It must be tough to be a British architect these days if your name isn’t Norman Foster or Richard Rogers. The most famous British architects since Christopher Wren are filling the world with so many sleek glass-and-steel buildings that it can be hard for their compatriots to get noticed. All the more reason to enjoy the rise, in recent years, of Will Alsop. Alsop, now fifty-nine, is the anti-Foster. His buildings are startling, but also whimsical, gentle, colorful, and modest. Alsop’s playfulness makes him unusual—wit is in short supply among architects today—but his work, on closer inspection, is just as notable for the commonsensical attitudes it embodies.
The building that has done most to establish Alsop as an international figure is a bizarre structure in Toronto, the Sharp Center for Design, at the Ontario College of Art & Design. It is a slab, two hundred and seventy feet long and raised nine stories into the air on huge, slanted legs. The legs—red and yellow and black and blue and purple and white—look like a bunch of gigantic colored pencils, or pick-up sticks mid-fall.
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