Intuitive inventions Alsop & Stormer: Selected and Current Works Images Publishing (Melbourne), 1999. 256pp. £35. Distributor 01394 385501
Of the contemporary practices which deserve to be profiled in a monograph, there can be little dispute that Alsop & Stormer are near the top of the list. Will Alsop is one of the best British architects of his generation, and this new book shows his splendidly inventive form-making. Alsop's design approach has always been intuitive rather than consciously intellectual. He makes it plain that he is happier as a painter rather than a theorist, and what he likes best is the kind of bold architectural expression prefigured by Russian Constructivism and the 1960s work of figures such as Cedric Price or James Stirling.
Alsop's exaggerated forms can verge at times on the cartoonish, or even the camp. The much-published headquarters for the Departement des Bouches- du-Rhone in Marseille ('Le Grand Bleu') seems to be a parody of municipal bombast and pretension. It is sometimes hard to remember that we are only dealing with a relatively insignificant French regional authority. But when Alsop chooses to be direct and crisp, he does so with amazing results. The library in Peckham, which has recently come out of wraps, promises to be one of the very best new buildings in London. It manages, by resurrecting the idea of the urban arcade, to give a dramatic twist to a type of programme that has been in the doldrums for so long. And it achieves all this on what is clearly a limited budget.
So the drama and the sheer inventiveness displayed in this superbly illustrated book will prove inspirational to both students and practitioners. But there is a major flaw in the text - its failure to give credit at any point to John Lyall, Alsop's former partner. This is an inexplicable omission.
It is not as if Alsop needs to claim sole credit for the projects he did with Lyall prior to the dissolution of the practice in 1991; he has proved his mettle since then. Nor is it that it was once anything but an equal partnership. Lyall has since gone on to become a highly respected architect in his own right, and as irony would have it, is now the subject of a separate monograph in which the early work with Alsop is jointly credited, including the much-praised projects for Tottenham Hale overground station and the Jubilee Line Station at North Greenwich.
One can only assume that Alsop has been ill-served by the editors of this book. It must be said that there is a worrying superficiality to the text in general. The editors are two Australians, one of whom, Haig Beck, was at the Architectural Association at the same time as Alsop (and Lyall) in the early-1970s. There is a trend at the moment for those who were at the AA during this crucial period to bask in an 'I-was-also-there' glow. But it seems curious, given that the thrust of the AA then was about being critical, transformative, and counter-establishment.
In the introduction to this volume we are presented with a facile attempt to compare Alsop with Rem Koolhaas, presumably because the latter is the academic hit of the moment. But of all the important figures who were at the AA, these two would be the last you would want to tie together. So we are left with a book which is worth looking at for the pictures, and can only hope that soon there will be a more informative text published on Alsop & Stormer.
Dr Murray Fraser teaches at Oxford Brookes University