As the latest slanging match over iconic buildings between two high-profile architects reaches stalemate, Building decided to step in as referee. And so, desperate to get out into the sunshine, we did a little vox-pop research to put the matter to rest …
It’s the war that is rocking architecture.
Two of the biggest hitters in the profession, Will Alsop and Allies and Morrison’s Graham Morrison, have been at loggerheads ever since the latter started a jihad against what he rather subjectively called “bad icons”.
Morrison, currently in vogue for his sleek offerings at Manchester’s One Piccadilly Gardens and BBC’s White City centre, set the ball rolling during the keynote speech at the Awards for Architecture dinner in July.
A lot of iconic buildings, he claimed, were “just ordinary buildings distorted into unnecessarily complicated shapes”. Morrison subsequently described Alsop’s design for the Fourth Grace in Liverpool as “a blob dressed up as art”.
Smarting from such a verbal caning, Alsop stalked off for a cigarette break, reportedly muttering: “I always suspected that was what he thought – now I know.” Alsop later said that Morrison’s work was “bland” and “tedious”.
So who’s right? Building decided it should step outside the industry bubble and ask the man and woman on the street what they thought. So we hung around the rarefied surroundings of the Tate Modern to ask the more educated British public whether they preferred Alsop’s Fourth Grace (pictured top) or Allies and Morrison’s One Piccadilly Gardens (pictured bottom).
Whether you define it as iconic vs functional, postmodernist vs modernist or landmark vs integrated development, it all comes down to the simple question: blob or block?
The BlobsAlan Stanton, 55 (not the architect!)
We’ve seen that sort of thing [the block] before – the blob is much more exciting.
It’s a bit different
Marco Imperadori, 35, architecture professor from Milan
The Allies and Morrison building is dull. I like postmodernism, and the Alsop design is just more full of life. It looks interesting
Sian Cullen-James, 25, Tate shop
The blob looks better because it’s more fun. The other one just looks boring
Andy Hopper, 26, English teacher
I just think the blob would look fantastic – really new and exciting. The other one just looks like a school or a hospital or something
Nick Poyntz, 24
The block looks a bit like my local land registry building. I prefer the blob – it looks like an enormous hermit crab sitting down
Paul Stafford, 51 and Judith Stafford, 49
You’ve just got to be a bit more adventurous, haven’t you? The other one looks more like the Travelodge hotel next to Southampton airport
The BlocksMonica Wenninger, 62, retired from Vienna
It’s an interesting design but not for a person of my age. I’d stop and look at [the Fourth Grace] but I wouldn’t want to live or work thereKonstantin Kaltenbacher, 36, from Berlin
This one [Alsop’s] is ridiculous – a joke. I am German so I prefer ordered buildings
Chris Holmes, 53
The blob one is too busy. It doesn’t even look like a building. Just not my type of thing …
Norma Flint, 64, retired
The problem with iconic architecture is that it doesn’t fit the buildings around it. Architects must have huge egos to think they can plonk something like that [Fourth Grace] next to historic buildings
Emilio Vietez, 33, Tate security guard
The blob one is too outrageous. It’s too over-the-top
Claire Griffin, 23
The design of the blob is too busy, too messy. I prefer the other one – it looks nice and airy, a good place to work
So there you have it. Even though the Fourth Grace has now been scrapped, Will Alsop can take comfort from the fact that he’s got the people, if not Liverpool council, on his side. What Building noticed most of all, though, was how blob enthusiasts seemed to be the younger section of the vote, whereas block fanciers were either old, security guards or German.
But when we put the damning results to Graham Morrison himself, he cleverly turned our survey back on us. “You seem to be illustrating one of my points rather well,” he said, and sent us a copy of his speech with relevant points highlighted in red. It said: “With sophisticated imagery and carefully lit models, these buildings are very seductive, but seeing them realised, we are left disappointed and suspicious.”
Which is fair enough. One Piccadilly Gardens may look a bit bland to some, but it has been built. Whereas the Fourth Grace doesn’t actually exist and never will.
Alsop himself couldn’t be reached as he was in sunnier climes, and Building was unable to confirm that on receiving the results of our survey he had shrieked with joy and high fived everybody. However, Alsop Architects said the firm was “delighted to receive the public’s vote”.
- Building interviewed 20 people milling around the Edward Hopper exhibition at the Tate Modern on Thursday 5 August. Twelve liked blobs, eight liked blocks. Any impression of scientific rigour in the study is purely coincidental.