Will Alsop

Will (William) Alsop (born 12 December 1947) is a British architect based in London. He is responsible for several distinctive and controversial modernist buildings, most in the United Kingdom. Alsop's buildings are usually distinguished by their vibrant use of bright colour and unusual forms. While Alsop has won praise from some critics and fans of avant-garde architecture, he has also faced criticism from fellow architects and some segments of the general public.


Alsop was born on 12 December 1947 in Northampton, Northamptonshire, England. He always wanted to be an architect, even before he really knew what architects did; when he was six years old, he designed a house for his mother to live in – its most striking specification was that it had to be built in New Zealand. When he was 16 his father, an accountant, died, and being bored with school he left to work for an architect, doing his A-levels at evening classes.

After a foundation course at Northampton Art School, Alsop studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture where at 23 he entered the competition to design the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and came second to the eventual winners, Richard Rogers & Renzo Piano. After graduating he worked briefly for Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, a couple who had been instrumental in introducing modernism to Britain in the 1930s, then joined Cedric Price for four years.

After a short period with Roderick Ham, in 1981 Alsop set up a practice, Alsop, Barnett & Lyall, with his classmate John Lyall in Hammersmith. Jan Störmer later joined the practice and a decade later, in 1991, the practice was renamed Alsop & Störmer after Lyall's departure. Alsop's first real commission was a swimming pool for Sheringham in Norfolk in 1984, followed by a visitor centre for Cardiff Bay. Thereafter he worked on a number of projects in Germany, including the Hamburg Ferry Terminal, before beating Norman Foster in the competition to design the Hôtel du Département des Bouches-du-Rhône (seat of the regional government) in Marseille, France (the building has been nicknamed Le Grand Bleu – "The Big Blue" – and "The Whale" by the locals), in 1994. Alsop and Störmer divided into separate practices in 2000, Alsop forming Alsop Architects.

Alsop admits to never being very good at handling finances, and his practice went through several difficult periods, including the cancellation in June 2004 of plans to build a "Fourth Grace" to be built on Liverpool's Pier Head waterfront – the so-called "Cloud Building" – officially because of rising costs and unrealistic design. In early 2006, Alsop sold his practice to a design conglomerate called the SMC Group for £1.8 million in order to concentrate on architecture. The practice is now known as SMC Alsop. Alsop currently has practices in Beijing, London, Shanghai, Singapore and Toronto, which he visits regularly.

Alsop was a tutor of sculpture at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London for several years, and has held many other academic posts, among others at the Universities of Vienna, London and Hannover, and actively promotes the artistic contribution to built environments. His paintings and sketches have been exhibited alongside his architectural projects in dedicated exhibitions at Sir John Soane's Museum, Milton Keynes Gallery, Cube Gallery in Manchester, and the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, among other venues.

Alsop has been made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and was elected to the Royal Academy on 18 May 2000. On 11 July 2007 he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Civil Law (DCL) by the University of East Anglia.

Architectural style

Alsop regards as his architectural heroes Le Corbusier, Sir John Soane, Mies van der Rohe and John Vanbrugh. His avant-garde, modernist buildings are usually distinguished by their vibrant use of bright colour and unusual forms; they have won praise and criticism in equal measure.

In 2004, Alsop published a book entitled Supercity which elicited much debate. It was the subject of a Channel 4 television documentary and an exhibition at the Urbis museum in Manchester. This book described his vision of a "Supercity" – a futurisitic conurbation – stretching along the M62 corridor from Liverpool to Hull. It included a discussion of how the increasing interconnectivity of the cities along this corridor is changing the concepts of a "city", and how they can be developed to merge the idea of the rural and urban. It also included a number of architectural ideas of possible buildings and communities in this city. Although there was some political support for his ideas, with The Times claiming that former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was a supporter, the Supercity has its critics. It has been claimed that his book and his visions show signs of parochialism, and a misunderstanding of how people travel and self-identify. He is also accused of taking a highly globalist stance and ignoring the needs of those who cannot afford to travel.

Alsop's architectural talents may be the subject of controversy but he has managed to build up an international reputation and a certain degree of fame – he has been called "number three in the hierarchy of British architects after Lords Rogers and Foster". Notwithstanding this, like fellow avantgardist Zaha Hadid, he has actualised relatively few buildings from his designs. Alsop has estimated that only about 10% of his designs have been built. However, this does not worry him because he enjoys designing buildings even when he has no particular commission or competition in mind. "It's like tennis – you have to keep doing it all the time, whether you have a client or not. I believe that absolutely. You can speculate in your sketchbook – you're allowed to think about anything, with or without a client."

In April 2007, The Observer commented that Alsop's approach to architecture could broadly be defined by his statement: "I like people. I hope it shows."

Major architectural projects

Image Information Awards and nominations
Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre
Cardiff, Wales
Date of completion unknown
Hamburg Ferry Terminal
Hamburg, Germany
Date of completion unknown
Hôtel du Département des Bouches-du-Rhône (Le Grand Bleu)
Marseille, Bouches-du-Rhône, France
Completed 1994

'''North Greenwich Tube Station
Greenwich, London, England
Completed 1999

  • Stirling Prize nominee (1999)

Peckham Library
Peckham, London, England
Completed 2000

Muzinq Almere (nox), Doorworld and MediaMarkt
Almere, Flevoland, The Netherlands
Completed 2002
Sharp Centre for Design, Ontario College of Art & Design
Toronto, Canada
Completed 2004

  • RIBA Worldwide Award (2004)
  • City of Toronto Urban Design Award (2006)

Fawood Children's Centre
Harlesden, North London, England
Completed in 2004

  • Stirling Prize nominee (2005)

Ben Pimlott Building, Goldsmiths, University of London
New Cross, London, England
Completed 2005
Blizard Building, Barts and The London, Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry
Whitechapel, London, England
Completed March 2005

  • Civic Trust Award (2006)
  • RIBA Regional Award (London) (2006)

Alsop Toronto Sales Centre
Toronto, Canada
Completed 2006
Palestra, 197
Blackfriars Road, Southwark, London, England
Completed 2006

  • RIBA Regional Award (London) (2007)
  • Private Eye magazine's Worst New Building (2006)

The Public, West Bromwich
West Bromwich, West Midlands, England
Completed 2006
Stratford Docklands Light Railway Station
Stratford, London, England
Commissioned in 2003, completion expected in 2007
Yonkers Power Plant project
Glenwood Waterfront, Yonkers, New York, United States
Completion expected in 2008
Adelphi Street, Salford
Salford, Greater Manchester, England
Completion due 2009
Clarke Quay Redevelopment project
Clarke Quay, Singapore
Estimated completion date unknown
King West Village, Toronto, Canada
Estimated completion date unknown
New Islington
Manchester, England
Estimated completion date unknown
Westside Lofts
Toronto, Canada
Estimated completion date unknown

Personal life

Alsop and his wife live between an Edwardian mansion flat in London and a converted stable block in Norfolk. They have three adult children.

Alsop tries to relax as much as possible on weekends and also takes a month off in the summer to go painting in Majorca with his friend Bruce McLean. Alsop enjoys smoking and drinking. He is, according to an April 2007 article in The Observer, "obviously not a man familiar with gyms".

He has a twin sister who still lives in Northampton.



Further reading



External links


Architectural projects

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