Henry Stephenson

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Honorary Fellowship

 

The next recipients of Honorary Fellowship are two key figures in British design and architecture - the husband and wife team, Henry and Lilian Stephenson.

It's easy to overlook the influence of the Stephensons. Henry and Lilian have shunned publicity, but their impact on design and architecture over the last 50 years is far-reaching. "We just wanted to do the very best for our clients" they say "with quality design and value for money, delivered on time and within budget". Their modest description belies their significance, for these projects – from architectural designs and interiors, to books and magazines – stretch across the globe, and stand at the cutting edge of modernism.

When Henry and Lilian met at a party in Mayfair in the Autumn of 1954, each already had an established career. Henry was a successful interior designer and illustrator. Lilian, respected for her architectural work, had specialised in housing, medical buildings and plastics and was working on the steel frame for City Temple in Holborn. That evening, Lilian was surprised to see a tall, dashing man close to where she was sitting and recalls thinking "I'm going to marry him". Later, Henry escorted Lilian home and made arrangements to meet again. The couple married a year later.

In 1957, they combined their inter-disciplinary talents by establishing a practice in Croydon, 'Henry and Lilian Stephenson Architecture and Design Consultants', now HeLaS. "We're a bit like a semi-detached property, the two make a whole. When we combined our careers, we completed the jigsaw" says Lilian.

The partnership flourished and commissions came from all over the world. Besides domestic interiors, high profile clients wanted work on hotels, restaurants, banks and other commercial enterprises. In addition, Henry and Lilian's written observations established them as pioneers in avant garde thinking. The Stephensons' research papers on new technology came thick and fast and their sixties books – including 'Interior Design', 'Exterior Design', 'Eating, Sleeping, Living' and 'Materials' – were often seen as revolutionary. For example, 'Interior Design', published in 1960, introduced the concept of flat-pack furniture, while 1963's 'Exterior Design' argued for past and future designs that were flexible enough to adapt to future social and planning needs.

When the Stephensons introduced the concept of affordable housing that cut out the need for wall to wall carpet and furniture in 1961, it caused a storm among firms who saw their interests being threatened. And if you thought the idea of component housing was new, you'd be wrong. Lilian designed a flat-pack house that could be built in three weeks. Technology caught up with her idea 20 years later in 1981.

Henry and Lilian's commitment to education has seen their ideas passed on to future generations. "We wanted to give our students the best start possible and to encourage them to be courageous, innovative and bold. Education has played the most wonderful part in our lives and allowed us to continue with our ideas and learn from our students." says Lilian.

The Stephensons have lectured at institutions across the UK – including Cambridge, Brighton and London South Bank universities - and they have taught lay people, as well as professionals, through the Council of Industrial Design. Henry also lectured at the prestigious London-based Inchbald School of Design since its beginning and became director of its diploma course.

Henry is illustrator to the Worshipful Company of Constructors and both he and Lilian are liverymen. As Chair of the Council Faculty of Building in the mid-70s, Lilian was closely involved with founding the original company in the City and the Edwin Williams Memorial Award for Environmental Improvements within the London boroughs.

The Stephenson's relationship with London South Bank University stretches back to the 1960s, when both Lilian and Henry lectured at the institution. Lilian took a permanent post in 1971 and taught at South Bank till 1993. "Lilian's dedication to architectural education is unstinting and she has forged strong links between London South Bank and industry. We're enormously grateful for her commitment" says Mary Jane Rooney, Head of the University's Architecture and Design department. The Stephensons continue to be involved in the university and are responsible for the Lilian and Henry Stephenson Prizes, awarded to students of the Faculty of Engineering, Science and the Built Environment.

"Henry's design knowledge has fed my architectural skills and vice-versa. Ours is the chemistry of inspiration" says Lilian.

 
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