About Will AlsopVisit Website
In 1990 a maverick forty-two-year-old with only small buildings and unbuilt projects to his name beat all-conquering Norman Foster in the competition for a local government building in Marseilles. The massive redesigns that ensued, to meet budget and political deadlines, were followed closely in the UK as the young office boomed, tottered and regained its footing, taking the world stage with the triumphant opening of the abrasively romantic building – the ‘Big Blue’.
Born in 1947, Will Alsop remains more of a maverick than his world-wide success might suggest. He studied at London’s St Martin’s School of Art and the Architectural Association, and was taught by Archigram and Cedric Price, famous for their radical, experimental thought, tough structures and anti-aestheticism. Through and beyond early partnership with John Lyall, Alsop became famous for his paintings – huge, colourful, abstract interpretations of his projects, made spontaneously and worked up later.
His articulated, transformer-like structures – later known as ‘blobs on legs’ – emerged from more revolutionary work: his 1989 proposal for heavy-mechanical opening flower structures on the Garonne River in France (unbuilt) or his Berlin City of Objects (also unbuilt) (1992). ‘No Style No Beauty’ was an early slogan. A visitors’ centre at Cardiff of 1990 (a plywood tube wrapped in polythene) and a lifting bridge and control building at London’s Canary Wharf (1991) showed how these ideas would transform into buildings.
Despite its many redesigns, the Marseilles building is a powerful manifestation of the original idea: the early eco-principles of the atrium and blocks; the articulation of the ‘Déliberatif (as Alsop calls the council chamber) and the ‘fish’ in the foyer; the structural toughness of the X-grid legs. Its transformer-aged Modernism somehow echoes Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation in the same town. And the beautiful, Yves Klein ultramarine ties it into the dazzling craggy industrial land and seascape of Marseilles.
Alsop’s verdigris Peckham Library in London (2000) scooped the UK’s Stirling Prize in 2000 against the stiffest competition of any year (Norman Foster’s Canary Wharf Station; Caruso St John’s exquisite Walsall Gallery). His deep-blue-tiled North Greenwich Underground Station (1999) was the most delicious of all the Jubilee Line stations with which London overhauled its transport image. Major international projects continue to grow.
Alsop’s image as a great artist-architect remains greater outside his native territory. He is part of a European world in which culture and power are not antithetical. At home, he has maybe built too much, with too much concern for sheer shape-making, to be seen as a true apostle of Archigram or Price. But if the UK views his relaxed painting technique with wry amuse¬ment, he retains the respect of the art world: he is a Royal Academician, working annually with Bruce McLean, and won the competition for a new arts complex at London’s influential Goldsmiths College. His conceptual-Expressionist paintings and sketchbooks are increasingly impressive in their own terms and fetch respectable prices. Outside the UK he is a vindication of Englishness, with his clever, lyrical, tough, wry, big projects.