“I’ve never seen an ugly blob,” Will Alsop once announced at a Royal Academy Forum, and his work explored the latent beauty of unusual forms. Flying in the face of the economy and functionalism which characterized much forward- thinking architecture of the twentieth century, Alsop specialized in buildings whose bright colours and extraordinary shapes drew as much from abstract art as architectural orthodoxy. His architecture was audacious and fun, liberating environments where it appeared from London to China.
Alsop’s radicalism emerged while studying at the Architectural Association, an institution whose basic ethos of challenging orthodoxy was probably at its height during Alsop’s time there in the 1960s. Afterwards he worked briefly for Max Fry and Jane Drew, who remained closely wedded to the modernism they had pioneered in the 1930s, before quickly leaving to work with Cedric Price, whose ideas more closely matched his own. Price whose humour-laced radicalism had much in common with Alsop’s own. After four years with Price, and a short period with Roderick Ham, Alsop set up his own practice, initially in partnership with John Lyall, and then with Jan Störmer, before going it alone with Alsop Architects in 2000. A brief ‘retirement’ in 2009 was soon interrupted when Alsop became a director at the corporate practice RMJM, which he in turn left to set up aLL Design in 2011.
Alsop’s designs have an immediacy and spontaneity which comes from their origins in art practice—for Alsop, painting was an integral part of his working process, through which his ideas find form. Function and construction, while more than afterthoughts, were related to form less rigidly than in modernist practice.
Alsop was elected as an Academician in 2000, the same year he won the Stirling Prize for perhaps his most celebrated building, Peckham Library in south London. His other buildings include his 2004 extension to the Ontario College of Art & Design, but in truth his significance rested as much in his unrealised visions as in his completed projects.
Born: 12 December 1947 in Northampton, England, United Kingdom
Died: 12 May 2018
Elected RA: 18 May 2000
Preferred media: Architecture