SHP: Strengthening communities

SHP President Lauren Della Bella in Executive America
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With origins dating back over 120 years, SHP is a diverse architecture, design and engineering practice with two offices in Ohio and one in Kentucky, executing projects and sustaining relationships with clients throughout the United States.

Throughout her 34 years with the company, SHP President Lauren Della Bella is a strong, visionary leader who has spearheaded the Community Engagement, Comprehensive Planning, Sustainable Design Advocacy and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design services for which the firm is known. She is also the co-author of 9 Billion Schools – Why the World Needs Personalized Learning for All, inspired by the movement of the same name, with which she holds the title Chief Inspiration Officer. Ms. Della Bella spoke with us recently to discuss SHP’s long history, some of the impressive projects and awards it has to its name, and the focus on building and maintaining relationships that differentiates SHP from its competitors.

Education, workplace and community

“SHP is an architecture, design and engineering firm,” Ms. Della Bella explains, “and we have been in business since 1901. We’re now entering our 121st year in business. The firm originally started as a sole proprietor.”

For around 80-85 years of its life, SHP was operating as a small business, but in recent years it has grown by architectural firm standards and now employs around 110 people, including architects, interior designers, engineers, landscape architects, people who specialize in administering construction, and many different types of support services.

“Our firm largely specializes in public institutional work, but our work really falls into three categories: education, workplace and community – places that people gather, places that people experience.”

It is very unusual for an organization of any type to have been around for as long as SHP, which is one of the oldest architectural firms in the United States. Over its 120+ years, there are several points that stand out as significant in the firm’s growth.

“I think that SHP’s culture and our underpinning as a firm, and also our business model, are really built on creating relationships. We help people solve their problems, we help people maximize their resources, we help people plan for the future, and we build trust. In doing that we’re able to become a partner to the different kind of businesses we work with.”

This philosophy is both external and internal, with the firm’s approach to its staff based upon the same principles of building and maintaining relationships. One of the key reasons for the firm’s success and longevity is the treatment of staff like family.

SHP President Lauren Della Bella in Executive America
SHP celebrated its 120th anniversary in 2021

“Another thing is that every generation of leadership has had the foresight to look forward, and you don’t survive in this industry for 120 years without planning for the future. It’s important to be focused on the day-to-day, and the quality of the work that’s being delivered, but you also have to have an eye on what’s coming.”

The firm has always strived to anticipate the ever-changing needs of the sectors it works within, and to make sure it is well-prepared enough to deliver on those needs, a task that is always approached with creativity and fun.

“There’s a couple of things that we do differently [to other firms],” Ms. Della Bella explains. “One is that we really think differently. We don’t think like a traditional architecture firm, or a traditional engineering firm. We offer a lot of non-traditional services, they’re not things that somebody would think that we’d typically provide.”

The main difference is the offering of upfront services – often before a project has even begun – that address a client’s biggest challenges. As a service-focused firm, many of the solutions SHP provides reach well beyond architecture.

“We do a variety of things that we’re well-known for. We’re very well-known for our use of technology; we’re very well-known for our commitment to sustainability and resilience in the work that we design.”

Unique and varied projects

Over the years the firm has undertaken thousands of projects, of many different sizes. Much of this has been done in education, with projects ranging from very small studies, to $100-200m programs creating entirely new school communities.

“Recently we were awarded a grand prize from Learning By Design for a high school that we did in a small town in Dover, Ohio. It’s a great project on a number of levels. It was a very difficult site to work on during construction, because the existing building had to be maintained and it was very close to the new construction.”

This created the additional pressures of keeping children and staff safe while construction was in progress, while also meeting the important challenge of delivering a unique solution that was so important for the community.

SHP President Lauren Della Bella in Executive America
SHP's project diversity includes Cedar Point's Steel Vengeance roller coaster in Sandusky, Ohio

The firm also undertakes one-off projects. One which people may be familiar with is the Orion giga coaster – a type of roller coaster with a height or drop of at least 300 feet – located at the King’s Island Amusement Park in Mason, Ohio.

“It’s one of just a few giga coasters in the world, so it was really exciting for [our engineers] to get a chance to work on that. They worked on it from the standpoint of hydraulics, and some of the other engineering aspects that would go into designing a rollercoaster.”

SHP also does a wide variety of other work, including libraries, corporate offices and headquarters, and a number of projects around the country for American broadcasting giant Cumulus Radio.

“Interestingly enough, more recently with the rise of the craft beer culture and some of the craft alcohol cultures, we’ve been finding ourselves doing distilleries and beer tasting rooms in restaurants, so there’s just a wide range of different kinds of things that we do where people can work and learn and be entertained.”

SHP President Lauren Della Bella in Executive America
Dover High School features a state-of-the-art performance auditorium

The firm has also received a number of national design awards over the years, both from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the Cincinnati Design Awards, and national awards from its education work.

“The Dover project is a National Education Award, and it’s not an easy award to achieve,” Ms. Della Bella adds. “We were one of two High Schools that were awarded a grand prize nationally, so that was exciting.”

Though it doesn’t actively seek out awards, SHP is always proud to receive them. In addition to the national design awards received over the years, it has been presented awards on a variety of different fronts, from Best Places to Work and Top Workplaces in Cincinnati and Columbus, to awards for marketing strategy and materials, and financial practices.

Industry issues

With two offices in Ohio and one in Kentucky, and projects taking place across a number of other states in the US, SHP is well placed to recognize and adapt to the ever-changing concerns in the construction industry in general, and in the individual sectors within which it works.

SHP President Lauren Della Bella in Executive America
SHP was appointed Tire Discounters multi-million dollar renovation of a six-story historic building in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio

“The things that are concerning us are not a whole lot different than most businesses are grappling with today. Clearly, we’re all still trying to navigate the pandemic, and the impact of that on our businesses and our employees. The lack of available workforce is a huge problem.”

SHP itself has any number of positions it has been trying to fill that it just cannot find people for, with some being more difficult than others, but this being a pervasive issue across the entire firm.

“With our industry in particular, there’s growing construction inflation, clearly the lack of supply that has plagued everything from the grocery stores to the furniture industry is hitting the construction industry as well.”

The struggle with availability of materials is setting project timelines back, and some of the cost inflation makes it difficult to work within budgets established a year or two ago and are no longer close to what they need to be.

SHP President Lauren Della Bella in Executive America
SHP's Winton Woods South School project provides consistent spaces delivering collaboration and shared learning spaces

“I have been with SHP for 34 years,” Ms. Della Bella concludes. “I am really proud of the organization that we are. I think we have amazing talent, just an incredible group of people. This is an organization that has thrived because we really believe strongly in raising people up. The values in this organization are really strong, and they’ve held strong throughout the 120 years of the firm’s history.”

After so many years as a business, achieving localized and national success, SHP continues to strengthen communities by forming and nurturing strong business relationships. Find out more about SHP by visiting www.shp.com.

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