‘Getting the gig is the most important thing’ – Inspiring woman Rachel Haugh delivers keynote address

Tuesday 12 July 2016

Rachel Haugh took an audience on a whistle-stop tour of the highs and lows of more than 30 years in practice as she gave the second ‘Inspiring Women’ talk at the NLA last night.

Haugh, who with Ian Simpson formed Ian Simpson Associates in 1987 (‘my surname has always been a problem’) after training at Bath University, described how her firm set up in Manchester and went on to open a further office in Clerkenwell, as well as a competitions studio. Despite having ‘a shared ambition to create great architecture with people who shared that vision’ they had encountered a rocky road along the way in the shape of recessions and the resultant painful but decisive task of having to make 50 per cent of its staff redundant at one stage just to survive.

Haugh described how the firm rode its difficult times – even having to deal with a security guard who ran up a phone bill of £15,000 on chatlines – and celebrated its first big project cheque on ‘a ski holiday and associated ski suits’. But its big breaks came via recommendations from friends and a new build house from one of Simpson’s university friends, then the creation of its own space which it shared with a landscape architect, a planner and graphic designer ‘It was about making things happen, when very little was’, she said, although the regeneration of Manchester, post-IRA bomb, would really put the practice on the map, with URBIS and Number 1 Deansgate following quickly after. ‘It was and is a fantastic time to be an architect in Manchester, a city where the individual can make a tangible difference.’ More generally, however, there was more advice on making that step up: ‘Getting the gig is the most important thing’, she said. ‘Everything else follows’.

Today the firm – now called SimpsonHaugh and Partners and with more equity partners sharing the load and 120 staff, is behind major schemes such as One Blackfriars, Dollar Bay and first phase work at Battersea Power Station. The future is exciting, despite the ‘nightmare’ of Brexit, said Haugh, but the firm is only as good as its last project, they feel they are still only just at the beginning, and they harbour a responsibility to help create a more diverse and inclusive profession, with more women coming through. But Haugh had one main message for her audience. ‘If you have a passion for what you do and believe in yourself, together with ambition, then really anything’s possible.’

David Taylor,  Editor, New London Quarterly

More about our inspiring women series Toggle

NLA is committed to raising the profile of women across the built environment industry and engaging women across all aspects of our programme.

From 2016, a new series of ‘Inspiring Women’ networking and mentoring events will profile leading women working in the industry and provide a new cross-disciplinary network for the built environment.

Throughout our yearly programme we will be seeking a wider variety of speakers from our Partner members and beyond, who represent the breadth of the industry and provide inspiration to younger professionals starting out in their careers.

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