Inside Assemble: the UK’s Turner Prize-Winning Design Collective

Bottom-up, interventionist approaches to city-making are having a moment. At the 2016 Architecture Biennale many of the projects on display emphasized social engagement and grassroots design. Among them was a playground in Scotland, designed by the British collective Assemble.

Bottom-up, interventionist approaches to city-making are having a moment. At the 2016 Architecture Biennale – a prestigious show of global architecture in Venice, Italy – many of the projects on display emphasized social engagement and grassroots design.

Among them was the Baltic Street Adventure Playground, designed by the British collective Assemble in collaboration with a community in Scotland.

In 2015, Assemble won Britain’s most prestigious art award, the Turner Prize, for its residential Granby Four Streets project in Toxteth, Liverpool. The jury wrote: “[Assemble draws] on long traditions of artistic and collective initiatives that experiment in art, design and architecture. In doing so, they offer alternative models to how societies can work.”

“We’re a collective group of friends who started off by not wanting to start a firm, but just doing projects for fun,” said Maria Lisogorskaya, an Assemble designer.

While working for other architects, she and her friends started Assemble as a stress-relieving hobby, then took it on full time.

Since then, they’ve taken on dozens of public projects – theaters, cinemas, galleries and more – including a pop-up London arts venue called Folly for a Flyover.

“It was kind of a forgotten space where the flyover – the freeway – went over a canal. There was this kind of space left next to the canal, underneath this flyover,” says Louis Schultz, another Assemble member.

“The idea was to create a made-up history of this space for which there was nothing there. We built this little house out of wood and bricks, and the pitch of the roof of the house poked up between the two lanes of the road.”

Folly for a Flyover | Courtesy of David Vintiner
Folly for a Flyover | Courtesy of David Vintiner

Next year, Assemble may be taking their grassroots design across the Atlantic to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. This past April, they met with the festival’s organizers to discuss ideas for a structure that would connect the event to the local community.

“You’ve got [the festival] itself, which is on a polo field. But on the other side of the festival is Salton Sea,” says Schultz. “It’s very agricultural, and it’s got a lot of poverty, a lot of trailer parks.”

“The more we get to know the area, the more exciting we think it could be, potentially,” says Lisogorskaya. “But also, it’s quite a complicated thing to do: to design something that fits both this theatrical presence for two weekends and a permanent presence for every day for a farmer in a desert.”

For more information on Assemble’s current and past projects, visit their website.