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Will Alsop

Updated Monday 26th November 2001

Can Will Alsopp teach the British to love modernism again?

Will Alsop Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Copyright

Date:
(1947 - )

 

Nationality:
British

Famous Buildings:
Peckham Library, London
Hotel Du Departement Des Bouches-Du-Rhone, Marseilles
Cardiff Bay Visitors' Centre, Cardiff

Mr. Blobby

Will Alsop was born in Northampton in 1947. He studied architecture at the Architectural Association in the 1960s and, with fellow student John Lyall, he established Alsop & Lyall in 1981. Jan Stormer joined later, and upon the departure of Lyall, the practice was renamed Alsop & Stormer in 1991. The firm has offices in London, Rotterdam, Hamburg and Moscow.

Because of his avant-garde and strikingly different buildings, Will Alsop has always been considered something of a maverick in the British architectural scene.

Until recently, nearly all his big commissions were in Europe, with his most famous British effort being the £4.5million Peckham Library and Media Centre, which won the Stirling Prize in 2000. Alsop has always had more success gaining commissions on mainland Europe than in his native (and perhaps more conservative) native land.

Once dubbed "architecture's Mr. Blobby" by the press, Alsop's buildings often don't look like buildings at all- most are a riot of bright colours, blobby pods, spindly supports and look nothing like the surrounding environment. His government offices in Marseilles are painted a garish blue and attract one million visitors a year, despite being intended only as the French equivalent of a county hall.

Peckham Library itself, green-tinged and with what looks like a giant tongue on its roof, sits incongruously in a run-down corner of London.

In this sense, Will Alsop does not appear to be in any way a modernist. The form of the building seems to pay little heed to its function and there is none of the traditional seriousness of British Modernist buildings, (Peckham Library appears to owe very little to another public building, the rigid, austere Secondary School in Hunstanton).

Even Alsop's way of working is unorthodox. He puts his ideas into a painting first, working from the outside in, rather than the other way around, then works out if what is on his canvass can actually be built. He also consults the local community on his designs before construction begins- a democratic approach which is at odds with the 'vanguard' image modernists often ascribe to themselves.

Pop Art

Alsop is part of a group of British architects who studied in the years of Pop Art in the 1960s and were encouraged to look beyond existing buildings for their inspiration. At the Architectural Association, Alsop absorbed ideas from pop music, science fiction films and even comic books for his inspiration.

Looking at the buildings which result from this eclecticism, Alsop's career seems to suggest that Modernism is indeed dead and has been replaced by an ad hoc, post-modern approach to building. The architect himself maintains that he has been greatly influenced by the ideals of modernism and is keen to work with public sector clients where possible, and believes that architecture is still an important factor in shaping the quality of lives which people lead.

Alsop & Stormer is now turning its attention to public housing, where much of the Modern Movement's most controversial work was constructed.

A giant tower-block in Dusseldorf is at the planning stage, and Alsop hopes soon to begin work on renovating the run-down Aylesbury estate in south London. Historians often assert that Modernism is an historical movement, stripped of its social mission and all that remains is a style, a "look".

Will Alsop is one architect whose career suggests that Modernism's social zeal is alive and well, but it now comes packaged in pods, blobs, and bright colours.

The modernist architects

 

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