The London-based architecture collective Assemble has converted a former car repair shop in New Orleans into a fashion manufacturing hub that offers free education and training for local youth. Dubbed Material Lab, the school is part of an experimental art school founded by the Tasmania-based Museum of New and Old Art (MONA), which also includes a music recording studio and a cooperative garden located nearby. In New Orleans, Assemble, a multidisciplinary studio known for its civic-minded interventions on abandoned structures and in disenfranchised areas, created a space that nods to the ruin. The first floor of the industrial garage was adapted into two large work and production spaces that are finished simply with coats of white paint and exposed concrete floors. One of the most visually striking elements of the building are the doorways and windows that appear to be punched through the walls, complete with jagged brick outlines. Some of these openings frame small plots of vegetation growing inside the building envelope, which are held behind large panes of clear glass. Bright coats of orange and mint green paint highlight structural beams and ceilings, with the orange hue reappearing in the chairs and rolling racks for clothes and textiles. Much of the furniture was designed and put together onsite by Assemble. Material Lab melds the rich culture of costuming, craft, and fashion in New Orleans with the progressive pedagogy of schools like Black Mountain College, a radically run arts college in North Carolina. The lab offers space, professional guidance, and manufacturing equipment for the production of clothing and textile design to youth ages 14 to 30, with the goal of offering a venue for both creative expression and fostering economic independence. With a focus on hands-on learning, the pilot curriculum included textile printing, embellishment, pattern cutting, draping, and clothing design, and the new building is well-equipped with industrial sewing machines, a large dye sublimation printer, a weaving loom, a heat press, other dye equipment, computers, dress forms, and the like. The first pilot session of the school culminated in a December show. Judging by images from the event, the raw and unfinished aesthetic of the space serves the energy of the emerging and experimental designers well. Assemble began working with the school in 2016 at the invitation of MONA and ran the 2018 pilot, which continued through the summer of 2019. It worked with local legends like master beader Big Chief Demond Melancon of the Young Seminole Hunters as well as international fashion stars like Virgil Abloh, the artistic director of Louis Vuitton's men's wear, along with other fashion designers and textile artists. After the pilot, the school is now gearing up to run on a permanent basis.
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Assemble Studio's most recent project is also its most ambitious to date in terms of size and permanence. The group has turned a former public bathhouse in New Cross, a south-east neighborhood of London, into an arts center for Goldsmiths, University of London. The Victorian brick and cast iron Laurie Grove Baths are now recast as the Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art for a new kind of creative immersion. When Assemble was awarded Britain’s most prestigious visual arts prize, the Turner, in 2015 it was a moment of celebration for the architecture scene, but also of confusion. Were the architects artists now, and their architecture, in effect, art? Or the other way around? Some saw it as a promotion of architectural work to the realm of fine art, other a demotion. Perhaps it was neither, and what it meant remains unsettled. At the time, the architecture collective had already won the competition to design a new Centre for Contemporary Art at Goldsmiths’ campus as a wild card entry. An art-architecture commission for the artist-architects. Assemble was commissioned for the project following an open architecture competition in 2014, and it has been realized with Paloma Strelitz and Adam Willis acting as lead architects, in collaboration with Alan Baxter Associates and Max Fordham Engineers. The 10,700 square foot building accommodates an event space and cafe alongside seven galleries that opened this fall. In a sense, the building’s purpose further complicates things, and points toward the conventions we still lean toward in defining the roles of artists, architects, cultural institutions, and academia. A group of architects, attributed as great artists by the art world, commissioned to make architecture for art’s sake with affluent alumni artists as patrons. And at that, the building is on the front yard of one of today's international strongholds in the realm of history and theory of art. Assemble has previously made a name for itself in producing design projects where a hands-on approach to design and a close relationship with the local community and the prospective users lays the groundwork. In this case, that end-user community is the art theorists next door. It is the London art world. It is the curators and the museum directors and the interns. It is the gallery-circuit weekend visitors; it is fellow architects; it is the Assemble fan base. It is us. That could be cause for concern, but it could also be a moment for introspection. On the gallery's second day open, a handful of visitors strolled around, peeking up and down through openings in the three-story atrium that has been carved into the building’s heart. Spiraling around it is an array of galleries, transitional spaces, nooks, and crannies that present a buffet of architectural flavors. It is a ruin and a temple, a cave and theater stage, a maze and a manor. It is a murky basement and an airy loft. It is a piece of industrial infrastructure and a quirky contemporary playhouse. The baths have been respectfully added to and carefully taken care of. What once was a public building for the most private of uses, where grimy boilers and shiny tiles worked to unite water and naked skin, has now been brought to a new public for a new solitary-slash-social event: our encounter with art. Some things have been scrubbed away, other kinds of dirt preserved and exposed. It is generous, gentle, masterfully executed. Assemble’s CCA building is a well composed collage. And somehow it is also a monolith. It might sound confusing. It is not. It makes perfect sense, because something about it is eerie. The building is kind of good, extraordinary but also kind of ordinary. And it remains etched in your memory like a familiar face that you can not quite place. In one of the second-floor galleries, we find ourselves standing were only water once stood, inside a black iron box that used to be a cistern. A cut-away to one side now lets daylight in. For the opening exhibition, a work by Mika Rottenberg is on display. On the floor, a half-dozen frying pans are placed on electric stoves. Drops of water slowly rain from the ceiling, evaporating into a thin mist as they hit the hot pans. It is beautiful. Maybe this is what architecture for architects is, today. The “now”. The nuanced material presence of local history, the palette of delicate metalwork dipped in graceful pastels, the robust but cute bespoke detailing. What if it is calculated to fit its purpose. What if this is what it is like to have someone design for your own community. Maybe this is what we have been craving. A machine attuned to serving us this relationship with art.
Brought to you with support fromLondon-based collective Assemble has built a temporary “factory” at the A/D/O creative space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and clad its front with custom hand-made tiles produced on site. This is the Turner Prize–winning group’s first U.S. project, which forms part of the inaugural Design Academy at A/D/O, a center that allows the public to work, explore, and participate in design exhibitions and events. The installation is inspired by utopian ideals of the factory as a healthy space shared by humans and machines for production, leisure, and education. Assemble designed an open steel frame structure that produces an outdoor courtyard. Clay tiles to clad the factory were steadily manufactured by a team using a single clay extruder and an electric kiln. A/D/O’s Design Academy participated as a collaborator in the process, which resulted in numerous additional items such as planters, dinnerware, and decorative objects. Louis Schultz, a member of Assemble, shares insights into their working process below: The Architect's Newspaper: Can you share any insights into the formal shape of the tiles used on the facade? Louis Schultz: The tiles work just like standard ceramic overlapping roof tiles. Each one overlaps covers half of two tiles below it as well as covering the seam between them. The difference is that because our installation was a rain screen on a vertical surface we didn’t need as much overlapping as roof tiles. The ribbed shape was partly about showing off the process of extrusion, but they also helped with airflow underneath the tile while the clay was drying, which reduced warping. The hook at the end of the tile was formed by hand after extrusion and it helps the tiles overlap neatly. How big is an individual tile unit? The tiles are approximately 16-inch by 6-inch. We noticed the tiles are installed with two fasteners at the top of each unit. Is it difficult to cut the holes into the tiles? The holes are cut while the clay is still soft using a tool called a hole cutter. The tool consists of a wooden handle with a small metal tube attached of the diameter of the hole you want cut. The business end of the tube is normally cut at 45 degrees. With one pug mill and an electric kiln, how long did it take you to produce the tiles for this installation? From conception to completion, it took about a month. We took delivery of the pug mill (which we had never used before) on the 14th of January and we had the whole exhibition completely finished by 12th of February. We spent a lot of time in the first couple of weeks playing around with the extruder, we made a couple of hundred cups and a couple of hundred other pieces, some useful, some less so. Once we had settled on a design for the tiles, it took about two weeks to manufacture and install them. The main limiting factor was the amount we could fit in the kiln. Were you concerned about the patterning of blue vs white? Is this something you planned or allowed to naturally occur? We weren’t sure exactly how it was going to look until we did it. We had long discussions about doing horizontal blue and white stripes instead while the first batch was firing in the kiln. In the end, we plumped for random because we thought it would be more forgiving of color variations and we knew we would have to use every last tile we made. We couldn't afford to reject any due to slight color discrepancies. We decided to embrace the discrepancies and make batches of lighter and darker blues. We chose the blue after comparing it to a few other pigments, the white we came to later as it was just plain uncoloured clay. It was an easy decision to make as white was the least amount of work to produce. We didn’t draw the random pattern, we just fixed the tiles on the building randomly. What was the most challenging issue to this project? The most challenging issue was probably navigating the NYC Department of Building (DOB) regulatory framework. As a foreigner, it seems like a very draconian and overly bureaucratic system. How did this project compare to Yardhouse? Obviously, that's a reference point. But process-wise it was completely different; the Yardhouse tiles were fibre-reinforced concrete applied into metal molds, whereas these were extruded clay.
Forget a reformed LCD Soundsystem and Guns N’ Roses, the line-up for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival keeps getting more architectural. First we heard of Bureau Spectacular, now AN’s ears picked up news that Turner Prize–winning social impact wunderkind Assemble could be part of the desert festivities one day.
At a ceremony in Glasgow on Monday, the 18-member, London-based architecture and design collective Assemble was awarded the Turner Prize, for Granby Four Streets, its collaborative, community-engaged renovations of Victorian-era homes in Liverpool. The annual award is Britain's most prestigious honor for contemporary artists under 50. This is the only the second time the Turner Prize has been awarded to more than one artist (Gilbert & George won in 1986). The winner receives a cash prize of £25,000 ($38,000). In a statement, the prize jury praised Assemble's social justice focus: “They draw 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.” Assemble doesn't think of itself as a group of artists, per se. Instead, the collective "[works] across the fields of art, architecture and design. Assemble’s working practice seeks to address the typical disconnection between the public and the process by which places are made. Assemble champion a working practice that is interdependent and collaborative, seeking to actively involve the public as both participant and collaborator in the on-going realization of the work." Granby Four Streets builds on the neighborhood's grassroots, but well established preservation work, recruiting and training young people to renovate the homes for resale. Preservation and investment saves the neglected or run-down rowhouses from demolition. At homegoods store Tramway, Assemble sells handmade household items made by Liverpool residents at the Granby Workshop, a parallel project. In addition to their Liverpool projects, the group built the Baltic Street Adventure Playground, in Glasgow, and Yardhouse, a two-story, three-bay workspace with cheap artist's studios for rent. Some in the media questioned whether an art prize could rightfully go to a group of builders who reject the term artist. Others praised the jury's choice as a recognition of the broad definition of art, and the importance of socially responsive projects. Assemble explains their process and their ambivalence around the term "artist" in this video. The three other nominees were Nicole Wermer’s “Infrastruktur,” Janice Kerbel's "DOUG," and Bonnie Camplin's "The Military Industrial Complex." Last year, Duncan Campbell won for "It for Others," a four episode video series that explores the value of art through Marxism, anthropomorphic ketchup dispensers, and the IRA. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PDFVAE0q7g
Noted Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi now has a travel fellowship in her name. Jane Hall, founding member of Assemble, a Stratford, UK–based architecture and design collective, has been selected as the inaugural winner of the British Council’s Lina Bo Bardi Fellowship that will allow her to travel to Brazil this year to study Bo Bardi's work for six weeks this fall. Hall, an architectural assistant at Studio Weave, will investigate how society, culture, and the idea of "Brazilianess" influence the country’s contemporary architectural practices. The fellowship is part of the British Council’s Transform series—a sequence of arts programs between the United Kingdom and Brazil leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.