The golden age of urban workshops

Assemble Studio makes room for collective design

“Assemble Studio is the poster group for a generation of young architects and designers increasingly drawn to the idea of working collectively”[4]

“Making money by making things (...) no longer seems an anachronism” [1] recently wrote journalist Ian Jack in an article in The Guardian referring to the maker-culture currently taking over London.

Spontaneous and alternative, the maker-culture is giving a new sense to DIY practices and progressively changing cities for the better by encouraging entrepreneurship, creativity, slow production, locality and togetherness - thus leading the way towards self-sufficient urban communities and participatory culture. [2]

Since its foundation in 2010 British collective Assemble has played a major role in encouraging learning-by-doing and collaborative initiatives. Putting participation at the core of its practice, the multidisciplinary team - the size of which varies between 14 to 20 members depending on the project - notoriously claims that "it’s the people who are using a project that make it a success”. [3]

“USING” in Assemble’s approach goes over the common and organic principle of a post-construction appropriation. In fact, involving the public - “as both participant and collaborator” - since the design’s early stages, the studio demonstrates that the concept and the construction processes are inherent and must be collectively thought. Symbols of this synthesis - between making and using -, workshops are recurrent features of the collective’s work and well illustrate its self-assigned mission of “making workshops just as familiar parts of our city as are libraries or leisure centres”. [5]

It is within this framework that the Granby Workshop was launched in 2015. First born as a temporary showroom during the 2015 Turner Prize Exhibition in Glasgow, the workshop became a permanent working space in Liverpool - where it occupies a disused shop on Cairns Street, a historically multi-ethnic neighborhood.

The project is the outcome of “decades of regeneration initiatives” [6] during which the inhabitants tirelessly campaigned to reclaim their streets - which were neglected by the local government. After 30 years of tenacious creative actions and struggles, in 2010 the community founded the Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust (CLT) and finally gained the right to turn 10 abandoned houses into affordable homes.

Celebrating the strong sense of communal awareness and the DIY spirit of the Granby Four Streets Community, Assemble developed - together with the local activists - the Granby Workshop in the course of a nine months research called “Granby Four Streets”. Since its launch, the workshop produces and sells experimental and homemade artefacts, proudly labeled Made in Grandy.

Another self-made project developed by Assemble and based in an urban periphery is the Blackhorse Workshop. Located at the heart of the Walthamstow neighborhood (North-East London), the space was imagined by the studio - together with local creatives - as a field of experimentation for “a new wave of makers” from novices to emerging designers and startups - rapidly becoming a creative sanctuary.

Aiming at inspiring creativity and self-sufficiency, the friendly and ludic space - whose identity was developed by graphic studio EuropaEuropa - encourages people “to hold onto the manual skills that the digital world is letting slip by, skills that are crucially important to our understanding of and approach to design.” [7]

The informal combination of its co-working space with a café-bakery makes it a collaborative and innovative place to interact, build a network, learn, design, test, make and mend, but also to get assistance, advice and support.

Having become an important landmark in the neighborhood, the Blackhorse Workshop now stands alongside a series of other spontaneous initiatives - such as the Blackhorse Lane Denim Ateliers, an atelier producing and selling organic denim jeans since April 2016.

A proof that a slow revolution is on its way and that collective workshops may well soon become as common as children playgrounds or libraries!

[1] Ian Jack, "Londoners need spaces to live, but also need places to make things”, Jan. 7th 2017, The Guardian; [2] Mariana Correia, Letizia Dispasquale, Saverio Mecca, (ed.), Versus: Heritage for Tomorrow, Firenze University Press, 2014, pp.107-110; [h] Rebecca May Johnson, “Assemble and the Makeshift Trope in Modern Architecture”, Another, December 8th, 2015; [3] Piers Taylor, Built to Last, Sept. 2014, RIBA Journal; [4] words by Justin McGuirk, chief curator of the Design Museum of London; [5]; [6]; [7];

1. Granby Workshop’s temporary showroom during the 2015 Turner Prize Exhibition in Glasgow designed by collective Assemble © Assemble studio; 2. Handmade artefacts crafted by the Granby Four Streets Community were sold to visitors, during the 2015 Turner Prize Exhibition © Assemble studio; 3. Granby Workshop produces a wide range of objects from textile to ceramic © Granby Workshop; 4-5. Blackhorse Workshop's members working in the atelier; 6. View from the Café-bakery at Blackhorse Workshop, serving coffee, cakes and brunch © Blackhorse Workshop; 7-8. Blackhorse Workshop is fully equipped with wood and metal ateliers © Blackhorse Workshop;

Published: 9 Feb. 2017

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Hannes Meyer

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