Howell, Killick, Partridge & Amis

As students in the 1940s, Bill Howell, John Killick, John Partridge and Stan Amis were taught by the architectural historian John Summerson, who opened their eyes to Renaissance, Baroque and Georgian architecture. But they liked full-blooded high Victorian buildings the most, their drama and feeling for materials chiming with their own Brutalist aesthetic. The partners took delight in architectural mavericks such as Sir John Soane, William Butterfield, C.R. Mackintosh and Antoni Gaudí.

The four architects first worked together at the LCC where they designed the celebrated Roehampton Lane (Alton West) estate (1955–60). Much influenced by Le Corbusier’s Unités, it has stood the test of time. On the strength of this project, Howell, Killick, Partridge and Amis left the LCC to set up their own practice, attracting attention for their second-placed entry in the Churchill College, Cambridge, competition. There followed a series of educational projects at Oxford, Cambridge and other universities during the 1960s. With these buildings they developed a distinctive style, based on expression of structure and vigorous modelling of surfaces. They pioneered the use of pre-cast concrete, often with exposed aggregate finishes, and exploited the raw texture of timber and other materials. The monumental Hilda Besse Building at St Antony’s College, Oxford, the Acland Burghley School and the Mathematics Research Centre Houses at the University of Warwick, are now listed.

Unlike other architects who embraced brutalism, HKPA had a sensitive understanding of context. In a series of lectures in 1970, Howell explained their theories around ‘vertebrate buildings’ which could be read as a series of structured spaces, and which underpinned the organisation and structural expression of all their work.

After Roehampton, residential buildings were an abiding interest of the firm. The sociological concerns of Jane Jacobs became an important influence. The performing arts were a specialist area—the Young Vic and Regent’s Park Theatres being pioneers of flexible planning and elemental design. In the 1970s and 80s the firm took commissions to build courthouses, prisons and work for the defence sector. The massive Devonport Dockyard complex, housing nuclear submarines, and Belmarsh Prison being among their most notable achievements.
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