Rachel Haugh SimpsonHaugh

Haugh: Ian and I were equal from the start

Jessica Middleton-Pugh

Following the rebrand of Ian Simpson Architects to SimpsonHaugh & Partners, Place North West met with co-founder Rachel Haugh to discuss the significance of the name-change, and her plans for one of the country's most successful architectural studios.

Haugh established the practice alongside Ian Simpson in 1987. The company has worked on some of Manchester's highest profile projects; the 48-storey Beetham Tower, Manchester Town Hall Extension refurbishment, a four-star Innside hotel at First Street, planned office blocks at One Spinningfields and 2 St Peter's Square and platforms for Metrolink's second city crossing.

There are 60 staff based in Manchester, and 40 in London.

 The Hilton or 301 Deansgate by BeethamSharing ownership

When asked why it has taken almost 30 years for her role to be reflected in the business' name, Haugh was pragmatic.

"Ian and I have been equal from the start," she said. "But now felt like the right time to recognise my input into the success of the business. When we started out, Ian was older and more experienced than me. The decision to lead with his name served us well, and we created a strong brand."

Alongside reflecting Haugh's input into the practice, the name change also saw the firm become a limited liability partnership, with 11 senior managers becoming partners in the company.

"There are more than 100 people in the practice, and part of the name-change is the recognition of their less visible contributions. Architecture is not a one-man band."

The idea of becoming an LLP was first discussed in 2007, but the recession delayed plans. In 2011, Simpson and Haugh invested £500,000 of their own money into the business to protect it from the impact of the crash. Now, Haugh said that the practice had financially returned to pre-recession levels. A statement from SimpsonHaugh put 2014 turnover at £9.4m with profit after tax of £2.4m.

Not just high-rise offices

 An artist impression of how the Exchange Square area Metrolink stop could lookThere are 12 projects on site across the country, including the 900,000 sq ft redevelopment of the Battersea Power Station and the 750,000 sq ft Blackfriars Tower in London. With 30 of the 100 staff working on the Battersea project at any one time, it would have been unsurprising to see the London office take over from Manchester as the main axis of power.

Far from it, reassured Haugh. "We are still passionate in our commitment to the North West and Manchester in particular. We are interested in all scales of projects and don't want to limit our plans. For us the new tram stops at Deansgate-Castlefield and Exchange Square are as important as everything going on at Battersea."

For Haugh, a priority is to readjust Manchester's misconceptions about what SimpsonHaugh does as a practice.

She explained: "We're misunderstood in Manchester. In the early days of starting out, we tried to do as much as we could with very little. We spent years working on decrepit buildings, some of them listed, bringing them back to life. And yet, the thing we're best known for is high-rise towers."

That said, Haugh was quick to acknowledge the significance of SimpsonHaugh's most dominant contribution to the Manchester skyline, the Beetham Tower, which she described as "a symbol of aspiration for the city and its future."

Industry role models

One Spinningfields cropAs one of the few senior female figures in architecture, Haugh admitted that she felt a level of responsibility to be a role model for aspiring architects, and said: "I have a strong awareness of the issues facing female architects; there is a real fall-off in the female contribution the more senior you get in the industry. It is important to deal with that discrepancy, and take responsibility for it to a certain extent, as the built environment is something we are all a part of.

"In reflecting both Ian and my contributions, the name sets us both up as equal role models."

The change in name, brand and ownership does not represent a change in approach for the practice, and according to Haugh, "the old vision is still valid".

"We want to achieve the very best we can and make a difference wherever we are working. I think we've managed that so far, which is really important. I greatly admire anyone who manages to achieve anything in architecture, because it's such hard work.

"You should never accept a pre-conceived approach. We have a responsibility as architects to drive cities and places forward."

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