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Remembering ‘maverick’ British architect Will Alsop

Alsop was known for his colorful and playful buildings

Rectangular building with large overhang supported by thin pillars with a plaza below and an orange form protruding from the top.
The Peckham Library in southeast London.
UIG via Getty Images

British architect, Stirling Prize winner, and professor of architecture Will Alsop died unexpectedly on May 12 at the age of 70. Alsop was known as a bon vivant and a maverick, designing colorful and expressive modernist buildings that took playfulness to another level. He was also an avid painter.

Although most of his work is found in England and Europe, Alsop had a special relationship to Toronto, where his Cubist-inspired Sharp Centre for Design at the Ontario College of Art and Design with a checkerboard design literally towers above the street on multi-colored stilts.

Alsop’s most famous work, the Peckham Library in southeast London, also perches on thin steel pillars, its program shaped like an inverted L, creating a public plaza below and placing the reading room above and away from street-level. Pre-patinated copper clads the front elevation, while a wall of colored glazing makes up the rear facade. The library won the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2000.

Other notable designs include a proposal for the Centre Pompidou in Paris that was the runner-up to the Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s winning design; the Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre, aka the Tube, in Cardiff Bay, Wales; and the North Greenwich Tube Station in London.

Below are tributes to the architect from around the web.

View of the underside of a checkerboard-patterned building with stilts in different colors supporting it.
The underside of the Sharp Centre for Design at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto.
Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images

Will has inspired generations and impacted many lives through his work. It is a comfort to know that due to the nature of Will’s work and character, he will continue to inspire and bring great joy. He had an exceptional ability to recognize particular strengths in individuals which he would draw out and nurture. His design ethos, essentially to ‘make life better’, is evident in the architecture of his buildings and their surrounding communities. Marcos Rosello, Co-Founder, aLL Design

Will Alsop is a sad loss. He was a free spirit with a creative genius of colorful independence. And his work had an underlying theme of great generosity—to liberate as much as the ground plane as possible for human occupation. Ben Derbyshire, RIBA president

The North Greenwich Tube Station in London.
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Alsop was a charismatic provocateur, an agitator who enjoyed upturning the status quo in his interactions and his architecture ... Alsop was only interested in boundaries in order to erode them, creating a space (physically and metaphorically) where art, architecture and life would coexist. —Kate Goodwin, head of architecture and Drue Heinz curator, Royal Academy of Arts

Mr. Alsop, who graduated from the Architectural Association in 1973, had a more meandering career, but he would find success through designs that were often crazy and occasionally crazy-brilliant. His blobby forms, primary-school colors and blunt metaphors were mixed with a desire, personal and professional, to bring people together. —Alex Bozikovic, The Globe and Mail

But as avant-garde and startling as his architecture may be, he also wanted it to be fun. Whether designing libraries, schools, apartment buildings or ferry terminals, Alsop never failed to bring a smile to the viewer’s face. Though often dismissed as lacking seriousness, especially by other architects, he took the view that all aspects of life should be informed by the pleasure principle. —Christopher Hume, Toronto Star

Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre in Wales
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