Stedman Blower is one of the UK's oldest architectural practices, now operating for over 125 years. It may even be one of the one of the world's oldest such businesses, given that the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) was amongst the very earliest constituted professional organisations for architects internationally.
The Practice was founded in 1895 by Arthur Stedman (1868-1958), a son of Farnham in Surrey (UK) and near contemporary of Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944). His career flourished in the country house boom up to the Great War, just as Ned Lutyens's had, before moving onto larger public works in the great expansion of municipal works projects in the interwar period at the end of his career. He had a delicate touch and established the credentials of the company then, as now, in the quality of the buildings and their designs. He completed a number of fine works in West Surrey, including his own offices and the Mackintosh Almshouses in Farnham and some lovely Edwardian country houses.
Arthur Stedman was born in Normandy, Guildford, in 1868, into a family of wheelwrights, apprenticing as an architect in the traditional way with a firm of Farnham builders and attending night classes at Farnham Art School. He finally set up his own office in 1895 at the age of 27 and was elected LRIBA in 1910 and a Fellow (FRIBA) before the War. He was Guildford Diocesan Surveyor from 1925-1950 and taught at Farnham School of Art, now the University for the Creative Arts (UCA). He was also President of the South Eastern Society of Architects and Founding President of Farnham Cricket Club. He died in 1958 at the age of 90.
Leonard Stedman (1900-1980), took over from his father at the end of WW2, having been apprenticed as a pupil in Sir Edwin Lutyens’s offices in London, as a young man. The period of his career matches that of another Farnham born architect, Harold Falkner, now recognized as a significant contributor to the revival of vernacular architecture in England during the period when Modernism held full sway. Leonard’s career was truncated by war and austerity and buffeted by the competing cultures of the modern in architecture and the traditional, which seems to have confused rather than inspired him. He did however run a successful small general practice and completed some interesting buildings.
Leonard was born in 1900 and attended Farnham Grammar School and Cranleigh Boys School, after which he attended the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College, London. He spent his War years in the Royal Artillery, the Pay Corps and Garrison Engineer. He died in 1980 at the age of 80.
Michael Blower MBE (born 1929) ran the practice from 1964 to 1995. Michael came to Stedman & Blower (as AJ & LR Stedman was renamed) to reconnect with traditional architectural forms and urban spaces. The office took on more conservation work and championed the vernacular architecture and heritage of West Surrey. He completed a number of fine restorations and sensitive alterations to historic buildings, receiving a Civic Trust Award and an RICS/Times Newspaper Award, while retaining a compact general architectural practice, with an almost exclusively Surrey-based clientele. He also worked on several projects with renowned architect, Roderick Gradidge (1929-2000).
Born in Brussels, Michael trained at the Architectural Association in the 1950's on a County Scholarship, attending CIAM IX as student representative of the British delegation headed by Maxwell Fry. After military service in the Royal Engineers at Singapore Garrison, he was appointed Project Architect on the British Pavilion at Brussels World Expo 1958. After a period in America, he joined Scott Brownrigg Turner Architects as Associate, before joining Leonard Stedman as Partner in 1964. He was elected as a Fellow of the RIBA and the RSA in his career and for over 50 years he had been active in local politics, serving in various elected civic leadership roles, for which dedication he received his MBE in 2020. In 1995-6 he was Mayor of Waverley Borough.
Robert Blower (born 1960) joined Michael in 1990 as a young trainee architect and was at Stedman Blower for close on 20 years, mostly in Partnership with his younger brother Damien. Although he stepped away from the Practice by 2005 to pursue a wider range of private interests, his experience remained unequalled in terms of the knowledge and traditional craft technologies that he continued to deploy in building and designing some fine projects for the Practice up until around 2012.
Robert originally studied aeronautical engineering as an undergraduate in the mid-1980's, but switched to architecture, graduating from South Bank University, London in 1990. Robert was involved in some key country house projects, working especially closely with Roderick Gradidge. In 1995, they jointly received an RIBA Award for a project of restoration and extension to a house designed by Thackeray Turner.
In 1995, the Practice celebrated its 100th anniversary and started its second century under new leadership, when Damien Blower (born 1968) joined the Partnership after completing his training at the Bartlett School of Architecture at University College London (UCL) and at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) in Los Angeles, USA, funded in part with a Norman (Lord) Foster Scholarship.
Damien had been trained with two globally renowned contemporary architects, in the Los Angeles offices of Wolf Prix's Coop-Himmelb(l)au and Frank Gehry Associates. In that sense, he channels a more contemporary architecture allied with a passion for the historic and the modern as equally valid parts of the long story of the evolution of buildings since the Classical period. His final thesis for his MA at the Institute of Archaeology, Department of Roman Studies was on the 'History and Evolution of the Imperial Roman Palace'. This contrast between a respect for how buildings evolved in our past and a passion for new ways of making building is ultimately the driving force behind what Stedman Blower has become in its 2nd Century. A place where buildings can be rooted in the past but embrace the new.
In 2007, Damien acquired an early 20th C property in the Swiss Alps, at an elevation of 1300m close by Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and overlooking the vineyards above the Rhône Valley, built in the traditional timber style of the mountainous region of the Canton of Vaud in French-speaking Switzerland where the property is situated. In the same year, his professional qualifications in the UK were recognised in Switzerland and he became a member of the SIA, the Swiss Institute of Architects and Engineers. This development of the business into Europe, pursuing the same passion of re-working and refreshing old buildings in contemporary ways, is expected to gather pace in the coming years.
By 2007, Damien had incorporated the Practice and been joined by Laith Anayi, as a senior associate. In 2009 Stephen Donkin joined the Practice and by 2016 both Stephen and Laith had joined Damien as co-Directors, with each sharing a passion for the reuse and adaptation of old buildings and running their own client book.
In 2020, the Practice celebrated its 125th year and 25th year under Damien's leadership. This was also the year that the Practice moved after 125 years in Farnham to a new 500-year old building down the road in the South Downs National Park, that is owned by Damien and has been restored as a new HQ and drawing office. This is the seventh office for the Company since Arthur Stedman built 36 South Street, Farnham in the early 1900's and the first bespoke in 100-odd years.
In this way, Stedman Blower opens a whole new chapter in its long story, as the Company embraces an exciting future towards its 150th year. Laith and Stephen continue to lead the project delivery as Damien concentrates on driving processes, design quality and new opportunities in the UK and Switzerland, well set for the challenges of the digital future, but built on the rock-solid foundations of an analogue past.
In the last 40 years, the Team have received three RIBA Awards, a RICS Conservation Award and numerous local and regional awards for a great number of projects, some for the quality and attention to detail in pure conservation practice, others for innovation and elegance in design execution. Stedman Blower speaks of heritage, evolution and family, channelling these systematically and with tenacity.
Stedman Blower continue to pursue design-led projects with ambition, but always in the service of the values attached to heritage assets and their significance. And in doing this, the 125 years and more since the Practice was founded, is honoured and the work of those who have cared to leave great places to generations who will follow, is celebrated.