British Architect Will Alsop to Speak at UB October 20

Audacious designs by "Mr. Blobby" are colorful, weird, controversial, popular

Release Date: September 29, 2004 This content is archived.


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Will Alsop, whose conception for the "Fourth Grace" on the Liverpool waterfront features 15 floors of apartments above three storeys of workspace, will speak at UB on Oct. 20.

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Because of his avant-garde and strikingly odd-looking buildings, Will Alsop is something of a maverick on the British architectural scene.

He was once dubbed "architecture's Mr. Blobby" by the press because his buildings feature eclectic, ad-hoc designs that result in a riot of bright colors, blobby pods and spindly supports. Not only do these structures bear no resemblance to their environments, they often don't look like buildings at all.

Alsop will present a slide lecture of his work at the University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 20 in Crosby Hall on the UB South (Main Street) Campus. The talk and reception to follow will be open to the public and free of charge. The event will be one of more than 50 inaugural events being held during October in conjunction with the investiture of John B. Simpson as UB's 14th president.

Alsop is one of a group of British architects who studied in the Pop Art era and were encouraged to look beyond existing buildings for their inspiration. He says he has derived inspiration for his designs from pop music, science-fiction films and even comic books, and anyone who sees them would not disagree.

His greeny-hued design for London's $8 million Peckham Library and Media Centre, for instance, is notable in part for the giant red tongue on its roof. Whereas many architects attempt to blend their designs into their buildings' neighborhood environs, the nifty, jollied-up Centre sits in a run-down corner of London, where it is the height of incongruity. Dotty or not, it won him Britain's 2000 Stirling Prize in architecture.

His winning, but controversial, design for the "Fourth Grace," an 18-story residential building on Liverpool's waterfront has been called "stunning" and "ugly." The other "Three Graces" -- the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building -- have overlooked the Mersey River for more than a century, symbolizing the city's international reputation and commercial success.

Alsop's "Fourth Grace" is a massive, irregular melon-shaped structure whose edifice is a continuous garden of light, flowing wavelike along the entire length of the waterfront site.

He designed the $43 million expansion of the Ontario College of Art & Design in Toronto, and its form, like most of Alsop's other work, contradicts the traditional seriousness of modernist buildings. For this reason, Alsop is considered by many an "anti-modernist" who eschews the idea that form follows function. He maintains, however, that he has been greatly influenced by the social zeal of modernism, and simply interprets its precepts differently, and more fancifully, than others.

Unlike most architects, Alsop puts his ideas into a painting first, working from the outside in, rather than the other way around, then determines if his painted structure could actually be built. He consults the local community about his proposed buildings before construction begins -- "a democratic approach," wrote one critic, "at odds with the 'vanguard' image modernists often ascribe to their social role."

Despite his British citizenship, until now, nearly all Alsop's big commissions have been in mainland Europe. He designed government offices for Marseilles, for instance, which are painted a garish blue and attract one million visitors a year, despite the fact that they are the French equivalent of a county hall.

Today Alsop says he is anxious to work with public-sector clients where possible, given that architecture shapes the quality of lives that people lead. His arresting design for London's Blackfriar's Railroad Station spans the Thames River and his audacious design proposal for an office building that would rise above the Old Spitalfields Market in the heart of one of London's most creative and fashionable quarters is nothing short of astonishing, and pose a creative challenge to other architects designing for the site.

Some work has been rejected -- most recently, his firm's proposal for the New Street Station in Birmingham, England, that apparently resembled a large purple donut. More of his firm's playful and arresting designs for projects of many sizes and purposes can be found at

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