Ollie Alsop has emerged from his father's shadow to found Squint/Opera, an Archigram-influenced film-making company, with Alice Scott and Julius Cocke
Huddled over coffee on an overcast day in south-west London, the founders of architectural film-making company Squint/Opera mull over architecture's all too apparent 'fastidious and rather dull' element. In this small office, nestled cosily behind the protective shell of a much bigger building (and brand), they appear strangely disillusioned considering they formed the company because they were 'absolutely sick of a 1984 dystopia vision of the future'. 'We love architecture, ' the two of the three directors present are quick to assert, 'but after graduation, it was crushing to have all these ideas and be stifled; to be stuck behind a desk somewhere doing nothing till your 30s.We represent something of what the new generation is feeling.'
With all but one graduates of the Bartlett, one director in particular has been exposed to the intrigues of the profession his entire life.
So it should come as no surprise that Ollie Alsop, 26, son of Will Alsop, has the biggest gripe of all. 'Big buildings go to big names, ' he says. 'My dad's generation had space to build.
Now it seems like everything's saturated.'
Alice Scott, also 26, and Julius Cocke, 25, are the other members of the trio. Their mantra is 'to take architecture somewhere building would not usually go', via the medium of film-making. A montage of technical drawings, computer-generated images and photography, cartoons, elements of pop culture (the odd mannequin and buzzing television set pepper Squint productions like ants in a DalÝ creation) form the basic ingredients, with hard industrial soundtracks or softer, more haunting melodies sprinkled liberally.
Archigram influences are obvious - the team 'love' the work of Peter Cook, and Scott considers Dennis Crompton a firm friend.
Cynical assumptions are too easily made here. Yes, Squint operates from a pleasant office tucked protectively behind Alsop Architects' Battersea empire. And yes, most of Squint's work to date has come courtesy of Will et al. But the company shuns suggestions that Squint is a thinly disguised inhouse PR wing or, worse still, a bunch of disaffected wannabes indulged by a rich benefactor. 'We want to add something to the way architecture can be seen, ' Alsop, a serious and slightly shy figure, explains. 'Especially by the general public. A lot of people don't know how else they could live. It's frustrating. Sometimes you have to help people to challenge things, and film lets us do that in a fun and accessible way.'
Enhancing the idea of building for the community is high on Squint's agenda. The team feels strongly about the need to avoid and abolish 'residential ghettos' and the insidious 'suburban cul-de-sac'. 'England hasn't got over the cheap bland houses thing, ' Scott says.
'We could have ecologically fantastic homes where everyone is integrated.We want people to think about social interaction, and how architecture works as a whole.'
Alsop lists examples - the short film Squint made depicting masterplan designs for the Yorkshire city of Bradford in 2003, shown at a public exhibition, attracted large numbers of local residents. A film of a similar scheme rethinking the city of Northampton, shown on a continuous loop in an NCP car park, got 'fantastic interest'. Squint is now working on a series of four films exploring the integration between working and living environments.
The team is compiling research into how the society of the future might cope with suburban development but is 'still storyboarding'.
The only other collaborators in Squint's crusade have been the most instrumental in shaping its work. 'We're working with a lot of ex-RCA and ex-Bartlett students at the moment, 'Alsop explains. 'There's lots of quality coming out, lots of ideas and so much enthusiasm. It just needs an outlet.' And it's not just UK students who are getting involved:
working alongside architect Mario Cucinella, Squint is establishing itself amid the Italian student body. 'There's so much old listed stuff in Italy, ' Scott says, 'the students are frustrated because they can't build anything new. Filmmaking lets them express those ideas.'
Squint's long-term ambition is to make feature films. But for now the trio are happy to continue making short animations, exploring ideas, working with students and bringing architecture to local communities. So what did dad think of his son's chosen path?
'He was actually fine about it, ' Alsop admits. 'I built him up over a long period of time. He was more enthusiastic for me to do something for myself rather than follow in his footsteps for the sake of it. And he's really interested in film and integrating all kinds of arts into his work. Anyway, he loves our stuff ', he adds coyly. 'Luckily.'