Wachtel on the Arts - Will Alsop

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Eleanor Wachtel, host of Writers and Company talks to British architect Will Alsop. He's widely known as an enfant terrible in the architecture world, not bad for someone who just celebrated his 64th birthday. Will Alsop's designs are often brash and colourful, and always live up to his motto that architecture should be fun.

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wachtel-aslop-oca.jpgWill Alsop's determined belief that people must have enjoyable places in which to live and work has led him to design some of the boldest, most eye-catching buildings in the world.

It says something about the field of architecture that Alsop, who's in his 60s, still gets called an 'enfant terrible'. Or maybe it says two things. First, that architects wait a long time before they're given a chance to build big, city-defining works, the kind that earn them celebrity status with the general public. And second, it says that in a time of concrete slabs and glass towers, someone who prefers whimsical, bright, exuberant structures must be a maverick.

Will Alsop actually caught the attention of his peers very early on. In 1970, he was just a student at architecture school when his design for the Pompidou Centre for Modern Art in Paris narrowly missed becoming reality - his plan placed second, behind the one by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers.

It was in the 1990s that Will Alsop got his big break. He created a government building in Marseilles, dubbed "Le Grand Bleu" or "Big Blue" by the media. Tourists don't usually flock to see regional government offices but 'Big Blue' attracts a million visitors a year. And it proved Alsop had the knack for freshening up a city's image.

After that came a series of other popular hits: His public library in London's Peckham neighbourhood won the prestigious Stirling Prize. And in 2004, Will Alsop changed the face of Toronto, with his extension to the Ontario College of Art & Design.  A polka-dot table floats nine storeys up, supported by coloured crayons set at jaunty angles to the ground. In a city once famous for its drabness, Alsop's building voiced an urge to loosen up, have fun, and be creative.

Will Alsop returns to Canada often - especially to teach architecture students. His latest projects include two new Toronto subway stations, expected to open in 2015. Eleanor caught up with him when he visited the city this spring.

Photograph: Sharp Centre for Design - Ontario College of Art & Design, photograph by Taxiarchos228

 
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