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Assemble: ‘We’re professional amateurs’

Barbican Centre
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Architecture collective Assemble make their first public presentation since winning the Turner Prize

Members of Assemble told an audience this week that there was no single ethical or political stance to their work. The closest they had to a core ethic, they said, was ’to never stop learning’.

The presentation at London’s Barbican Centre on Tuesday, was Assemble’s first public presentation since winning the £40,000 Turner Prize for the restoration of terraced housing in Toxteth.

Answering questions following a series of 10 mini-lectures – organised as part of a new collaboration between the Architecture Foundation and the Barbican Centre – participating members defended the principle of collective decision making.

Instead of a holding a set of rules for deciding which projects and clients to pursue, collective co-founder Giles Smith said every project germinated from a ‘never-ending discussion’.

Asked whether the group turned down any schemes on ethical grounds, James Binning said Assemble had yet to work on any large-scale schemes where the possibility of being exploited for publicity purposes was a real risk.

He added: ‘We don’t have the experience of a practice like Muf Architecture/Art to know whether we will be canaries or fluffers [on such projects].’

Nevertheless discussing the group’s universal commitment to adopting new craft and DIY skills, Smith admitted: ‘We’re professional enthusiasts, it’s an important part of practice life.’

Assemble’s Anthony Engi Meacock agreed: ‘For a professional, the idea you can stop learning is very troubling because then you get stuck.’

Recalling the group’s self-initiated The Cineroleum and Folly for a Flyover installations, he said: ‘What we learned in our early projects is why we are here today.’

Cineroleum

Cineroleum

Cineroleum by Assemble

Lectures delivered during the event, entitled Assemble: Some of its Parts, included a short presentation on banana supply chains by Louis Schulz, and Smith’s history of the Arts Council.

Maria Lisogorskaya shared a short film about makers within Pennsylvania’s Amish community, while Adam Willis discussed the art of bodging and Alice Edgerley recalled rebuilding schools in Sri Lanka 11 years ago.

Meacock’s presentation focused on why children should be allowed to play with tools, Jane Hall explained Assemble’s origins in organising parties as a form of protest, and Karim Khelil reflected on the depths of the universe.

His conclusion: ‘We should always have a galactic perspective when facing our fears on this planet.’

The lecture was the first in a new series of events organised by The Architecture Foundation and the Barbican Centre.

Upcoming talks include a conversation on cities with author John Lanchester and Observer architecture critic Rowan Moore on the eve of London’s mayoral election in May.

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