CIfA Newsflash 45/2021 | In memory of Sally Hugo-Hamman-Pooler 1961 – 2021

In memory of Sally Hugo-Hamman-Pooler 1961 – 2021

Clementine Hugo-Hamman

It is with great sadness that Sally Hugo-Hamman, my Aunt, Godmother and Mentor has died after a very long battle with cancer.

There is much I can say about Sally but thought I would concentrate on one of her defining characteristics; the value she placed on the significant friendships developed over the course of her life within the architecture community. 

Like many Architects amongst us, when arriving at Architecture school, Sally found a place where she belonged. She found a space where she felt accepted, comfortable in her own skin, and surrounded by like-minded people. It was an environment where she thrived. The architecture friendships developed during her studies at the University of Cape Town, in her youthful working years in London, and of course over her career as a Professional in Cape Town, were to be for her lifetime.

Whilst to me, Sally is family, I considered her a friend and confidant. She took sincere interest in people and made a concerted effort to get to know and understand them. She was comfortable speaking across generations, able to connect to whatever was going on in their life. She listened with generosity. She was always objective, and just because she was a friend didn’t mean that she would always share your view. This was something I really valued about her. I knew when I shared with her she would offer a considered and balanced view. This feedback was always offered however with profound wisdom, empathy, and support, as she only wanted what was best for you, what served you. Friendship is reciprocal. Her friends loved her and valued her deeply too.

Sally displayed her ethics not only in her words but through tangible actions. This sense of right and wrong came through in how she conducted herself. My parents shared the same roof contractor once, on recommendation by Sally. The roofing contractor said that Sally was one of the few architects who would climb up into and onto the roof to inspect their craftsmanship. Whilst at first, they found her high standards trying and slightly onerous, they came to really respect her as an architect for her perfectionism. Whilst this example is a slightly unusual way to illustrate ethics it symbolizes her commitment to standards, and rigorous practice.

She had a great sense of humor and laughed abundantly. An amusing anecdote is when I started practicing architecture and began doing site visits. As we’re aware, building sites are typically a man’s domain. This fact was not lost on Sally. So she said, “on arrival and when greeting the contractor and foreman, always throw out a profanity”. I think her preferred was fuck. The profanity was not to be used to condemn any of the building work, it could be about anything else, but typically it would have been about the weather or the traffic. This declaration on arrival would announce to the intended audience that you were to be taken seriously, respected and to demonstrate to them that there was going to be no nonsense because she was a woman. I think this advice must have worked very well for her, as she always seemed very at ease on building sites, I think actually it was her preferred architectural stage.

Whilst on the topic of women, I can speak for all her nieces and girl grandchildren that she was a formidable female role-model. She modelled for us what an independent, strong-willed working woman and mother looked like.

Sally had broad interests which in turn made her an engaged and interesting person. She involved herself in activities and causes which she believed and was passionate about. I remember her mentioning her involvement as a young student at UCT in the faculty student council. She spoke proudly and fondly of her memories of that time and her architectural peer’s activism and energy producing journals and magazines. In her later years she volunteered her time in Heritage committees, in order to safeguard architectural memory. She attended many architectural conferences locally but her two tours of Scandinavia and France led by Julian Cooke, were especially significant for her. Those trips were not just about the architecture, it was about the travel, culture, debate and connection. She was a social being and new friendships were established on those tours.

Seeing a project through to completion and maintaining good-will with your client is not a guarantee, as disagreements are inevitable. Testament to her, she was friends with many of her clients. I think that is a tremendous indicator of her character.

The last conversation I had with Sal was about friendship and how important and life-giving they were. That was how much she valued and appreciated this community.

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Recollections by Steven Boers

Sally, the Architect

The architectural project which has made the most lasting impression on me left an equally indelible imprint on Sally.

The project was Dolphin Beach, that landmark complex located just before you turn off to Blouberg. Its 300+ flats and hotel look across the dunes and beach at Table Mountain across Table Bay. And why so memorable? Sally and I worked shoulder to shoulder together with our office and consultant team like dogs trying to keep up with a demanding developer partnership (who didn’t particularly care for each other) and a builder who’s quote had been negotiated right down into certain loss.

Shortly after Sally’s arrival ex London at Architects Munnik Visser Black Fish & Partners, (the best architectural practice, mind you, in Cape Town at the time), Sally was appointed the ‘Job Captain’ to the Dolphin Beach project. I, in turn, had inherited the project soon after the planning of this scheme started – inherited from the retiring partner Mo Scharfman. The building was complex because of the huge pyramidal and sloping roof forms. The site was 1/2 km long and very narrow with restricted access. We did a lot of walking during construction. We also did a lot of meeting, minuting and checking and instructing. Sally’s presence made the builders quake in their builders’ boots: she in no uncertain terms with appropriate builders’ vocabulary let them know when the work was shoddy or did not follow plan, specifications and instructions.

The office team of 8 or 10 dedicated people ‘at home base’, was suddenly placed under substantial pressure as the flats sold so well that phase 2 needed to be finalized forthwith, so that the developers’ sales team could continue uninterruptedly. This was while Phase 1 planning and detailing was still in full flow. Sally was there and everywhere. She was the best right-hand ‘wo-man’ thinkable. Thank you Sally for that wonderful experience. The project gave me grey hairs, but without you it would have been a catastrophe. As architect Charles Thesen, one of the grafters in the office recently said on hearing about Sally’s passing: “She will be missed – what a great personality” and I will add to this ”what a great presence”.

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Recollections by Ian Wylie

Sally graduated in late 1984 with a First Class degree from the University of Cape Town School of Architecture. Sally and I had studied together at Architecture School during the preceding years and although we were already good friends, we got to know each other much better from 1986 onwards, when we were both living in London. I had moved to London in mid- 1985. We had of course stayed in touch and when she arrived in London in 1986, we continued exactly where we had left off.

Sally joined the Practice of Donald Insall Associates, a renowned firm with excellent commissions dealing with some of the country’s finest Listed Buildings. She worked there, gaining invaluable experience in design, conservation matters and site work. Noted for their exceptional contributions to Conservation work in the UK and abroad, it was very rewarding and interesting to know someone who was a part of this Practice.

I was introduced to other mutual friends via Sally and they have remained steadfast friends to this day. Sally worked on some very prestigious listed buildings, in Regents Park, Trafalgar Square and Country Houses. She was very fortunate in having found very ‘comfortable accommodation’, having been taken in by a mutual friend, Giles Vincent, who had a delightful house in Chelsea, SW3. We would meet up at regular intervals, the common interest being to see as much of the UK’s architectural treasures as possible, to see the county generally and to travel to the Continent when we could afford to do so. Many of these visits were undertaken at weekends and a close circle of past UCT graduates would make suggestions about where to go, when to go and then to carry them out with much enthusiasm from all concerned, especially Sally. We were all young architects, relatively inexperienced and keen on absorbing as much of the culture and design that surrounded us, as humanly possible. Our car journeys were filled with chat about the doings of our respective offices, the projects we were working on and inevitably, where we would next be going on our quests to see interesting things!

I recall clearly the rather stressful stage of one of her projects, when the full refurbishment of Trafalgar Square in front of the nation al Gallery was undertaken. Aside from her design responsibilities generally on the project, Sally was responsible for the sizing, setting out and orientation of the vast slabs of paving, (several of these slabs being meters by several meters in size and at least 250mm thickness), that today form the backbone of the major London Landmark. The phrase I recall most clearly, is ‘minimal jointing’. Clearly this requirement is a challenge in anyone’s eyes and even from my memories from all those years ago, the watchword was ‘very little tolerance’. The vast stone paviours went in and there was not a hitch. Certainly I never heard of a hitch!! And I remain in awe to this day. Sally was also very involved in the refurbishment of Grove House in Regents Park and also Holme House. These projects occupied her for several years.

During this period, Sally and I assisted another colleague, Eitan Karol, also of course a UCT graduate, who had gone to New York to undertake his PhD, with the subject being the works of Charles Holden. Holden was famous for so many wonderful buildings in London, including Senate House for UCL, plus many of London’s finest underground stations. We worked in the RIBA’s Heinz Gallery in Portman Square, preparing for Eitan Karol’s exhibition in 1988 or ‘89. I recall this being great fun and putting together the exhibition (a first for me and the hours were long) but it was super-interesting. Eitan did a superb job and we all learned a great deal from this process. Again, further connections were made.

Sally liked to ride. Having invited ourselves, I went with her and a couple of friends to Surrey to ride from my Cousin’s stables and she enjoyed that hugely. As I recall it was a few times that we went there, but as I am not a rider the detail has since escaped me – other than I was impressed by her riding skills. We went to see other relatives of mine up in Suffolk and attended not only Point to Point races, but also had our first brush with the ‘Anti’s’. (The ‘Anti’s were Hunt protestors). They were most zealous in their pursuit of their Quarry: Anyone on a horse! There was assuredly no Hunt in progress, not even anywhere remotely near. But it was an attempt to disrupt the proceedings. It was fascinating. Part of the politics of the day. Frankly, it was more interesting and more fun than the Point to Point races themselves.

I also fondly recall a visit we did to the annual AirShow at Mildenhall, the American Airbase. The Americans did the best shows, naturally and had the most exciting planes. We went several times. I know that this was ostensibly done by Sally only to humour me and my childlike enthusiasm for such things, but then Sally did confess many years later that she was as keen as me to attend the Airshows and to see the ‘Turn and Burn’ brigade. I have never heard such a racket as the afterburners being switched on when Blackbird, (Lockheed SR71), the vast, gas-guzzling, American behemoth of a Spyplane, made its first public appearance in the UK. In November 1989, the USAF’s SR-71 program was officially terminated, so it must have coincided with this year as a farewell.

Visits to Petworth, Waddesdon Manor,  Holkham Hall in Norfolk, the City of Bath, and so on, were all part of this period in Sally’s life. In 1988 Sally and I completed the final exams for our Part 3 Professional Practice at University of Westminster, leading to membership of the RIBA.

Sally returned to Cape Town and she continued to practice as an architect. She later met her husband-to-be, Richard Pooler in this period. Sally and I stayed in touch throughout the subsequent years, remained firm friends and we always got together whenever she passed through London – a gratifyingly regular occurrence.

Sally was much shyer than many people might have realised. She was a force of nature. Determined. And we never missed an opportunity to tease each other and have a good laugh at whatever absurd situation happened to be the thing at the time. I shall greatly miss her company, her insights, her energy, her commitment and her wonderful sense of humour.