Assemble won the Turner Prize in December last year with Granby Four Streets, an ongoing collaboration with residents in Liverpool to transform houses which had been facing demolition and support local artistic enterprises (you can see our feature on it here). They have also created a pop-up cinema in a disused petrol station, a Brutalist Playground in Glasgow commissioned for the Commonwealth Games, an affordable workspace in Stratford (the Yardhouse) made from a low-cost timber structure and decorated in colourful concrete tiles, and Folly for a Flyover, a temporary arts venue built on a disused patch of motorway undercroft in Hackney Wick.
Made up of 15 artists, architects and designers, Strelitz described the group’s approach as very broad. “We often build our own projects and set up new organisations … we’re also interested in opening up the building process to others,” she said. In the past few years, Assemble’s work has focused on developing innovative solutions to some of the biggest problems facing cities – such as a lack of affordable workspaces for crafts people – and working with communities to transform public spaces, giving them the tools to create new hubs of local activity and community events. In Croydon, for example, the group worked with residents, community groups and businesses to revive a public square that was being used as an overspill car park, and 40,000 people turned up to take part or attend an event in Folly for a Flyover’s nine-week duration.
Folly for a Flyover. Lead image (top): Turner Prize 2015. Tramway, Glasgow. Artist – Assemble. Images via Assemble (assemblestudio.co.uk)
“We’re interested in different ways you can engage with a city … for us, the best to do this is through direct action and experimentation,” she said. Strelitz also said that cities can be “disempowering spaces”, but that the group’s projects aimed to make them more “malleable”, opening up new possibilities and futures for public spaces.
Speaking to press at the conference, Binning said the studio’s multi-disciplinary approach allowed it to take on a diverse range of work and work with clients in unusual ways.
“Nobody in the practice is formally an architect, none of us would have described ourselves as artists a year ago – and I think in lots of different projects, being able to describe the role as you see fit enables people to approach you in a very different way,” he explained. “People will talk to you differently if you say you’re an architect, they’ll have a different perception of you and what you’re going to produce and how you’re going to interpret what they say…. This ability to be pretty chameleonic whenever it suits us in different situations is very productive … and it enables us to work in a more flexible way with clients,” he added.
While many of their projects have involved working with closely with communities or regenerating tired sites, however, Binning said the group’s practice isn’t concerned explicitly with working on projects with a social agenda. The Brutalist Playground was created to provide a safe and stimulating place to play in an area with a lack of provisions for children – Strelitz said the group set out to create a constantly evolving environment where children would have the freedom to learn, play, develop new skills in an area dominated by hoardings and fences erected around building sites – and their work with Granby residents has had a transformative impact on the area. But often, Binning said creative decisions are driven by simply thinking about what would add the most value to a building or site.
Yardhouse, by Assemble, commissioned by London Legacy Development Corporation as part of Emerging East, and was supported by London Legacy Development Corporation, Kingspan and Assemble. Image via assemblestudio.co.uk
“You can look at a situation like Granby and say, ‘the best idea here is to demolish everything and rebuild it’…