Alsop Messes with Architecture

Event: 2011 Oberfield Lecture: Will Alsop — In Austere Times It’s Time to Dream
Location: Center for Architecture, 11.07.11
Speakers: Will Alsop, OBE — Principal, All Design (Alsop Lawrie, Ltd.) & Officer, Order of the British Empire; Member, Royal Academy, London
Organizers: AIANY Interiors Committee
Sponsors: Gensler


Sharp Center for Design at the Ontario College of Arts and Design.


Will Alsop, OBE, the mind behind iconic buildings including the Peckham Library in London and the Sharp Center for Design at the Ontario College of Arts and Design (OCAD) in Toronto, subscribes to “aesthetic pluralism and populism.” He claims that what most contemporary architects regard as tasteless, he deems indispensable. The gaudy and colorful make his world full of richness and vitality. Alsop asserts that a vibrant built environment with popular appeal can ameliorate lives.

Throughout his lecture Alsop promoted intertwining social and architectural ambitions. Some of his most renowned projects have employed humanist agendas and consensus-building tactics from the outset. While designing the OCAD project, for instance, he and his colleagues solicited feedback from the surrounding community. After learning that residents across the street wanted unobstructed views of the park and other local groups desired unimpeded access to the green space, Alsop designed a hovering structure to satisfy all parties. The fact that the Sharp Center’s major formal move derived from popular consensus, rather than a preconceived vision by the designer, supports his view that the “napkin sketch” by the omniscient architect is an ideological fallacy. According to Alsop, good architecture takes inspiration from its context, its community, and, above all, its ability to inspire delight.

Aesthetic pleasure is clearly a high priority for Alsop, who embraces multiplicity and populism in his design process. Saturated color, odd material juxtaposition, and formal whimsy are integrated into his designs to elicit smiles. Painting, mixed media, and video play a significant role in the exploration and explication of ideas. If this slew of techniques yields the occasional ill-regarded building, so much the better, he said. For Alsop, failures are equally as valid as successes when one is dealing with the joyful, messy business of architecture.