Will Alsop, the British architectural provocateur whose use of bright colors and pop-art patterns brought him renown around the world, died in London last week.
Alsop, who was 70, may be best known for his 2004 addition to the Ontario College of Art and Design: a large speckled box lifted several stories above Toronto on spindly purple, blue, and yellow legs. It resembled a child’s model of an insect climbing across a row of red-brick buildings, and it continues to be controversial. The Royal Institute of British Architects, awarding it a prize, described it as “courageous, bold, and just a little insane.” The mayor of Toronto claimed it was responsible for an increase in tourism to the city.
With the German architect Jan Störmer, he designed a library for London’s Peckham neighborhood as a sea-green volume topped by a bright orange tongue. It, too, was raised on posts that looked like drinking straws. Alsop said he liked the idea of buildings standing on legs, like tabletops, which kept pedestrians dry on rainy days and let them walk straight lines – even suggesting that cities would be “happier places” if more buildings were lifted up like his.
Amanda Baillieu, a London architecture critic, called Alsop “a reference point for ambitious thinking.” But his buildings were often too ambitious. He was responsible for a bright-blue government building in Marseilles, nicknamed “the whale,” and a futuristic tube station in London, both completed in the 1990s. But in 2004, a project for Liverpool often described as a glass cloud on stilts was canceled by that city’s government.
And his plan to transform a post-industrial city in northern England into a comic-strip version of a Tuscan hill town was just one of many pie-in-the-sky (or cow-in-the-sky or loofah-in-the-sky) proposals. Alsop said he was eternally optimistic about the future of architecture, a profession that he said dealt in “joy and delight.” But he estimated that only 10 percent of his designs got built.
The Sharp Centre for Design at the Ontario College of Art and Design.
Alsop, who was born in Northampton, in central England, in 1947, studied at the Architectural Association, the London school that helped produce other such renegades as Rem Koolhaas and the late Zaha Hadid. He founded six different firms over 40 years – at his death, he headed aLL Design in London – and taught in a number of architecture schools, most recently in Kent, England, and Vienna. Students remembered him as an enthusiast and a bon vivant. He was also a painter whose works were widely exhibited; he said that painting freed his imagination for architecture.
According to critic Andrew Blum, writing in The New York Times in 2003, Alsop’s intention was “less to push architecture’s theoretical or formal boundaries than to prod the public into a smile.”
At the time of his death, he was working on a park in China with a giant LED screen suspended over a lake. According to Oliver Wainwright, the architecture critic of the Guardian, who interviewed him recently, Alsop explained that the screen would liberate residents from the dimming effects of smog. Said Alsop: “I want them to be able to have blue sky all the time.”