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How do you address a business that is looking to prepare for a change in succession?

We sat down with Andrew La Touche, Creative Director of Howells architecture firm, to discuss the process of transforming the branding of the iconic Birmingham-based architecture studio from Glenn Howells Architects to a more modern-facing vision.

Out of all the projects Howells has worked on, which one do you feel truly embodies the essence of the firm?

Well, with over 30 years of experience and a diverse portfolio, it’s a struggle to narrow it down to just one, but if I think of a recent one, it would be London City Island and, within it, the Mulryan Dance Centre in East London. The project’s a perfect blend of bold and beautifully crafted architecture with this artery of culture running through it. But even more important than that, it’s a real community.

Can you explain the significance of the Birmingham tour you took with Base Design in the early stages of your collaboration? How did it impact your partnership and the project?

Birmingham is significant in the practice’s story, but perhaps we didn’t realise how much until Dimitri (Jeurissen, Partner & Executive Creative Director), Thomas (Byttebier, Digital Director), and Sarah (Trounce, Strategist) visited. After all, it’s where our headquarters is based, and many of us either grew up or have chosen to make our lives there. It’s a city that, for as long as I can remember, has been transforming, almost like it’s a constant work in progress, and what was great about the tour was that we could show the tangible impact we’re having in the city, as well as its nightlife.

Why did Howells decide to change their name from "Glenn Howells Architects" to simply "Howells"? How did Base Design assist with this decision and what was the reasoning behind choosing this new name?

Well, I think a lot of credit must go to the strategy you pulled together for us. Your suggestion, “think about the name,” and the term, “a small change can have a big impact,” resounded with us from the moment we saw it. Following that, we had a series of meetings where we brainstormed different ideas. The idea to use just “Howells” came from following a tradition of Birmingham manufacturing companies that used the family name, like Cadburys or Brooks. Anyway, we drew up a shortlist and asked for your feedback, and following that, Howells was a reality.

The inclusion of TikTok-inspired videos on your new website is a unique and modern approach for an architecture firm. Was it difficult to persuade the Howells team to participate and what value do you feel these videos bring to the website?

When we first asked, I was surprised by how many people were keen to do it. What was exciting was that even though the production of our initial videos wasn’t great, it was evident that it would work. With anyone we interview, you feel the pride and excitement they have for the projects they work on. Also, once we had a few examples, more and more staff wanted to do it.

The great thing about the videos is that they add a human touch. The personalities we have and the insight they provide softens these, at times, large-scale buildings and places.

How is the new digital communication strategy interesting and of value for this new chapter in Howells’s story?

For a practice that places so much emphasis on storytelling, craft and making in how we communicate our design process to our clients, we struggled to emulate that in our communication. Now, our storytelling, especially within our case studies, feels much more alive and organic, exploring the essence of a project and the process from concept through to completion. But, also, it’s not just projects. Equally important to us is providing insight into studio life and how we collaborate and test to arrive at our solutions. Providing this insight into the studio feels very valuable and is something we’ll be pushing further over the next year.

The new Howells brand identity is cohesive and effectively communicates the firm's vision to the public. How important was it to ensure this message was also understood internally among the team.

Very. Throughout the process, we briefed different groups within the practice on the direction we were heading. And although everyone knew we were working with you, it took at least 18 months to reach a point where we were confident enough to conduct a big reveal to the whole team. I think it was vital, especially with a group of visual people, to show how the identity, brand and digital strategy, and website all tied together in, I suppose, a Howells ecosystem. As soon as we announced it, there was a lot of excitement.

GHA Founder Glenn Howells chats with Base Partner and Co-founder Dimitri Jeurissen during their preliminary meetings in Birmingham.
GHA Founder Glenn Howells chats with Base Partner and Co-founder Dimitri Jeurissen during their preliminary meetings in Birmingham.

Can you share any standout moments or valuable contributions from Base Design during the collaboration? What was the most valuable aspect of working with them?

Throughout the whole process, you challenged us to think differently but also to have confidence in the decisions we made. The biggest compliment I can pay the team is that you have helped us bottle what makes the practice unique. It’s not a wrapper. It goes much deeper than that.

As the rebranding is still fresh news, what are your initial impressions from external sources? How has the reception been so far, and do you have any ROI data to share?

Generally, we’ve had very positive feedback within the industry. Whether it be from clients, collaborators, or even other architecture firms, the overwhelming response is that it’s a bold approach, but it’s one that feels right and captures the essence of the practice.