Assemble was set up by a group of friends. Most of them had graduated from Cambridge in 2009 and were working in architectural practices, on the long road to becoming fully qualified architects. They were starting to feel the itch to do something different. Over Christmas 2009, meeting up at parties, they started to think seriously about it. Paloma Strelitz, 28, says: “Over eight months we’d meet once a week and talk about it, and it started to take shape.” That summer they took holiday time from their jobs and worked on their first project: the conversion of a disused petrol station in London into a temporary cinema. (Schulz hooked up with the young architects because he knew how to install sound systems and projectors.) “There was no imperative,” says Leung. “There was no client.”
For a while Assemble was a hobby, says Lisogorskaya – something they discussed in the pub and at each other’s homes. Then, in 2011, came their first actual grownup commission, with a client: to revivify the New Addington Central Parade in Croydon, turning a car park into a public square. Schulz says: “It was really mental – it felt like when we were nominated for the Turner prize. It was an open competition and we were up against proper architects.”
After around a year, they set themselves up as a company. They acquired their own HQ at Sugarhouse Studios in east London – converting the existing industrial shed themselves and sharing it with other makers and designers. Most of the collective work elsewhere part time. They are paid as freelancers, with some money going into a central pot for the company. They have a complex set of rules and organising principles, all set up so they can work the way they want to, but occasionally (I can see by heads falling into hands) a touch frustrating, and constantly in the process of change and experiment. For example, a question about gender balance in the group leads to a lengthy explanation of the “lunch rota”. As their base lacks local cafes, one person cooks lunch for the others based on a points system – the more meals you are present for, the more you have to cook. At the moment, says Leung, the lunch rota – as good an indication as any of who is working at the moment – contains nine men and six women.
Assemble is deeply pragmatic, which allows a very dynamic, articulate and intriguing group of young people to self-organise and work in ways that suit them. They are hoping the Turner prize will give them a fresh platform: there is a lot to be discussed at the next Assemble “summit”. In the end, it seems that what brings them together is not precisely a set of principles, or even a shared approach, but a common conversation. I ask, for example, what if a hypothetical super-rich client asked for a luxury house with all the trimmings and an underground swimming pool? Would they take on such a project?
Read the wonderful ''Create: Perspectives on the value of art and culture'' HERE