11 Jul

Architect Focus: Will Alsop

Earlier this year we sadly said goodbye to one of the UK’s most unique and innovative architects, Will Alsop. So in this Architect Focus we’re taking a look at the colourful stamp he has left behind on the world of architecture.

Feature image: © Ivan Guschin / Strelka Institute (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Throughout his career Will Alsop brought a cartoon-like surrealism into urban, concrete jungles through his eccentric use of shapes and colour in his architecture.

One of Alsop’s trademark concepts was to elevate his buildings on stilt-like supports or ‘legs.’ In an interview with the Guardian, Alsop explains the method in his architectural madness:

“Putting things on legs is expensive, but it makes sense, especially in this country, where buildings can act as umbrellas. At ground level, buildings get in the way of walking, and I like the idea of walking in straight lines. Imagine if everything was raised up on legs, and the ground was always given over to people and gardens. Our cities would be much happier places.”

Here are some examples of his inspirational work:

Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre – Cardiff

Photo © QMUL (cc-by-sa/3.0)

This tube-like structure was made in 1990 from a series of oval steel ribs with a PVC skin for protection against the UK coastal weather and full-length glazing at either end. Although the Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre was originally only intended to last 5 years, it wasn’t dismantled until 2010 and placed into storage. Due to the attention the unusual building drew to the Welsh capital, it was listed by a panel of architectural experts as one of the Top 50 Buildings of the 1990s, having “single-handedly put Cardiff on the architectural map”.

The Blizard Building, the Blizard Institute – London

Photo © Gareth James (cc-by-sa/2.0)

The Blizard Building, completed by AMEC in March 2005, won both the Civic Trust Award 2006 and the RIBA Regional Award (London) in the same year. Named after the founder of the London Hospital Medical College, William Blizard, the building has an exterior of glass cladding and coloured glass windows allowing natural light to pour down into the ground area below. Inside, meeting spaces and educational facilities are contained within three floating ‘pods’ alluding to the cellular and molecular research that takes place within the building.

Peckham Library – London

Photo © Richard Rogerson (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Alsop’s creativity earned him an OBE in 1999 when he and former business partner, Jan Stormer, designed and oversaw the construction of Peckham Library. True to form, the building is an unconventional design, taking the shape of an inverted ‘L’ with coloured glass windows and a pre-patinated copper exterior. The main library sits 12 metres above the ground supported by long steel pillars allowing pedestrians to walk underneath through the open-air plaza. What’s more, the extensive double glazing and natural ventilation means the library is remarkably energy-efficient for a building of its size.

Sharp Centre for Design – Toronto

Photo © Ian Muttoo (cc-by-sa/2.0)

Alsop’s maverick designs also made waves across the pond. His Sharp Centre for Design in Toronto was described by the judges of RIBA’s 2004 Worldwide Award as ‘courageous, bold and just a little insane’. The construction resembles a pixelated box perched upon several coloured crayons making it instantly recognisable as an Alsop creation. The windows and black pixel-like squares appear to be almost scattered onto the exterior cladding, and whilst at first this seems to be one of Will Alsop’s playful attributes, in fact they have been strategically arranged in this way so as to blur the distinction between the two floor plates.

Feature image source: Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design (cc-by-sa/2.0)


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