Born: 12 December 1947
Elected: 18 May 2000
‘I’ve never seen an ugly blob,’ Will Alsop once announced at a Royal Academy Forum, and his work explores the latent beauty of unusual forms. Inventing new shapes has been an important part of the architectural Avant Garde for at least 200 years, but their designers have almost always justified them in terms of structural or functional efficiency. His approach to design being closer to fine art practice than architectural orthodoxy, Alsop turns these conventions on their head. Imagination, manifested in architecture, has the potential to liberate society from the boredom which he believes most buildings so perfectly embody.
Alsop’s education and early experience gives some clue to his radical approach. He studied at the Architectural Association, an institution whose basic ethos of challenging orthodoxy was probably at its height during Alsop’s time there at the end of the 1960s. Afterwards he worked briefly for Max Fry and Jane Drew, a couple who had been instrumental in introducing modernism to Britain in the 1930s, but thereafter jealously guarded its conventions. He quickly left to join Cedric Price, whose whole career was an onslaught against those conventions, as he sought to match contemporary technology with providing opportunities for fulfilment.
After four years with Price, and a short period with Roderick Ham, Alsop set up his own practice, initially in partnership with John Lyall, later with Jan Störmer, but since 2000 as Alsop Architects. With their unusual forms and colours, his designs have an immediacy and spontaneity which comes from their origins in art practice. For Alsop painting is an integral part of designing, helping to discover and explore the ideas which become forms. Function and construction may not exactly be afterthoughts, but their relationship to form is mediated through two processes which were not part of modernist practice. Recent advances in digital technology have helped to make it possible to build shapes which could not have been constructed with traditional means, a capability which has allowed architecture to transcend its traditional relationship with construction.