i+D: Have you been through this before?
WALLACE: (laughing) Same time last
year? No. We evacuated 500 students.
Some international students brought
their parents, so we relocated everyone.
We’re calling it SCAD Camp. We have food
services, classrooms, and technology.
Professors are leading walking tours and
I’m going with some students today to the
zoo to draw the animals.
i+D: Does SCAD teach the concept
of “resiliency” in design, making
buildings and spaces with the ability
to withstand and bounce back from
WALLACE: We emphasize historic
preservation that shows the resiliency of
buildings, in that they were built for one
purpose for certain people at a certain
time and then are reimagined by different
people at a different time, in many cases
for different purposes.
i+D: Why did you become a teacher?
WALLACE: I started teaching piano
lessons in my neighborhood when I was
12. I was my teacher’s first student when
I was six; she had become so successful
she couldn’t teach all her students, so
she suggested I teach the younger ones.
It came as a surprise, being a student
and a teacher. But, I know now that every
teacher is a student. There’s a sense of
curiosity in every educator.
i+D: Do you still play?
WALLACE: Oh, yes, as often as I can.
Beethoven is my favorite. I was in Lacoste
recently with the students. It was night.
And, I played a nocturne for them. I have
my music around me all the time.
i+D: If you could change one thing
about yourself, what would it be?
WALLACE: My husband tells me I’m too
much of a perfectionist.
i+D: Is he right?
WALLACE: It is a flaw.
i+D: You should loosen up a little bit?
WALLACE: Maybe I should dance,
instead of playing the piano.
i+D: What’s the difference—and the
similarities—between designing spaces
in a school and, for example, an office
WALLACE: Both have to be positive,
practical, and inspiring. They need to fulfill
the function of that particular place. SCAD
has 100 different degree programs. For
example, SCAD Atlanta’s sculpture studio
has a foundry. The photography studio has
a green screen room.
i+D: When you’re at work, and you look
up from your desk, what do you see?
WALLACE: Art. Art everywhere. It’s like
being in an art gallery. Every room.
i+D: What was the first thing you
designed or built when you were
WALLACE: In Atlanta, we had a lot of
pine trees, so my sister Pam and I would
get out the rake and rake the pine straw
into the forms of rooms so we would
have imaginary houses. We were doing
“The Little House in Atlanta.”
i+D: What frightens you?
WALLACE: Oooh. Gosh. That I’d be
swallowed up by a whale like Jonah.
i+D: But, you’re not actually afraid
of being swallowed by a whale, so
you’re telling me you’re not afraid of
anything. What makes you laugh?
WALLACE: (laughing) You just did!
i+D: How do you motivate a
student with tons of talent but no
organizational skills, no sense of
following through, who never gets
to the finish line?
WALLACE: We use the critique-based
method of teaching and learning.
Students are always presenting their
work from the very first class and not
waiting until their final courses in their
major. They stand; they present their
work; they describe how they created it;
and then professors and fellow students
comment, question, and critique. Every
class has specific goals and expectations.
Assessment for the entire degree is that
graduates are able to start a career, to get
a job in the profession of their dreams.
We have a 98-percent placement of our
graduates within 10 months.
i+D: What do you always have with
WALLACE: A couple who graduated from
SCAD who live in Istanbul gave me a tiny
“evil eye” bracelet. They told me to always
i+D: And, no evil has happened to you?
WALLACE: One time I broke my hand.
A friend asked, “Did you have on your evil
eye bracelet?” And, I said, “Darn, I didn’t.”
i+D: What delights you?
WALLACE: Being with students all the
time. Last night, we had a screening of
“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2.” They were
laughing and awestruck and eating pizza.
It was lots of fun.
i+D: It’s obvious you can teach a craft.
But, can you teach creativity?
WALLACE: Yes. Through teaching
creative, innovative thinking by posing
problems to students. We have the
Collaborative Learning Center at SCAD,
where businesses and nonprofits come in,
like the Salvation Army or BMW, and they
pose problems to our students.
The students use everything they learned
in their formal education to apply it to
real-world tasks and concerns.
i+D: If you couldn’t be an educator or
an administrator, what would you be?
WALLACE: A gardener. I love it. I don’t
know much about it. I’d need to learn.
IN 1978, PAULA WALLACE WAS 29 AND AN ELEMENTARY TEACHER IN
THE ATLAN TA PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. It was there and then, she told the
audience at the 2017 Awards Gala of the American Society of Interior Designers
(ASID), that she “discovered the power of place, as I worked to transform a bare
classroom into a dreamscape of imagination and learning.” ASID’s recipient
at the gala of the Nancy Vincent McClelland Merit Award for contributions to the
profession and the study of interior design, Wallace spoke of following her own
dreamscape. With funds from her family, Wallace founded the Savannah College of
Art and Design (SCAD), where she now is president. SCAD is a private, nonprofit,
accredited school with campuses in Savannah, Georgia; Atlanta; Lacoste, France;
and Hong Kong. Wallace also has founded two teaching museums: the SCAD
Museum of Art in Savannah and the SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film in
Atlanta. She is the author of two books on design, Perfect Porches: Designing
Welcoming Spaces for Outdoor Living and A House in the South: Old-Fashioned
Graciousness of New-Fashioned Times and Assouline Publishing recently released
SCAD: The Architecture of a University, which is described as a celebration of
the school’s history of preservation at its four campuses. In addition, Wallace has
received numerous design and educational awards, including an appointment
as a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the Embassy of France to
the United States and the Arthur Ross Award for Excellence in the Classical
Tradition for stewardship by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, and also
serves on the National Advisory board of the National Museum of Women in the
Arts in Washington, D.C.
A native of Atlanta, the mother of four lives in Savannah with her husband,
designer Glenn Wallace. i+D caught up with Wallace at SCAD’s Atlanta campus,
after the Savannah campus had evacuated a few days before Hurricane Irma
struck the United States.
Ambrose Clancy is the editor of the Shelter
Island Reporter and a novelist, nonfiction author,
and journalist. His work has appeared in GQ,
The Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times.