JUST over 20 years ago the upturned wooden hull of La Frégate café was first revealed to the Jersey public. The design for this unusual building was based on a ‘hastily painted conceptual squiggle’ drawn by Will Alsop, the British architect who died last weekend at the age of 70.
Alsop had an original style that resulted in some unique buildings. In his forties he achieved his first major commission with the Marseille town hall, a futuristic design known as Le Grand Bleu. His buildings are bold and stand out from the landscape. He was also responsible for the Sharp Centre for Design in the Canadian city of Toronto. This is a large black and white patterned block standing 26 metres above street level on 12 thin legs. The elevated design provides space at ground level for a public park.
In the UK Alsop won the highest accolade of the architectural profession in 2000 when he was awarded the Stirling Prize for the public library at Peckham in South London. Designed in a giant L shape, the building features multi-coloured glass walls. The development was part of a major regeneration of Southwark and has proved very popular ever since. This week, the leader of Southwark Council commented that Alsop’s ‘…design for Peckham Library fundamentally changed people’s view of this part of our borough’. Recently, Alsop worked as a consultant and he also sat on the Design Review Panel for Wandsworth Council. The role of these independent panels is to improve design quality in new buildings.
La Frégate was completed in 1997. It achieved international recognition at the time, being featured in the Brazilian Sao Paulo Bienal – a major art exhibition held every two years. The bold design of La Frégate still stands out from the majority of bland, conventional building design in Jersey. In 2010 a Jersey Architecture Commission was set up, on similar lines to the London panels, to champion high-quality design. Although there are one or two new buildings that have architectural merit, there are still far too many nondescript developments that are characterless and add nothing to the local community.
Will Alsop pushed the boundaries of urban design – his residential block in Manchester resembles three fat coloured chips stacked on top of each other. Jersey designers need to take inspiration from his innovative approach and help to raise the quality of our built environment.