As the Bomber Command Memorial Spire, the pinnacle of Lincoln-based Place Architecture’s mark on the city landscape, rose over Canwick Hill, company founder Stephen Palmer claimed a proud moment in his career; not only was 2015 a year for memorable creative achievements, but it was also the start of a cross-boundary expansion which may end up doubling the size of his business.
From the firm’s current Westgate base, in a redesigned former toy museum, Place Architecture has signed off an impressive portfolio of projects including local schools, adult care facilities and space-savvy, urban regeneration schemes. Now, some 30 years on from the company’s first steps, Stephen’s practice has expanded its reach across the border to Yorkshire and the North East, with new doors opening up rapidly.
This feature interview was first published in issue 41 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine, now available to read at www.lincsbusiness.co. Subscribe to the email newsletter to receive the latest edition in your inbox this Friday.
For the accomplished director, the journey from art-crazed schoolboy to sought-after businessman stemmed from early family inspirations. “Dad (Maurice) was an architect too,” he explained. “His business took off in the 50s when everything was being rebuilt after the war. He went around various towns with a number of development companies, and my siblings and I were brought up on the journey. I was born in Hull and my sisters in other areas until my youngest brother was born in Lincoln, by which time my family had settled in a house dad built on Carline Road.
“My dad actually tried to put me off architecture. He said ‘you’ll never make any money doing this,’ and I said ‘I don’t really care!’ It’s never really been about getting rich. Obviously I grew up seeing what dad did in his office and the work really suits my temperament. I like organising things, I like practical stuff and being artistic; and that’s what architecture is all about. I don’t think there is a single job that has got so much breadth of interest.”
Despite admitting to an inner yearning to spend his days on a farm or sailing, 60-year-old Stephen says architecture was a career made for him. From Leicester to London, and back to the city where he grew up, it’s clear that his roots are now firmly set in Place.
To the capital and back
As a determined Lincoln School student, Stephen’s passion for design wasn’t going to be shelved by a limiting curriculum. Going to a grammar school, he explained, there weren’t many opportunities to pursue subjects like art. “Therefore I actually had to go to the art school on Saturday mornings when I was doing my O-levels just to keep it up. In sixth form I thought ‘I’m going to do it anyway’ and I did it in my free period as an extra subject whilst carrying on with the art school at the weekends to learn how to draw.”
Stephen went on to study for his Royal Institute of British Architects part 1 qualification in 1972 at the City of Leicester Polytechnic, before a three-year gap almost saw him plunge into a career in the Merchant Navy. “When I came out in ’75 there was a recession on and there weren’t many jobs around. My dad couldn’t afford to take me on, his practice was very small, so I took some time out.”
The full cover interview with Stephen Palmer is available to read in full here. For the latest dispatch of business news from across Lincolnshire delivered in your inbox every Friday, subscribe to the Lincolnshire Business magazine.