Will Alsop

William Allen Alsop, OBE RA (12 December 1947 – 12 May 2018) was a British architect and Professor of Architecture at University for the Creative Arts's Canterbury School of Architecture.

Will Alsop
Will Alsop in his Battersea office aLL Design
William Allen Alsop

(1947-12-12)12 December 1947
Northampton, Northamptonshire, England, UK
Died12 May 2018(2018-05-12) (aged 70)
AwardsStirling Prize (2000); RIBA Worldwide Award (2004); Civic Trust Award (2003, 2006); RIBA Regional Award (London) (2006)
PracticeaLL design
ProjectsYonkers Power Plant project; Clarke Quay Redevelopment project

He was responsible for several distinctive and controversial modernist buildings which are usually distinguished by their use of bright colours and unusual avant-garde forms. In 2000, Alsop won the Stirling Prize, the most prestigious architecture award in the United Kingdom, for the Peckham Library in the south-east of London.


Alsop always wanted to be an architect, even before he really knew what architects did; when he was six years old, he designed a house for his mother to live in – its most striking specification was that it had to be built in New Zealand. When he was 16 his father, an accountant, died, and being bored with school he left to work for an architect, doing his A-levels at evening classes.[1]

He was greatly influenced by his drawing tutor, Henry Bird while at foundation course at Northampton Art School.[2] He recalled how he was taught to draw by him.

He gave me a brick, told me to draw it and promptly left the room. I proceeded to draw it with all its shadows. On his return he went into a rage and chastised me for destroying the vision with shading, shouting: 'What is wrong with a simple line?' He insisted that I redo the drawing with line only so that I could begin to see the brick and its proportions. I drew that brick for two three hour sessions per week, line only, for three months. Eventually, he admitted that I had mastered the brick and I was allowed to progress onto the tin can.[2]

Alsop then studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture where at 23 he entered the competition to design the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and came second to the eventual winners, Richard Rogers & Renzo Piano.[1] He worked briefly for Maxwell Fry and Jane Drew, a couple who had been instrumental in introducing modernism to Britain in the 1930s, then joined Cedric Price for four years.[3]

After a short period with Roderick Ham, in 1981 Alsop set up a practice, Alsop & Lyall, with his classmate John Lyall in Hammersmith. Jan Störmer later joined the practice and a decade later, in 1991, the practice was renamed Alsop & Störmer after Lyall's departure.[3][4][5]

Alsop's first real commission was a swimming pool for Sheringham in Norfolk in 1984, followed by a visitor centre for Cardiff Bay. Thereafter he worked on a number of projects in Germany, including the Hamburg Ferry Terminal, before beating Norman Foster in the competition to design the Hôtel du Département des Bouches-du-Rhône (seat of the regional government) in Marseille, France (the building has been nicknamed Le Grand Bleu – "The Big Blue" – and "The Whale" by the locals), in 1994.[1] Alsop and Störmer divided into separate practices in 2000, with Alsop renaming the practice Alsop Architects.[6]

Alsop admits to never being very good at handling finances, and his practice went through several difficult periods, including the cancellation in June 2004 of plans to build a "Fourth Grace" to be built on Liverpool's Pier Head waterfront [7] – the so-called "Cloud Building" – officially because of rising costs and unrealistic design.[8]

In early 2006, Alsop sold his practice to a design conglomerate called the SMC Group to concentrate on architecture.[9]

After leaving ARCHIAL (formerly Alsop Architects, then SMC Alsop), he joined RMJM's London Headquarters as International Principal on 1 October 2009. The office's name was "Will Alsop at RMJM". Alsop's current practice is called aLL Design and has practices in London and Chongqing.[10] Alsop's London office is located in Battersea.

Alsop was a tutor of sculpture at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London for several years, and has held many other academic posts, among others at the Vienna University of Technology, Universities of London and Hannover, and actively promotes the artistic contribution to built environments.

In 2013, Alsop became Professor of Architecture at the University for the Creative Arts's Canterbury School of Architecture.[11]

Alsop has been made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and was elected to the Royal Academy on 18 May 2000.[3]

Architectural style

Alsop regards as his architectural heroes Le Corbusier, Sir John Soane and Mies van der Rohe. His avant-garde, modernist buildings are usually distinguished by their vibrant use of bright colour and unusual forms. Before Alsop begins to work on a new project, he uses painting to clear his mind, think freely and create an uncontaminated design approach.

"One of the reasons for painting is that you are not really in control of what you are doing - and that interests me a lot. Instead of having a specific starting point, which perhaps, in architectural terms, would lead through to a series of logical thoughts working towards a designed building, you can start anywhere." [12]

For him, the act of painting together with working closely with the client and the local community are necessary ingredients in urban design and architecture.[12]

In 2004, Alsop published a book entitled Supercity which elicited much debate. It was the subject of a Channel 4 television documentary and an exhibition at the Urbis museum in Manchester. This book described his vision of a "Supercity" – a futuristic conurbation – stretching along the M62 corridor from Liverpool to Hull. It included a discussion of how the increasing interconnectivity of the cities along this corridor is changing the concepts of a "city", and how they can be developed to merge the idea of the rural and urban. It also included a number of architectural ideas of possible buildings and communities in this city. Although there was some political support for his ideas, with The Times claiming that former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott was a supporter,[13] the Supercity has its critics.

Alsop featured significantly in Iain Sinclair's book Ghost Milk (2011), especially the chapter "In the belly of the architect". The book is a critique - written using the literary technique of psychogeography - of the capital used to drive through vanity planning projects such as the London Olympics, and Alsop's unbuilt planning projects in the north of England, such as Supercity, are seen as typical of these, where the architect fantasizes about how architectural design solves social and economic problems.[14]

Alsop's architectural talents may be the subject of controversy but he has managed to build up an international reputation and a certain degree of fame – he has been called "number three in the hierarchy of British architects after Lords Rogers and Foster".[1]

Notwithstanding this, like fellow avantgardist Dame Zaha Hadid, he actualised relatively few buildings from his designs. Alsop estimated that only about 10% of his designs have been built. However, this does not worry him because he enjoys designing buildings even when he has no particular commission or competition in mind. "It's like tennis – you have to keep doing it all the time, whether you have a client or not. I believe that absolutely. You can speculate in your sketchbook – you're allowed to think about anything, with or without a client."[1]

In April 2007, The Observer commented that Alsop's approach to architecture could broadly be defined by his statement: "I like people. I hope it shows."[1]

Major architectural projects

ImageInformationAwards and nominations

Cardiff Bay Visitor Centre
Cardiff, Wales
Completed 1991, demolished 2010.

Hamburg Ferry Terminal
Hamburg, Germany
Completed 1993 (with de:Jan Störmer, Hamburg)

Hôtel du Département des Bouches-du-Rhône (Le Grand Bleu)
Marseille, Bouches-du-Rhône, France
Completed 1994

North Greenwich tube station
Greenwich, London, England
Completed 1999

  • Stirling Prize nominee (1999)

Peckham Library
Peckham, London, England
Completed 2000

Muzinq Almere (nox),[15] Doorworld and MediaMarkt
Almere, Netherlands
Completed 2002

Sharp Centre for Design, Ontario College of Art & Design
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Completed 2004

  • RIBA Worldwide Award (2004)[16]
  • City of Toronto Urban Design Award (2006)[17]

Fawood Children's Centre[18][19]
Harlesden, North London, England
Completed in 2004

  • Stirling Prize nominee (2005)

Ben Pimlott Building, Goldsmiths, University of London
New Cross, London, England
Completed 2005

Blizard Building, Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry
Whitechapel, London, England
Completed March 2005

  • Civic Trust Award (2006)
  • RIBA Regional Award (London) (2006)

Alsop Toronto Sales Centre
for Westside Lofts (1151 Queen Street West) Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Completed 2006

Palestra, 197
Blackfriars Road, Southwark, London, England
Completed 2006

Clarke Quay Redevelopment project[20]
Clarke Quay, Singapore
Completed 2006

The Public, West Bromwich
West Bromwich, West Midlands, England
Part completed 2008

  • Private Eye magazine Sir Hugh Casson Award for the Worst New Building (2008)[21]

Stratford Docklands Light Railway Station[22]
Stratford, London, England
Commissioned in 2003, completed in 2007

Yonkers Power Plant project[23]
Glenwood Waterfront, Yonkers, New York, United States
Completion expected in 2008

King West Village, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Estimated completion date unknown

New Islington
Manchester, England
Completed 2009

Westside Gallery Lofts
1151 Queen Street West – 8-storey condo lofts (135 units) Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Completed 2012

Raffles City
Apartment Hotel Beijing, China
Completed 2009

  • 2008 Cityscape Asia Awards, Best Future Mixed-Use Development[10]

Gao Yang
International Cruise Terminal Shanghai, China
Completed 2009/2010

Cultural Centre

Battersea, London
Completed 2009

Academic appointments and honorary positions

Alsop is an ongoing professor of architecture at the Vienna University of Technology and has received many honorary doctorates such as the honorary Doctorate of Civil Law (DCL) by the University of East Anglia[25] and honorary doctorates at Ryerson University and OCAD University.

  • 1997-Ongoing Professor, Technical University of Vienna
  • 1997 Professor, The London Institute
  • 1990 Visiting Professor, University of Hanover
  • 1988 Unit Master, Architectural Association
  • 1986 Visiting Professor, Bremen Academy of Art & Music
  • 1984 Visiting Professor, Royal Melbourne Institute Design
  • 1984 Visiting Professor, New South Wales Institute of Technology
  • 1982 The Davis Professor, Tulane University, New Orleans
  • 1977 Visiting Professor, San Francisco Institute of Art
  • 1977 Visiting Professor, Ball State University, Indiana
  • 1973 Tutor in Sculpture, St Martin's School of Art [26]


Alsop is known to be constantly drawing and painting either for his architectural work or for his own sake.[12] His paintings and sketches have been exhibited alongside his architectural projects in dedicated exhibitions at Sir John Soane's Museum, Milton Keynes Gallery, Cube Gallery in Manchester, and the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, among other venues.[27]

Alsop was a patron of the charity The Nightingale Project, which uses the arts to enhance the environment in hospitals, and has exhibited his paintings in a London hospital under the auspices of this charity.[28] Alsop also conducted a series of workshops with psychiatric patients at London's St Charles, Chelsea and Westminster hospitals, creating large communal artworks.[12] He has been chair of the board of Trustees of The Architecture Foundation.

Major Exhibitions:

  • 2011 - Proper Behaviour in the Park, Royal Academy of Arts, London
  • 2007 - Towards..., Chelsea Space, London
  • 2007 - Future City, The Barbican, London
  • 2007 - Cultural Fog, Olga Korper Gallery, Toronto
  • 2007 - Bathing Beauties, The Hub:National Centre for Craft & Design, Lincolnshire
  • 2007 - Creative Prisons, Touring exhibition
  • 2005 - Supercities, Urbis, Manchester
  • 2005 - Groundswell; MoMA, New York City
  • 2004 - Middlehaven Masterplan, Venice Biennale
  • 2002 - Malagarba Works, Will Alsop & Bruce McLean: Milton Keynes Gallery
  • 2002 - All Barnsley Might Dream, Venice Biennale
  • 2002 - Beauty, Joy & the Real, Sir John Soane Museum, London
  • 2001 - Not Architecture, Aedes East Gallery, Berlin
  • 2000 - Venice Biennale, British Pavilion
  • 2000 - National Institute of Architecture (NAI), Rotterdam
  • 1998 - Alsop Paintings & Architecture, Architekturgalerie, Stuttgart
  • 1997 - River of Dreams, Mayor Gallery, London
  • 1995 - Exhibition of Paintings, The Mayor Gallery, London
  • 1992 - Selected Projects Exhibition, Aedes Gallery, Berlin
  • 1992 - Arc en Rêve, Hôtel du Département, Marseilles, Bordeaux
  • 1987 - Bridge/Beam/Floor/Roof, The Architecture Centre, Bremen
  • 1985 - Paris Biennale Exhibition
  • 1974 - Group Exhibition: Fruit Market, Edinburgh[29]

Personal life

Alsop and his wife lived between an Edwardian mansion flat in London and a converted stable block in Norfolk. They have three adult children.[1]

He had a twin sister[1] who still lives in Northampton.

Alsop would try to relax as much as possible on weekends and also took a month off in the summer to go painting in Majorca with his friend Bruce McLean. Alsop enjoyed smoking and drinking. He was, according to an April 2007 article in The Observer, "obviously not a man familiar with gyms".[1]

Alsop died after a short illness on 12 May 2018 at the age of 70.[30][31]


  1. Barber, Lyn (8 April 2007). "Firm foundations: Will Alsop: The interview". The Observer.
  2. Alsop W. (28 June 2001). Drawing on the experiences of life help create better work. Architects' Journal
  3. "Will Alsop RA". Royal Academy of Arts. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  4. "Will Alsop". Open2.net. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  5. Childs, Peter; Storry, Mike, eds. (2002). "Alsop, Will". Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture. London, UK: Routledge. p. 19.
  6. "ALSOP LIMITED - Overview (free company information from Companies House)". beta.companieshouse.gov.uk. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  7. Since 2001–2002, three historical buildings at the Pier Head in Liverpool have been known as the "Three Graces": they are the Royal Liver Building (1908–11) by Walter Aubrey Thomas, the Cunard Building (1914–16) by Willinck & Thicknesse with Arthur J. Davis, and the Port of Liverpool Building (1903–07) by Briggs & Wolstenholme with Hobbs & Thornely.
  8. See Weaver, Matt (21 November 2003). "Delays dog Mersey's Grace". The Guardian. Ward, David (20 July 2004). "Liverpool scraps plans for Cloud: Spiralling cost and design change end ambitious waterfront project". The Guardian. Carter, Helen (24 July 2004). "Fall from Grace angers architect with waterfront vision". The Guardian.
  9. Glancey, Jonathan (29 October 2004). "Risk-taking architect bailed out after projects founder". The Guardian.
  10. "aLL Design". all-worldwide.com. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
  11. "Will Alsop joins UCA Canterbury School of Architecture". University for the Creative Arts. Retrieved 18 September 2015.
  12. Porter, Tom (2011). Will Alsop - The Noise. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-54961-5.
  13. Leake, Jonathan; Steven Shukor (15 February 2004). "Prescott's northern Supercity could make London shrivel". The Sunday Times.
  14. Iain Sinclair, Ghost Milk - Calling time on the grand project. London, Penguin, 2011; ISBN 978-0-141-03964-0.
  15. "Nox info" (in Dutch). Nox Discotheque. Archived from the original on 15 February 2008. Retrieved 8 February 2008.
  16. Higgins, Charlotte (17 June 2004). "Award for 'high art on grotty street'". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  17. "Will Alsop Unveils Renderings for Waterfront Project in New York". Canadian Architect. 5 April 2007.
  18. "Fawood Children['s] Centre, London, United Kingdom : Alsop Design's Stirling Entry". World Architecture News.com. 14 October 2005. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  19. Glancey, Jonathan (13 December 2004). "Run away to the circus". The Guardian.
  20. "Clarke Quay Redevelopment, Clarke Quay, Singapore: Alsop's Asian success". World Architecture News.com. 10 August 2006. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  21. "Nooks and Corners". Private Eye. Pressdram Ltd. (1226): 12. 26 December 2008.
  22. "DLR Station, Stratford, London, United Kingdom: Work starts on Olympic infrastructure". World Architecture News.com. 7 November 2005. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  23. "Yonkers Regeneration, New York, United States: New plans revealed". World Architecture News.com. 4 April 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  24. Browne, Kelvin (14 October 2006). "Will Alsop's new condominium is distinctly him: Is there danger in designing similar buildings?". National Post. Archived from the original on 11 September 2009. Retrieved 17 April 2007.
  25. "Honorary UEA law degrees awarded". BBC News. 3 May 2007. "UEA Congregation 2007". University of East Anglia. 26 June 2007. Retrieved 23 January 2008.
  26. Alsop & Stoermer: selected and current works. Australia: Images Publishing. 1999. ISBN 1-86470-001-7.
  27. "William Alsop" (PDF). British Council. Retrieved 29 April 2007.
  28. Video on YouTube
  29. "William Alsop". Art & Space Gallery. Archived from the original on 26 June 2014. Retrieved 13 May 2018.
  30. British architect Will Alsop has died aged 70, archpaper.com; accessed 13 May 2018.
  31. Topping, Alexandra (13 May 2018). "British architect Will Alsop dies aged 70 after short illness". the Guardian. Retrieved 4 June 2018.


Further reading



  • Alsop, Will (1984). Architecture Projects Drawings: By the Studio of Will Alsop, Cliff Barnett, John Lyall. London: Architectural Association. ISBN 0-904503-51-8.
  • Powell, Kenneth (2001). Will Alsop: Book 1. London: Laurence King. ISBN 1-85669-238-8.
  • Powell, Kenneth; with additional text by Will Alsop (2002). Will Alsop: 1990–2000. London: Laurence King. ISBN 1-85669-279-5.
  • Alsop, Will (2004). Supercity. Manchester: Urbis. ISBN 0-9547801-2-4.
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