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Hamiltons rebrands as BFLS

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After the departures of several senior members of staff, the practice formerly known as Hamiltons has relaunched under the name BFLS. Richard Waite talks to the directors about the firm’s future

The architecture practice known as Hamiltons has officially ceased to exist in name.

After a rollercoaster six months that saw founder Tim Hamilton retire, design guru Robin Partington launch his own firm (AJ 24.09.09) and director Craig Casci start an autonomous masterplanning unit, the decision to rebrand is unsurprising.

The 125-strong, London-based practice will be relaunched at MIPIM this week under a new banner: BFLS.

This slightly uninspiring name is made up of the last initials of the four directors now running the firm – once the fifth largest practice in the country (2008 AJ100 rankings, AJ 15.05.08).

The quartet comprises long-serving managing director David Lawrence and a trio of Foster + Partners alumni – John Silver, Ian Bogle and Jason Flanagan.

Despite its simplicity, the new name only emerged after a ‘long process’ of looking at ‘generic names and acronyms’.

‘You don’t change your name lightly,’ says Silver. ‘We evaluated it very carefully and tested the name discreetly with people inside and outside the office. It came out as a strong solution.’

Retaining the Hamiltons brand was an option, but it was ruled out in favour of a name that more accurately reflected the practice’s new set-up. Silver adds: ‘We wanted to say to people that this is our work. This is the work of these four directors.’

Until last autumn, many would have predicted this group of directors to also include Robin Partington. Tim Hamilton’s decision to retire from the business he founded 43 years ago was expected, yet the departure of Partington – the figurehead of the studio’s reinvention over the last decade – came as something of a shock.

‘In some ways we all recognised he was probably going to do that at some stage, but the timing did take us all by surprise,’ says Silver. ‘Suddenly we realised this is it, this is our moment,
this is when we actually restructure.’ Lawrence says the four directors share a ‘common aim’ for the practice’s development, adding that its ‘strong relationship with clients allowed this change to happen’.

Like any large commercial practice, BFLS has not come out of the recession unscathed. ‘When the banking crisis happened our commercial work fell off a cliff,’ says Silver. ‘Suddenly the market and funding wasn’t there.’

However, the practice’s diverse workload helped prevent potential collapse. ‘As a business we have never borrowed money; we’ve never had that stomach-churning problem of being beholden to a bank,’ says Lawrence. ‘Over the last few years we have been looking at spreading work across sectors and regions, such as cultural schemes like the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, which has been going throughout the recession.’

Lawrence adds: ‘Remarkably enough, high-end, fantastically expensive apartments in central London have also been a pretty solid market.’

Larger projects that came to a halt 18 months ago are now restarting, and though the outfit has not been involved in much government-funded work, it is determinedly hunting for work in the education sector. BFLS also wants to land more jobs overseas and open up more international offices, in addition to its outpost in Prague, but only, say the directors, on the back of projects.

‘The worst of the recession is over – people are a lot more positive,’ says Lawrence. ‘The market is never going to return to the levels of three or four years ago, because that is totally unsustainable, but while it is going to be tough for the next year at least, some stability will come back.’

So what kind of architecture does BFLS want to become known for? Flanagan says: ‘The one thing that unifies our approach on all our projects is the search for clarity. We are very analytical and don’t bring a whole series of preconceived ideas to the table.

‘We get chosen because we bring that freshness and innovation to the process. The overriding unifying feature is the search for the clear, elegant solution,’ he adds.

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