'It's a matter of re-emerging, both physically and intellectually, ' says Keith Williams. 'I wanted a freer mandate to pursue my own ideas'. The practice of Keith Williams Architects (KWA) was launched in January, ending Williams' 13-year partnership with Terry Pawson. 'The time had come for us to go our own ways, ' says Williams. The separation was amicable, but it must have been something of a wrench. The two men met at the Kingston School of Architecture, then came together again in the office of Terry Farrell in the '80s. In 1987 they quit to establish the practice of Pawson Williams.
'Terry and I used to design together a lot, ' says Keith Williams. 'Latterly, we'd stopped doing that.We seemed to be diverging and there didn't any longer seem to be much point in the partnership.'
Most of the staff stayed on with Williams in the office at Floral Street, Covent Garden.
Others moved to Wimbledon, where Terry Pawson has set up his new practice.
Williams has since made associate Richard Brown a co-director of KWA.
Prominently displayed on the walls at Floral Street are drawings produced for the recent Turin Cultural Centre competition.
In the event, Mario Bellini was the winner, but Williams was pleased to find KWA the only British practice to be shortlisted. 'Some big names didn't make it onto the shortlist, which was flattering, ' he says.
Williams believes firmly in the competition process. 'We don't generally do open competitions, ' he says. 'I feel that we're well known enough now to feature in many invited ones, where you can at least start to cover your costs.' Currently, the office is working on competitions in Germany, Italy and New York.
Although Williams believes 'Terry and I didn't build enough', Pawson Williams established a good record in cultural projects, with the major extension to the Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the Science Museum Earth Galleries particular successes. It was shortlisted for the Gateshead music centre, won by Foster and Partners. Civic and cultural projects feature strongly on the agenda for the new practice.
One of two London projects being progressed by the office - the other is a private house - is the New Unicorn, a children's theatre that is developing a new base at Tooley Street, Southwark, on the edge of Foster and Partners' London Bridge City II office development.Williams secured the job in competition 18 months ago.
The new theatre will mediate between the large-scale Foster office blocks and the more modest, 19th century scale of the street.
KWA has a clear vision of the building set in a public space, with views through the office development to the river and the Tower of London on the north bank.
The other major scheme on the boards at KWA at the moment is the civic centre designed for the Irish town of Athlone - another competition win. A start on site is planned for next year. The site is at the heart of Athlone, next to the town's oldest church.
To progress the development, the Irish National Building Agency provided for an element of commercial development on the currently run-down site. A new public square, framing the church, will form the heart of the scheme, and is seen as a key move in the rise of Athlone as a minimetropolis for central Ireland.
'Working only in your own back yard can lead to stasis, ' says Williams. 'You have to look further afield.'
Williams is pleased with the jobs he has. 'I never had a clear vision of what I'd achieve by this stage when we set out on our own in the '80s, ' he says.
But he is determined not to stand still.
'You can get stuck in one sector, doing the same sort of jobs because you've done them before - it's design quality that counts, not technical know-how, ' he adds.
Williams would like to do commercial schemes. 'Look at Will Alsop, ' he says. 'He has become a credible commercial architect without compromising his ideals.'
However, Williams admits that he prefers to work for end-users - 'one learns so much from the process of discussion and briefing'.
Williams has no fixed view on the future growth of his practice (currently numbering 10 people). 'I want the office to be big enough to do the jobs we want to do, 'he says.
'We've managed to compete successfully with some famous names - I think we hit above our weight, so to speak.'
Having a large office can be problematic - getting in the jobs to support the staff can be a matter of 'feeding the machine'.Having established his independence, Williams is keen to keep control of his own destiny, even if this means turning down jobs that do not fit easily into the portfolio. 'But it's always nice to be asked, ' he says. 'Relatively small practices are well aware of the tremendous power of the big boys.'
Williams' aim is 'to get a series of good buildings under way over the next few years' - like a lot of architects in their 40s, he is feeling the need to make his mark in terms not only of shortlists and the media but also of built projects.
The tradition of the practice is essentially 'pragmatic Modern'. Pawson Williams was unusual among the many new doubleheaded practices of the '80s (Lifschutz Davidson, Troughton McAslan, Marks Barfield and so on) in not being a product of the Foster/Rogers axis and not drawing on High-Tech imagery in its early solo work.
Williams has pursued his own course from the start and seems to have a clear view of where he wants to go.