All-female Liverpool architecture firm wins national recognition for its pioneering ‘holistic’ approach

Harrison Stringfellow Architects was founded by friends Sarah Harrison and Su Stringfellow and is one of just nine UK firms to won a place on RIBA’s ‘Practice Role Models’ list. Tony McDonough reports

From left, the Harrison Stringfellow team, Sarah Harrison, Su Stringfellow, Alex Williams and Abby Bird

 

Given the rather brutish and functional designs conceived for a number of new city centre developments, architects don’t have the best reputation in Liverpool right now.

However, one all-female practice located in the world-famous Penny Lane are placing both aesthetics and social purpose at the heart of their work.

Role models

Harrison Stringfellow Architects (HSA) was founded by friends Sarah Harrison and Su Stringfellow and they have added architect Alex Williams and architectural assistant Abby Bird to their team.

And their progressive approach has led to them being the only North West practice to be selected by the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) as ‘Practice Role Models’.

There were just nine firms across the UK considered to be best at meeting some or all of RIBA’s role model attributes.

Among the characteristics that won HSA this accolade was its sense of social purpose, pioneering attitude, strong leadership and people development.

Holistic approach

Both Sarah and Su are “thrilled” to have made the list and Sarah said: “We take an holistic approach to projects and pride ourselves on being client-focused.

Architecture is not necessarily about piling in lots of money to make a new building – the first step is to support the client in identifying the right thing to do.”

HSA is behind a number of local projects including the design and fit-out of city centre and suburban restaurant chain Maray, and the transformation of an old theatre in Dingle into urban riding school Park Palace Ponies.

Harrison Stringfellow founders Su Stringfellow, left, and Sarah Harrison

 

Talking about Park Palace, Su added: “In a place where the standard approach is ‘demolish, build, new’, we wanted to keep something that the community clearly loved and invite them back in.

“It means that a disused building has been reinvigorated, local people of all ages are getting more active, a national charity is supporting the initiative and there are employment as well as educational opportunities.

“Even the manure is getting used on a local allotment.”

Community focus

Both believe that in Liverpool there is a tradition of a strong focus on community and say their principles apply equally to both community-based schemes and commercial projects.

“It means that we are determined to set up projects that are both self-supporting and meet a real need,” said Sarah.

Su agreed, adding: “Our entrepreneurial instinct allows us to connect together ideas, people and income-generation so that a place can flourish.”

Though Liverpool-based, work takes the HSA team well beyond Merseyside, with the recent workload including projects in Cumbria, Lancashire and Cheshire.

A statement from RIBA says: “Practices are where architecture happens. They determine how the sector is perceived, create culture, define desirable behaviours, shape talent, engage with clients and produce the work.

“It is where the profession comes to life.”

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