• “Getting out of cities on a regular basis is a great way to recharge”

“Getting out of cities on a regular basis is a great way to recharge”

Glenn Howells set up his architectural practice in London in 1990, then moved the main studio to Birmingham in 1992. With 120 people based in Birmingham and London, GHA is working with Ballymore on large scale masterplans for the regeneration of East London’s former Docklands. When did you start working with Ballymore? We were invited to look at the Royal Wharf site just next to Barrier Park, then we found out Ballymore had other land holdings and decided to explore it - we got the master plan going for the whole of Royal Wharf and have been working with them on that for the last six or seven years. That led on to London City Island and then Wardian. What’s distinctive about your practice and the way you work? Our strap line is we want landmark places, not landmark buildings. The diverse quarters of New York, Vienna or Berlin are often much more interesting than big landmarks, which can be a bit dull. That’s one of the things we’re alive to, what makes really interesting, successful places? Why Birmingham? We’ve got a huge studio in Birmingham, with machines and a timber workshop, and we own the building. We wouldn’t have the flexibility to have a playground to do all the model making and experimentation in central London. Which architects have influenced you? Architects with a story or narrative who have spent a lot of time refining their thinking and are beyond style. Mies van der Rohe at one point did completely organic buildings, very different shaped buildings, so none of them are constrained by shape or form. What keeps your thinking fresh? Getting out of cities on a regular basis is a great way to recharge. The things which occur in nature and are not manmade are some of the most astonishing. Tell me about your team? We encourage people not to just read architecture magazines. People who can contribute most to projects have got an understanding of money, science, politics, as well as an aesthetic sensitivity. We encourage a wider view of the world. What other advice do you give your staff? Don’t just talk to architects, or even structural engineers. Be interested in the people who are making stone cladding, or making the steel frames or building parts. The best buildings in the world throughout history have been borne out of an understanding of what it is made of. Can you tell me more about how you work as a studio? One of the most important things we have developed is the design review. There’s no hierarchy about who is allowed to say what, anybody can chip in an idea. It’s an opportunity for young designers to present sketches, ideas and models and actually challenge the older ones. It’s really interesting when they ask why not do it another way? Does GHA have a signature style? I hope not. We’re always testing ourselves, and trying to avoid a default position.


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