Glenn Howells was recently interviewed by Eleanor Young of the RIBA Journal about the practice’s design ethos. Published in the April edition ‘C is for craft in Glenn Howells’ design policy’ explores how Glenn developed his CLEAN design philosophy.
“A couple of years ago Glenn Howells spotted a gaping hole in the practice. Amid all the policies and procedures a modern architectural firm has to have, there was nothing about design. ‘We have to write policies on everything else, like modern slavery, but the most important thing was not there,’ he says. For someone who built his practice on a belief in design, that gap had to be stopped. ‘I only ever wanted to design buildings that were brilliant and take people to see them,’ he says. Many of the buildings are award winning. Gloucester Services, the Stihl Walkway at Westonbirt Arboretum and the Remembrance Centre at the National Memorial Arboretum all won RIBA National Awards for Glenn Howells Architects, while the Savill Building in Windsor secured it a place on the Stirling shortlist in 2007. (‘Loss leaders,’ Howells confirms.) With offices in London and Birmingham, the 150 person practice has long relied on mid density urban housing and commercial schemes for most of its work, plus an increasing number of masterplans including London City Island in east London – currently being built out – and Birmingham’s Eastside in preparation for HS2. Howells had also been concerned to ensure consistency across the practice, not least for its stable of repeat clients, some of whom have been with the practice for over 20 years.
So he came up with CLEAN: crafted so it works at the smallest scale and the largest; lean in that each component should be working hard in a number of ways; elegant; appropriate and specific to its place; narrative with a story that drives the projects at every scale. Despite the acronym elegance comes last. Only after everything else is in place does this become the goal. ‘If you start with that elegance you short circuit the rest. You are just designing Instagrammable architecture,’ he says. He writes in the office manual: ‘Design is not something you apply, it is revealed.’ Howells laughs that his acronym stands out like a sore thumb in the manual. But it is used throughout in formal and informal design reviews.”
You can read the full article in the April edition of the RIBA Journal or on the RIBA Journal website.