“Binning the name didn’t make sense.”
18 July, 2018
“I hadn’t expected to have such mixed emotions but the fact is next week Duggan Morris will cease to exist,” says Joe Morris about the practice he and his ex-partner Mary Duggan set up 14 years ago.
That was last week.Today sees the 50-strong practice rebranded as Morris + Company, alongside a new website and a new approach to how it communicates their ethos to the outside world.
As names go, Morris + Company doesn’t leap off the page. Other more fanciful names were considered – Peloton was a favourite for a while before it was “cast out along with a whole bunch of things” – but he was finally persuaded that “binning the name made no sense”.
“Miranda (Miranda MacLaren, an associate director who is credited with coming up with the name Morris +Company) said ‘if Duggan has caché, so has Morris’, so it would be wrong to discard it”.
New names are sensitive territory for established practices as they are for any business. However much it tries, RSHP remains ‘Rogers’ before Graham Stirk and Ivan Harbour joined forces with one of the original founders, and few people have heard of All Design, the practice established by the late Will Alsop. To clients and to those that knew him, the practice name was irrelevant; the only person that mattered was Alsop.
Morris is acutely aware of this. “One of the risks is that we lose our identity,” he says about the rebrand by Bob Design whose clients include AHMM, Haptic Architects and Coffey Architects.
Duggan Morris was one of the hottest young practices and professionally at least a brilliant partnership of the extrovert and media friendly Morris and Duggan, praised as a brilliant designer but rarely in the limelight. Its buildings include R7, a mixed-use building in King’s Cross for Argent, which recently won an RIBA National Award and Alfriston School in Buckinghamshire.
When the two split and Duggan set up Mary Duggan Architects just over a year ago, it left the original practice looking lopsided without one of the two original founders.
“We wanted to give Mary the breathing space to establish Mary Duggan Architects and she’s emerged as a strong critical voice,” Morris says about his former partner.
At the same time he began to think what a rebrand would feel like to staff, to clients and to other people it wanted to engage with.It also prompted him to look back and see what could have been done better.
“I felt that Duggan Morris hadn’t give sufficient space and credence to the other people in the practice. Although we both espoused how important it is for practices to be passed on and for us to shape the direction of travel, we didn’t allow it to happen. We were like a closed iron fist. We didn’t account for the merits of other people’s efforts.”
But the rebrand is also about using the new website to offer a freer, more open way of telling the stories behind the projects rather than presenting perfect, finished buildings.
“Architects draw a veil over their work but we want to show whose involved and what we’re doing,” Morris says.
Projects will have their own behind-the-scenes “life story” that visitors to the website can piece together once the building has been handed over by encouraging users to add their own comments about living or working in a Morris +Company building.
This approach is also risky. Few people are interested in post-occupancy reviews and what goes on behind the scenes even on social networks like Instagram, and after the first wave of enthusiasm, staff blog posts on site visits and planning hurdles often fall away.
Yet Morris is right that the views of ‘the end user’ or customer has generally been ignored by the profession, which has been slow to recognise the increasing importance that two-way feedback can have on business.
At a recent London Festival of Architecture event on practice names, Argent director Nick Searl said names don’t matter – except to architects. Morris disagrees. “The name is important to people in the organisation. Our name change is hugely significant and it’s emotional for all of us. People here look lifted.”