conferences. The pavilion at Maring-Hunt Library won a Ball State immersive learning faculty award and, more recently, a neighborhood beautification award from Muncie Delaware Clean and Beautiful. It includes a community kitchen, an outdoor market pavilion, a shade structure, and three nature play pockets and spanned multiple semesters for her studio classes.
The Tot Spot, an area of the Muncie Children’s Museum, is a space reserved for children aged five and below. The project involved nearly 60 students who drew inspiration from the children’s stories such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Giving Tree to design and build the interactive play area. The project spanned four semesters and wowed museum patrons old and young at its opening.
Chris Simmons and Melissa Klemeyer were two of the students who worked on the Tot Spot. Today they are married, and both point to the design-build work on Tot Spot as a pivotal experience in their lives. Melissa enjoyed the project so much that she returned to school, earned an MA in museum studies, and now works full time as an exhibit designer. Chris is a Tabberson employee, working in Phoenix. His studio experiences in school have directly led him to his work today.
Chris states, “Working with a studio team, I did a lot of research on natural materials including heavy timber, local stone, and rammed earth for the construction of a Habitat hub at Muncie Head Start’s nature playscape. Through prototyping and countless design iterations, we developed a final design that could be built with both digital and hand fabrication. I created the digital 3D model of the timber frame, which was used to machine cut the timbers so they could be assembled. This same process is what I do today at Tabberson Architects for their timber frame designs.”
Chris and Melissa aren’t alone in finding a clear application between studio and professional work.
Drew Fairchild, a current Tabberson employee who is back in the classroom working toward a master’s degree in architecture, was part of a studio class that designed and built a market pavilion and outdoor kitchen for a southside neighborhood on an abandoned athletic field owned by Maring-Hunt Library.
“This project had a bigger impact on us as individuals,” he says. “We all became something greater than ourselves and worked together to create an amazing project. It was a real project, real clients, real community members, and real money. Managing something like this doesn’t happen a lot in college.”
For Pam, building those life skills in her students and future employees is a huge reward in itself. While she’s managing those Muncie-based soft skills, Bill frequently travels to meet with clients, suppliers, and off-site employees. The partnership works, the office hums, and building and design continue, here and across the country.