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Toronto Star: Death of Will Alsop, 70
Christopher Hume | May 15, 2018

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Will Alsop, 70: British architect

https://www.thestar.com/opinion/star-columnists/2018/05/14/will-alsop-70-british-architects-flying-tabletop-changed-toronto.html

From Issue No. 269 | May 21, 2018

 

Will Alsop, the bad boy of British architecture, had a special relationship with Toronto.

Will Alsop’s Pioneer Village station brings some enjoyment to the banalities of the daily commute, writes Christopher Hume.
Will Alsop’s Pioneer Village station brings some enjoyment to the banalities of the daily commute, writes Christopher Hume.  (STEVE RUSSELL / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)
 
Will Alsop’s “flying tabletop” raised eyebrows around the world, and also raised Toronto’s international profile, writes Christopher Hume.  (VINCE TALOTTA / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)
Will Alsop wanted his architecture to be fun, writes Christopher Hume.
Will Alsop wanted his architecture to be fun, writes Christopher Hume.  (TANNIS TOOHEY / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)
 
Will Alsop’s Pioneer Village station brings some enjoyment to the banalities of the daily commute, writes Christopher Hume.  (STEVE RUSSELL / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)
Will Alsop’s “flying tabletop” raised eyebrows around the world, and also raised Toronto’s international profile, writes Christopher Hume.
Will Alsop’s “flying tabletop” raised eyebrows around the world, and also raised Toronto’s international profile, writes Christopher Hume.  (VINCE TALOTTA / TORONTO STAR FILE PHOTO)

Will Alsop, the irreverent English architect who brought a serious sense of playfulness to his work, has died.

Though known as the bad boy of British architecture, the 70-year-old architect/artist/teacher had a special relationship with Toronto where his most celebrated contribution was the Sharp Centre for Design at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Better known as the “flying tabletop,” the unique structure, a black-and-white pixelated box held aloft by a series of crayon-like columns, raised eyebrows around the world. It also raised Toronto’s international profile and managed to make a cold city seem cool.

Alsop first came to global attention for the Peckham Library, which opened in London in 2000. Not only did the aggressively whimsical building increase membership threefold, it earned him the U.K.’s most prestigious architectural award, the Stirling Prize. With that in hand, he set out to remake architecture and the planet as a series of a brightly coloured blobs with bean-shaped windows and as often as not, legs.

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. If people aren’t engaged by a building, they tend to ignore or avoid it when possible.

For him, every project was an excuse for play. The Sharp Centre was one of the best examples of Alsop’s conviction that work should be play. Along with Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s Glasgow School of Art, his OCAD addition is the most remarkable and original such institution anywhere. Not only does it inspire students to boldly go where no one has gone, it gives them permission to have fun in the process.

At the same time, Alsop’s building changed this city. That isn’t something that can be said of many structures. As Mirko Zardini, director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, said of the Sharp Centre at an exhibition he curated in 2008, “If a building doesn’t add anything to a city, it doesn’t matter. Architects here in Montreal are obsessed with the objects. Alsop goes beyond these limits.”

As Zardini also pointed out, Alsop “doesn’t need a lot of money to do something. OCAD is a good example; you can do brilliant things with not much money ... I thought it was important to pay homage to Alsop and his building.”

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