At Glenn Howells Architects we have five guiding design principles. These principles are not prescribed for every stage of our design process. Rather, they provide guidance on how we can arrive at the point where we have a robust concept that we can collaborate on with others.
We define these principles as CLEAN: Crafted – Lean – Elegant – Appropriate – Narrative. Although we always start with the last one first.
N IS FOR NARRATIVE
The narrative or story is perhaps most important starting point for any project. This is not an image of the outside of a building or place, it can be a diagram or sentence, a cartoon, a model that encapsulates the programme / activity / idea that all other parts of the project can attach to. Unless we have a clear narrative that can be communicated in a simple doodle, model or a few words, we haven’t got a design that can be developed.
A IS FOR APPROPRIATE
Every project needs to be specific and respond positively to what is important for the location, culture, economy, climate and most importantly the individuals who will live, work and enjoy the building or place.
L IS FOR LEAN
Nature designs structures and organisms to use the least material possible, in other words lean structures. We also strive to make lean buildings, this is because they use less material, are cheaper to build and ultimately consume less energy and are better for the planet.
C IS FOR CRAFTED
We believe the best design solutions come from understanding the way materials are formed and how the construction processes that assemble them into buildings. Early consideration of materials and collaboration with manufacturers can provide crafted, high-quality buildings on limited budgets.
E IS FOR ELEGANT
We work very hard to make our buildings look elegant and effortless but also to have integrity and to be the product of an intelligent process. We also believe that quality is important at all scales, from the overall composition of a masterplan, down to the smallest detail on a building.
We begin each project from first principles, looking to establish what is most important for the client, the place and the people who will be affected by it.
Testing a range of possible solutions from the outset underpins our approach. This exploration extends to the organisation of the building through to the materials and components that the building is made from and how each project will behave in use.
The practice has devised a weekly design review that looks at all aspects, large and small, of each project and uses this critique to refine a design. We can be working, at the same time, on an entire building at 1:500 scale and a corner of it at 1:1 to make sure it is working on every level.
We use a wide range of tools to test and develop ideas including an array of computer software, physical models and full-size prototypes. Our in-house modelling workshop, with its 3D printing facility, allows us to quickly produce physical working models from concept stage onwards. We also place great importance on hand drawing which we find is still the most important and versatile tool in generating ideas.
And while we are thinking about the aesthetics and space-planning of a project, our specialists are option-testing the best structural and servicing and landscape solutions.
Because all aspects of a project are being considered together, the architecture that results is not only of a higher quality but can be delivered efficiently and at a lower cost.
Not all our work is about designing buildings; our clients value us for our strategic thinking. For example, we often work with ambitious developers who are creating new communities rather than individual buildings. We work alongside these organisations to create a vision for what these places might be as well as providing the masterplan to build them.
Based on our extensive experience of making places and buildings, we can also offer guidance, on whether a development idea works. This has led to enduring relationships with clients such as universities and hospitals who have particularly complex estates to shape.
Under our own steam, we have developed proposals for cities that have been adopted by councils, notably our close working relationship with Birmingham City Council and with the London Boroughs of Newham and Southwark.
Our work on infrastructure planning and connectivity has led to commissions related to the HS2 rail connection from London to Birmingham and, also at a national level, with the Ministry of Justice on a strategy for court buildings across the country.