Will Alsop did not take the platform in person for his talk to the Art and Architecture Group: a disappointment for the audience, no doubt, after his Stirling Prize win, but perhaps to be expected. His representative, Christophe Egret, might have used the opportunity to talk about the prize and what it means for the practice, but hardly mentioned it until the very end, when he compared the burgeoning British interest in new architecture with the same phenomenon in Paris 20 years ago, stimulated by Mitterrand's Grands Projets.
Instead, his presentation focused on the practice's well-known 'trademark', as he put it - or, 'relaxing with painting before worrying about the architectural problems'.
Alsop's paintings do indeed seem to have been used as a kind of branding device for the practice, quite apart from their value, as Egret put it, as 'a very good starting point for the rest of the team'on any particular project.As a result, other insights into the thinking that goes into the practice's production of buildings, or architecture, often seem to be obscured.
On this occasion Egret promised a revelation about the 'process' of design between the first ideas in response to a brief, and the emergence on paper or in model form of developed concepts. But it was inhibited by lack of detail and frequent jumps from one project to the next.A scheme to turn Middlesbrough, a city 'which doesn't know what it is any more', into a city of sustainability, sounds provocative and interesting. But, presented as a graphic idea comprising a large, brightly-coloured cross superimposed on the conurbation, with one axis designated a 'culture strip' and the other a seedbed for various new ventures in sustainability, it came across at a relatively superficial level. The project to regenerate the troubled Stonebridge Estate in London sounded equally significant, but was only referred to in a passing comment about the importance of 'mixed use' - a principle so well-established these days as to be hardly worth mentioning.
Concluding with the Peckham Library building, via the Thameslink 2000 Blackfriars Bridge station project, North Greenwich Underground Station, the BBC HQ competition entry, and Southpoint office building, Egret revealed that one of the practice's self-discoveries during its development was 'a skill for community consultation'. While quickly denying any intention of branding itself a 'community architect', Egret affirmed that the resulting building has the full support of the local community - an almost unbelievable achievement, as anyone who has attended any kind of community meeting will know. But if so, it offers proofoftheefficacyofaforceful, provocativeideainthe first place, and a degree of determined leadership, for this is distinctly a building in an identifiable Alsopian mode.This, no doubt, is where the strong - but still fluid - graphic image proves its worth in grabbing the attention of the crowd.
Christophe Egret's talk, 'Painting the Town', was presented to the Art and Architecture Group at The Gallery in London's Clerkenwell vital statistics Energy use per person globally has increased almost four-fold in the past 100 years. In 1900 each person used 0.6 kW of energy while today each person uses 2.3 kW, according to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution.
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