Turner Prize-winner Assemble’s Collaborative, Cross-disciplinary Roots
Announced this week as the first design studio to win Tate’s prestigious Turner Prize, the Assemble collective, ‘founded by a group of around 20 individuals working across various artistic disciplines’, includes among its number RCA Architecture graduates Anthony Engi Meacock, Giles Smith and Paloma Strelitz, as well as RCA Architecture PhD candidate Jane Hall.
Assemble is celebrated for its role in groundbreaking projects, often situated in that most contested of realms, urban public space. Here, ‘the processes by which architecture gets made’ are foregrounded to interrogate our relationship with how the built environment is created, physically and conceptually.
Jane Hall, whose PhD work in Architecture is part of the AHRC-funded project, ‘Public Spaces and the Role of the Architect’, exemplifies the relationship between academic research and practice that is characteristic of the RCA. She frames her ‘academic research as a way to reflect on and inform practice’, and describes the College as providing ‘a rigorous and critical structure to test ideas, while [her] live projects enrich this understanding by revealing the idiosyncrasies unique to each work’.
Hall’s doctoral project is concerned with the workings of architectural practice, and looks at questions around public space from the Modernist period in São Paulo and London, comparing two prominent architects from the mid-twentieth century, Lina Bo Bardi and Alison Smithson. Specifically, Hall explores how these women ‘challenged orthodox professional and design practices in architecture, and the ways in which their legacies are used today to promote new and alternative ideas.’
Conceptions of public space and alternative models of architecture and design inform Assemble’s live projects. Reflecting on the thinking behind Assemble’s first self-initiated project, The Cineroleum (2010), where they turned ‘a disused petrol station into a cinema to recapture some of the glamour and pleasure’ both once had, Hall describes a project that ‘tried to reimagine disused or abandoned spaces in the city’, as well as enabling the group to ‘experiment and undertake a self-build project, giving us greater experience of physically constructing work collectively’.
This approach, underpinned by collaboration and exchange, follows from Assemble’s ‘many members bringing their own interests to any given project, and actively engaging with challenging the processes by which architecture gets made’. As Hall reiterates, this ‘seems to happen best when projects are developed with the support of other collaborators, makers, users and clients, which inevitably takes on a wider social and political dimension.’
Subsequent ventures have built on early experiments, and have included temporary interventions, like Folly for a Flyover (2012), an unexpectedly magical addition to the canal in Hackney Wick, and projects with permanent outcomes, like the group’s long-term involvement in the Gransby Four Streets initiative in Toxteth, Liverpool, which secured their inclusion on the Turner shortlist.
Assemble’s emphasis on collaboration, cross-disciplinary working extend the active, creative enhancement of urban space offer alternative models for how we do architecture and design.
The RCA fosters collaboration and cross-disciplinarity (especially between artists and designers), and is delighted to see the blurring of these disciplinary boundaries evidenced in Assemble’s Turner-prize win. Adrian Lahoud, Head of Architecture, said, 'Assemble provide an example as to how we might re-imagine what architectural work means, how it is organised, what it can do. It's a new model, rich with possibilities, I hope others will follow.'
For more information about the Turner Prize and shortlisted artists and designers, visit Tate