Harper's Bazaar March 2016 - Page 197

ASSEMBLE DESIGN COLLECTIVE That United Kingdom’s most prestigious award for art, the Turner Prize 2015, went to a crew of non-artists for the first time speaks volumes of its winner: Assemble, a London-based design collective. Far from Damien Hirst’s cow and calf in formaldehyde (it won theTurner in 1995), Assemble’s project tackles urban dereliction in Liverpool. Its 15 members used design, art, and construction to uplift the community of an area called Granby Four Streets back in 2012, and work is still ongoing in collaboration with a group of residents. It involves the renovation of ten houses along with some empty shops, creating social outdoor spaces, and offering building jobs and training to local people. “The city can be very dis-empowering; Assemble is interested in addressing the typical disconnection between people and the way buildings and infrastructure are made. Given that the built environment is man-made and malleable, our studio explores creative opportunities for people to shape their surroundings,” said Paloma Strelitz of Assemble upon receiving the 31st Turner Prize—with it, Assemble also became the first collective to win, and only the second non-individual, after the artist duo Gilbert & George won in 1986. The members realised their first project in 2010—a temporary cinema, Cineroleum, in an abandoned petrol station in London, built from borrowed, recycled, and industrial materials with the help of over a hundred volunteers. Since then, their work has included Yardhouse, an affordable workspace building in Stratford; the Brutalist Playground, with artist SimonTerrill, which comprises playground designs remade in foam . “We’ve always occupied slightly fuzzy territory between art and architecture and we often question how to describe ourselves. The work we do deals with a number of different things and whether that’s art or architecture in a way doesn’t seem very important,” says Louis Schulz, Assemble. And while the distinction is lost on the team, the prize is validation that the work they do is no less than art—and it’s for everyone. (From left) Folly for a Flyover, which transformed a disused motorway undercroft in Hackney Wick in London into an arts venue and new public space; the Assemble design collective. IMAGES COURTESY ASSEMBLE VISHAAN CHAKRABARTI, ARCHITECT AND URBAN PLANNER For architect and urban planner Vishaan Chakrabarti, cities are the solution to environmental problems. Which is why he quit a prime position at New York City-based SHoP Architects to set up his own firm in October 2015. The goal? To create urban architecture for cities to grow in a way that’s responsive to climate and societal change. “I wanted to set up a practice dedicated to the advancement of cities. I spent my career working between architecture and urban planning, and wanted a platform when I could do both, and address the challenges in the city space in a direct way,” says Kolkata-born, NYC-based Chakrabarti, a professor of real estate development in Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation. He moved to the States when he was very young, but travelled extensively to India and abroad growing up—that’s how he developed an understanding of cities and the culture they create. According to him, here’s what it would take for cities to step up: Less private cars and more parks, a waterfront, a good transport system, energy-efficient buildings, more public spaces, and developing small cities so not everyone from the villages hops on a train to Mumbai or Delhi. “Public areas not only bring amenity, but also a space for public discourse, if you look at movements like Black Lives Matter. With fewer cars, people will have more face-to-face interaction, which leads to innovation and a serendipitous exchange of ideas,” says Chakrabarti, who studied engineering and art history at Cornell University, and holds two master’s degrees, including one from MIT in city planning. His plan is to explore the ability of workspaces to bring people together, how workers in a city innovate, and the role of urban architecture and strategies that allow cities to grow in a way that is responsive to climate and social change. With his company’s first client—Sidewalk Labs, a Googlebacked start-up in NYC—he and a team of eight are looking at using modern technology to advance city life. “Each urban city is not the same. NYC has wonderful sidewalks and public spaces, but it lacks good infrastructure. Kolkata has a wonderful street life but no sufficient advancement in housing. Is Dubai really a city? It has shiny tall buildings but no public space or ability for classes to interact,” says Chakrabarti, whose mission now is to bridge the gap between architecture and urban planning to build beautiful, sustainable cities. n 197