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Newly Rebranded RSHP Will Continue To Push Boundaries In Sustainability, Flexibility – And Life Sciences

The Leadenhall Building

In July 2022, architectural practice Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners announced its new name: RSHP. Rather than herald a new direction for the firm, which has worked on many iconic buildings in its 45-year history, it is a chance to reaffirm what it stands for.

“This is the next chapter in the firm’s continual evolution,” RSHP Senior Partner John McElgunn said. “We have a group of extremely talented partners, and young talent throughout the firm. It was about looking to the next generation and telling the story of what we have achieved through our unique constitution.”

RSHP was founded in 1977 as the Richard Rogers Partnership, named after its well-known co-founder. In 1990, ownership was transferred to a charitable trust that cemented its focus on sustainability and having a positive social impact. When the firm makes profits, a substantial amount goes to charities that the staff select. 

“The founders established the firm on the idea that architecture cannot be separated from the values of society,” McElgunn said. “Therefore, if you’re going to be successful at architecture you have to try to influence society for the better.”

This ownership and focus on society have also meant the firm considered the environment in its projects long before ESG became prominent, McElgunn said. Take the Lloyd’s building in London, which was completed in 1986, designed by Rogers and his partners. The triple-glazed facade prevents build-up of solar heat gain by extracting waste air through the cavity. Similarly Lloyd's Register, completed in 2000, was the first building in the UK to use active louvers on the facade that rotate to prevent low angle sun coming in.

“This was designed when very few people were considering the environment and solar gain,” McElgunn said. “But sustainability has always been a huge deal for us. We’ve always been pushing the boundaries where we can, working with outstanding engineers. It’s a day one consideration, how to ensure the environmental credentials are in the DNA of a building.”

British Library Extension

RSHP’s current projects continue the firm’s history of creating striking, high-profile buildings. Previous projects include The Leadenhall Building, Heathrow Terminal 5, Madrid Barajas Terminal 4, Palais de Justice de Bordeaux and the extension to the British Museum.

Recently McElgunn has been working on an extension to the British Library, which is currently in planning. When complete, the building will respond to the changing needs of users, providing new learning, exhibition and outdoor spaces and connecting the library more closely with its local community.

The extension will also incorporate lab-enabled commercial space to be leased to those who want to work and collaborate with businesses and communities in the Knowledge Quarter, alongside other world-leading research institutions near the library such as the Francis Crick Institute and the Alan Turing Institute. Buildings for cultural institutions and life sciences are both areas of great interest to RSHP, McElgunn said.

“This project is at the nexus of several projects we’re currently occupied by,” he said. “It carries on our work with outstanding cultural institutions, such as the Centre de Conservation du Louvre in Liévin, northern France, but also brings in our interest in life sciences. We think this sector is about to explode in the UK.”

Other current projects involve adaptive reuse. RSHP is on-site at the Hammersmith & Fulham Civic Campus, which includes the refurbishment and extension of the 1930s town hall. Much of the existing building is being retained and the public space around it improved to provide better connectivity, as well as to celebrate the 1930s architecture.

Another adaptive reuse project is Carlton House Terrace in St James’s, London. The design will transform the 1970s office building, which was extended in a nonsensitive way in the 1990s, McElgunn said.

“Originally, the project was to demolish and start again, but over the years the vision transformed,” he said. “We felt we could achieve what we wanted with the same frame. OK, it’s a bit harder and we’re working with more unknowns, but we realised that many of the benefits of the existing frame could be kept. This is preferable from the point of view of embodied carbon.”

Sustainability is one of the major challenges architects face today. While the practice has always focused on the environmental impact of its projects, RSHP is putting a greater emphasis on ensuring its work stays ahead of environmental trends and laws.

“Before, significant changes in legislation would occur every three or four years, and you could plan for it,” McElgunn said. “Now it's happening every 12 months. And I think that's going to get faster and faster.”

McElgunn is keen for the rest of the built environment sector to place as much consideration on sustainability. While rapidly changing legislation and expectations from occupiers adds pressure, it also presents opportunities.

“The current focus on the environment is a great thing because it will help us make a quantum shift in the way we think about buildings,” he said. “The construction industry is way behind other sectors because people like to do what they have done before. But as an industry that creates more than 35% of the world’s carbon in both construction and operation, we don’t need to be 5% better — we need to be 70% better.”

British Museum World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre

Another key challenge facing architects is the need for flexibility, McElgunn said. While this has always been a necessary consideration, the increasing focus on reusing existing buildings, coupled with the pace of change of businesses today, means that this is a greater consideration.

“All buildings have a function on day one, but we do need to think about what they might be after the first generation,” he said. “You have to build in some contingency, which doesn’t always drive you to the most efficient plan; flexibility often comes at a cost.”

When designing buildings for the life sciences sector, flexibility is extremely important, McElgunn said. The sector has a broad spectrum of needs; some businesses need lab space, while advances in technology mean that many need space for supercomputers to carry out testing instead. Designing for this sector means including the right facilities now, including vents and waste pipes, for example, while considering how the space might evolve rapidly.

This ability to look to the future has been ever-present at RSHP, not least in the practice’s name changes. In 2007, the firm rebranded to become Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners, already with the view that this would change. Rogers was certain that once he retired, he would also retire his name, which was one of the drivers behind the rebrand to RSHP, McElgunn said. The decision to rename to RSHP was taken in 2018 but circumstances delayed the rollout. Rogers passed away in December 2021. 

As RSHP continues to evolve, it is expanding across the globe. This year the practice will establish its first permanent office in the U.S. in New York, joining its offices in Paris, Shanghai and Sydney. With the new name in place, McElgunn said that the team is excited to continue with the task of designing some of the world’s most striking buildings that challenge everyday norms.

This article was produced in collaboration between RSHP and Studio B. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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