Architect Will Alsop has died at the age of 70. Known for his outlandish designs, including the Chips building in New Islington, and his proposal for The Cloud in Liverpool, fellow architects have praised his “ebullience and wit”, and “provocateur charm”.
A statement from aLL Design, Alsop’s practice, confirmed that he passed away on Saturday, after a short illness.
The Stirling Prize-winning Alsop was a distinctive figure in architecture, delivering dramatic and ambitious proposals that caught the eye, but also courted controversy as public and planners alike often struggled to absorb their radical nature.
He gained a reputation as a maverick, and advocate of counter-cultural ideas. He was engaged on large-scale projects across the world, and was involved in a series of projects in the North West, most recently his role as masterplanner for the emerging mixed-use redevelopment of the Great Northern warehouse and surrounding site in Manchester.
Alsop remembered: ‘he did it with charm’
Anecdotes of Alsop’s radical approach to design are numerous within the architectural profession, with many unsure as to whether he was serious or tongue-in-cheek outlandish. In one such story, a member of a design team on a project Alsop was pitching for tells how he witnessed Alsop stride into a boardroom, take a crumpled empty packet of crisps, place a banana on top and declare: “there’s your building”.
Ian Simpson, working with Alsop most recently on the Great Northern masterplan, said: “Will was always on the cutting edge of ideas and thought. It’s a great loss for the profession, and the cities he was working in. He was a provocateur, and he had to ruffle a few feathers to do that, but he did it with charm.”
Urban Splash chairman Tom Bloxham said: “I last saw Will a year or so ago, when he stayed with us in the South of France; as ever he was fun, inspiring and great company. He’s one of the world’s great maverick geniuses and it will be a lesser place without him.”
Stephen Hodder, of Hodder + Partners, and former RIBA president, said: “I was a judge for the Stirling Prize in 1997 when arguably Alsop’s Grand Bleu in Marseilles should have won, and on the RIBA Awards Group in 2000 when Peckham Library did win. I came to know Will for his ebullience, wit, and orthodox-challenging architecture.
“Two memories particularly come to mind. Firstly, we were in a discussion piece together to identify 21 ‘icons’ that define 21st Century Britain. Will chose Coventry Cathedral because it was ‘a marvellous example of integration between art and architecture’. This seemed to capture his whole approach to designing buildings. I also remember his presentation for the competition to design Lichfield Art Gallery in which he concluded that should his entry win, he would insist that site meetings be accompanied by cheese and wine. He will be terribly missed.”
Alsop has been praised by his practice as “an exceptional person”. Marcos Rosello, co-founder, aLL Design, said: “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 recognise 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. We will miss him greatly.”
Great Northern, Manchester
Alsop was appointed by Peterson Group in 2015 to deliver a masterplan for Great Northern, which included the redbrick warehouse on the corner of Deansgate and Peter Street, as well as Great Northern Square, and the adjoining cinema, car park, and Deansgate Mews.
In 2016, a leaked indicative image of Alsop’s proposals for the redevelopment of the Peter Street pavilion into an office on stilts showed the architect had not lost his touch for causing a furore, and the design led to a petition and pressure on the council to put its consultation on the Great Northern regeneration framework on hold, which it did. When the masterplan returned for public viewing, the plans for the office had been removed.
In 2017, Peterson and development partner Trilogy Real Estate moved forward with detailed designs for the site, and retained Alsop to advise on the masterplan and drive the creative vision, alongside SimpsonHaugh. Planning permission was recently granted for the northern part of the site; it is understood that Alsop was concentrating his efforts on the southern end to Great Bridgewater Street, currently occupied by the cinema, and earmarked for taller buildings with office, hotel and residential uses.
Great Northern was Alsop’s first project in the city since 2009 Chips in New Islington.
Chips, New Islington, Manchester
The residential Chips was one of the few buildings to be constructed within Alsop’s wider masterplan for New Islington before the recession hit. So-called because Alsop envisioned it as “fat chips stacked on top of one another”, the 142-bedroom project was delivered for developer Urban Splash. While it has become iconic, the design still divides opinion in Manchester, and recently came under scrutiny as the cladding was found to not measure up to new fire safety standards brought in after the tragedy at Grenfell, although Urban Splash insists that it met all requirements at the time of construction.
The Cloud, Liverpool
In 2002, Alsop designed the Cloud, a diamond-like 10-storey globe which would have been a new addition to the Liverpool waterfront, but was scrapped in 2004 when the public sector agencies behind the plan said it would cost too much money. The site was instead used for the black glass Mann Island buildings. While controversial at the time, the Cloud design has been hailed by many as “one of the greatest schemes that never was”, and has featured in various exhibitions on the most eye-catching schemes the UK has missed out on.