Where there’s a Will, there’s a way

A new exhibition at the Design Exchange celebrates the work — past and present, but with an emphasis on the future — of British architect Will Alsop. An Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), Alsop is renowned for his bold and colourful approach to design. He has won many awards internationally, including the coveted Stirling Prize in 2000 for the Peckham Library in London. In addition to being a designer and artist, Alsop has held many academic posts; he is currently a professor at the Technical University of Vienna.

Canadians know him best for the Sharp Centre for Design at Toronto’s OCAD University (completed in 2004, it was his first project in North America). Vividly patterned with a colourful pixilated skin, and raised eight stories above the ground, Alsop’s exuberant work is also known as the “table top” or “flying rectangle.” It houses OCAD’s Faculty of Design; applications to the faculty increased 300 per cent when the building was unveiled. The Sharp Centre went on to win the prestigious RIBA Worldwide Projects Award and the Toronto Architecture and Urban Design Award.

Alsop often describes Toronto as his spiritual home. He is responsible for revitalizing neighbourhoods with hip residential developments, including the Will Alsop Collection at King Towns (near King West) and Westside Gallery Lofts (near Queen West). Another of his designs, for a major office and event space at the Filmport film studio project, is currently under construction. His last commission in Ontario was awarded in 2006 after he sold his own practice to the SMC Group (now Archial) in order to escape the rigors of ownership and devote his time to designing, leading to the closure of his Canadian office. However, Alsop recently joined forces with international design firm RMJM to create the Will Alsop at RMJM studio, and is focused on returning to work in Canada. Further, he was recently appointed Distinguished Visiting Practitioner in Architecture at Ryerson University.

The DX exhibition is an assemblage of memorabilia that reflects work, relationships and interests. Themes explored include “the public view, light, proportion, the dirty canvas, tyranny of style, behaviour, not function, materials, colour, immediacy, the health risk of boredom, urban migration and more.” The exhibition shows “bits of the past” and one current project in progress.

“Will Alsop. New Work. The Best is Yet to Come” continues at the Design Exchange through Oct. 18.