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Knock Nothing Down: Sky Creatures

Will Alsop – aLL Design

Knock Nothing Down: Sky Creatures
By Will Alsop -

The spirit of rebellion has dried up. That rare whisky has evaporated into a non intoxicant as a glass of “natural water” sold at a high price, a heavily marketed lubricant. Marketing, no risk, and conformity have cast a long shadow over pleasure.


The ordinary is a celebrated denial of architecture as an art form.

Where does pleasure come from?

The advances in the human condition result from creativity, curiosity and a desire to pursue a less arduous life, allowing for pleasure to be enjoyed.
Some architects create projects that give pleasure, sometimes in unexpected ways. Simple things like a blank piece of paper, a pen, a vase of flowers set against an orange jug, can give a pleasure that allows peace, which in turn stimulates imagination, the beginning of the possibility of “something” better. Some like to dance!
The backlash against the avant-garde and the radical requires a backlash against itself.
It is certainly true that with no predominant methodology, style or aesthetic, everything is possible. It is also true that much of what used to be seen as clean and well detailed is now unaffordable. Money is a part of architecture, and what was the measure set by the high tech brigade is not achievable today. In fact, the failure of the high tech style, as with post modernism, was its ability to be reduced to a mere token gesture. Today there is an emerging “Rough Architecture” that allows a freedom from the well-honed detail.
Traditionally architecture was always portrayed as the “Mother of the Arts”. Today the “art” has been undervalued and often lost. The values of various societies and cultures have turned their backs on the idea of architecture as a fine and delicate act that can transform the human condition, in favour of the mere provision of buildings, in the face of globalisation which has fuelled the idea of business at any price and the response to the idea of architects’ “growth by acquisition” as a value to design, as opposed to the recognition of their work.


Many journalists have been obliged to feature uninteresting buildings in a bid to maintain their advertising revenue, thus blocking out space that could be devoted to the exploration of the new, obscure, inventive, speculation, colour etc.

And yet?!
Yet, there are many ways to explore and there are many people on expeditions of enquiry. The natural evolution of place is happening and is also desirable. The scale of additions to the existing fabric of urban development gives humanity to our existence. How might a place transform itself?
I have often talked of planning free zones and yet never realised one. It is a political decision too far - but I dream.
The maturity of Europe combined with the slowing of economic growth is beginning to create vibrant places with a combination of low budget and the potential boredom of nothing happening is a powerful duo.
There is an opportunity to look at the future in new ways. Much of the art in architecture has been obliterated by a democratisation of process, which although sounding good, results in a mediocrity that seems to prevail. This may have always been the case, generally, but the appetite for change and invention has been damaged irrevocably. It could be called the death of architecture. This terminal disease has infected the natural sense of enquiry that feeds invention.
I want to promote a context that will require a sense of enquiry and exploration.

Knock nothing down.

I propose that a lot of what we build breaks down communities, resulting in architects losing respect (which is minor) and creates social problems. There are many fine new buildings, but when it comes to terrible phrases like “Urban Renewal”, “Regeneration” and “Housing Provision” the vast majority of what is realised is a crime.
The reality is that people get used to what exists and feel threatened when vast swathes of old building stock is removed to make way for the new. This also applies to the invasion of vast quantities of virgin land resulting in urban sprawl.
People like the familiar, even if it is ugly (familiarity breeds content), although additions, and extensions as an evolution is a part of life. And yet we do need to accommodate the demands of a constantly changing pattern of distribution and cultural shifts.
Technological innovation also plays a huge role in what we can do, and yet the vast majority of buildings (not architecture) are outdated,
short-lived old technology, inappropriate.

What are we to do?

Agents who sell houses still devalue homes if they do not have a garage and yet, self-driving cars are nearly with us, which will render car ownerships unnecessary as everyone will call up a car to their front door from their phone.
Although “virtual reality” as a phrase is a little passé, work has developed considerably and I have no doubt that its indulgence in the home will grow. It will give you access to travel, remote meetings and eventually tactile forms of communication.

How will space be affected by such an evolution?

Every neighbourhood will have a virtual farm - giving access to absolutely fresh produce. We will live longer!
Our bodies will become the computers of the future!

And yet we are left with physical space.

I propose that we build over the spaces and buildings we already have within our urban areas. The evolving density and diversity of work would enrich the city/town as well as provide all the space we require. Alongside this, it will become necessary to define the edge of town. Our urban sprawl has made it very difficult to know where an urban area stops or starts. The medieval city with its defensive wall gave an identity to the place and today a sense of where one belongs will become important. For example, for London this boundary could be the M25 (orbital motorway).
Building over existing buildings provides a new horizontal layer to the urban fabric, which will provide intensity to experience as well as proximity to existing and improved infrastructure.
The rich diversity of architectural approaches by many designers is a wonderful opportunity to evolve an eclectic mix of new buildings (some of which might be architecture) to our urban areas. With no predominant style or methodology, the urban experience can be enriched. It is wholly appropriate that our cities should reflect their multicultural composition, as international boundaries are more open. The emergence of the mosques as phenomena in London is a good thing.

It is my plea to celebrate identity, define edges, and keep the buildings that we have. This is a way forward to keep the spirit of enquiry and exploration alive. Death to minimalism, which must be remembered as merely a style.

P.S. The word “context” must be redefined.

Will Alsop



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