William Howland (1943 – 2013)

Award-winning designer of public housing and schools who rejected political compromise to forge a second career as a developer in Ibiza

My friend Will Howland died in October. He was an architect of two careers – first in public service and second as an independent architect/developer. 

The son of a Coventry builder and his wife, he put aside a promising tennis career to qualify as an architect at Birmingham School of Architecture in 1968.

Will joined the Birmingham City Architects’ Department under Bill Read’s leadership in 1971 and his passion and vigour were soon recognised; he was rapidly promoted. His attention to detail was more than a match for the constraints of local authority housing and a string of awards followed. Will was especially proud of Belgrave Middleway Sheltered Housing, which was recognised with his first National RIBA Architecture Award in 1987.

With the collapse of wholesale redevelopment, urban renewal became the order of the day. Will moved into the design of new schools, where he made his most lasting impact on the city. Perhaps the best example is the Nelson Mandela school – awarded the RIBA President’s Building of the year in 1989 – and over his career the department became one of the country’s most awarded public offices.

In 1991 the planning and architecture departments were brought together with Les Sparks as director. He and Will shared the same enthusiasm for urban design, place-making and high quality distinctive architecture. Together they established a new enlightened culture for the organisation and further raised its public reputation. He was also involved in introducing the inter-disciplinary Birmingham City Council Design Review Panel.

Career success brought promotion to head of architecture at Birmingham Design Services, but political compromise was not part of Will’s vocabulary and he resigned in 1997. But he had many other strings to his bow: he won a Churchill Scholarship to travel to America in 1991; and was an external examiner at Birmingham School of Architecture and visiting critic at the ­Sheffield school. He chaired the Turn End Charitable Trust at ­Haddenham, Bucks, an exemplary grade II* listed ­Aldington/Craig housing development of the 1960s. Will was also an RIBA Assessor for a range of design awards, chair of British Steel Awards, and chair of RIBA Housing Design Awards for the London area.

William met Caroline Barnett in 1963 and they had a son and daughter. They separated in 2000. Binky Durran became his partner (and later his wife), and so began the second part of his career. Living and working together in Ibiza, they designed and built their own casa on a steeply sloping site near Sant Antoni. Its success led them to build the larger Codolar house with a local builder/developer, a generous modernist structure with magnificent views overlooking the sea. 

Their own house exemplifies Will’s approach to ­architecture. A simple rectangular two-storey structure, carved into to form a protective colonnade at ground floor level and with a line of bedrooms above. Local materials are used effectively and the whole building is perfectly detailed. Good architecture comes from gifted people, wherever they live and whoever pays them. Will was a big man, literally and metaphorically, but was also caring and competitive, and loved to combine these qualities in games of petanca. A ready wit and enquiring mind led him to tackle the Times crossword daily. 

Will was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. He is survived by Binky, and Caroline and their children, Florence and Matthew.

 


IN MEMORIAM

Enneth Halstead Evans     
Elected 1949, Liverpool
 
Sidney King Quarress     
Elected 1951

Robert Ewing Lowe McCready    
Elected 1953, Greenock, Renfrewshire

Kenneth Scott     
Elected 1953, Scunthorpe, South Humberside

Edgar Charles Jeffery     
Elected 1954, Broadway, Worcestershire

Graham Peter Parkman     
Elected 1955, Southampton

Charles Derek Holmes     
Elected 1959, Hexham

Ronald Geoffrey Shaw     
Elected 1961, York 

David Arthur William Utting    
Elected 1968, Whiststable, Kent

Frederic James Alexander Gilmour    
Elected 1970, Crieff, Perthshire

John Fairhead     
Elected 1974, Maldon, Essex

Peter Dennis Bear     
Elected 1976, London 

Alan Christopher Bennett     
Elected 1987, Brentford, Middlesex

Derek Acton Stow     
Elected 1951, London 

Alfred Rigby
elected 1960, London 
 
James Bryant Ackland     
Elected 1948, Bristol

Rene Eugene William Fer
Elected 1949, Buckinghamshire


To inform the RIBA of the death of a member, please email membership.services@riba.org with details of next of kin