Friday, March 24, 2006

Alsop's fall from grace

News in today's Guardian that architect and urban theorist Will Alsop has had to sell his practice. He blames increasing aversion to risk-taking among the commissioners of new buildings:
"Of all the countries in the world, the UK is the most risk-averse group of people there is. In North America we are doing very well and in the far east we are doing well. I want to work in the UK, it's my home. In London we are not being hired to design the office buildings we should because of a perception we are a risk and might not get planning permission. The Olympics is a good example [of the UK's risk aversion]. We are not putting our name forward because I don't think we are going to get anything there."

Alsop's best known in these parts for his various RDA-commissioned masterplans for urban regeneration - including a watery reinvention of the centre of Bradford, postmodern pods attached to the Piece Hall here in Halifax and, most famously, Barnsley reinvented on the lines of a Tuscan hill village. The general reaction to these was often less than entirely serious, a factor that Nick Johnson of Urban Splash blames for Alsop's fall from grace -
"He was being used by everybody to reinvent themselves and when it doesn't come off he falls victim to the unfair criticism that he can't deliver," said Johnson. "An idea like walling in Barnsley to reinforce its urbanity is a creative piece of thinking. It shouldn't be ridiculed. It's the work of a genius."

I always liked Alsop's ideas better than his actual architecture - even the Barnsley plan. As I wrote in a later piece for Yorkshire Business Insider -
The Tuscan village concept comes only in part from the town's elevated position on the eastern stretches of the Pennines - it's also inspired by the ideal of a compact walled town as the model for a sustainable community. Comedy aside, no one's really expecting a sudden outbreak of ramparts, frescoes and olive groves along Shambles Street.

His idea of a cross-Pennine SuperCity along the M62 belt was inspiring, and already is a reality to the extent that the motorway corridor allows people living along its length to work, shop and play at any other point along the axis (allowing for congestion round Leeds, of course).

It was always a disappointment that his actual architectural work - all too easily caricatured as blobs on stilts, exemplified by his aborted design for Liverpool's fourth grace - was so unlovable and repetitive that it's little wonder that no one wanted to commission him to actually design buildings. Please, Will, stick to the theory.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good riddance to him. Peckham Library is a shambles. Incredibly poor use of space means that the schoolchildren who out to be using it to do their homework, sit on the foor instead. Instead of packing in desks and shelves, he's gone for a thoroughly useless open plan style. Aesthetically it is themeless. Why are the stilts wonkey? Why is it so small? The colour is rather nice, but of little compensation for the citizens of Peckham who are stuck with this silly and utterly inadquate library.

As for his "bold" designs that never get built - is it just possible that the world is growing weary of egocentric architechts who want to build incrongruous and "challenging" landmarks? I hope so.

2:28 pm, April 11, 2006  

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