Granby Street in Liverpool is a great collaboration between Assemble and the locals. By John-Michael O’Sullivan
In old pictures, Liverpool’s Granby Street is a bustling thoroughfare packed with shops – takeaways and launderettes, hairdressers and tailors, florists and supermarkets – all serving the lively, diverse, tightly packed community in the neat grid of Victorian streets that surrounded it.
But decades of alternating clearances and government neglect have left those streets full of holes. Sections of sturdy brick terracing remain, separated by modern lowrises and patches of fenced-off ground. At its southern end, though, after decades of stubborn local activism, Granby Street is beginning to blossom again.
In 2012 the residents were introduced to Assemble, a young architecture collective then mainly known for inventive installations such as Clerkenwell’s Cineroleum, a project that transformed a petrol station into a cinema. Three years later, Assemble unexpectedly won the Turner Prize.
It seems, in retrospect, an unlikely coupling, but five years on, Granby Street has become a rare beacon for thoughtful, human-scaled urban regeneration.g Some of the original housesh have been cleverly r refurbished, while the shellsshell of two others have been combinedcom to form a communitycommu meeting space, café and indoori garden. On theth streets, planters improvisedimp from salvagedsa materials are painted in vivid colours, and gardens are bursting with flowers.
If Assemble were your average architects (and the Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust were your average clients), that’s probably where the story would end. But instead, they ploughed the Turner Prize money into the Granby Workshop, a small manufacturing enterprise which has taken over one of the street’s old corner shops. The aim: to produce experimental handmade products for the home.
“There are a number of core principles behind the workshop products,” Assemble’s Lewis Jones explains. “And one of those is that there should be an element of chance, or accident in the way things are made. So it doesn’t just end up becoming incredibly boring – and that’s where these products developed from.”
As we talk, he pulls out some samples, many of which first saw the light of day during restoration work on the first few houses. There are beautiful handles and door knobs in pale clay, barbecued with pine needles and banana skins to create smoky, scorched effects. There are mottled aggregate mantelpieces, formed from reclaimed building rubble mixed with coloured cement. There is a swathe of patterned tiles, with patterns ranging from marbled streaks to rainbowcoloured transfers.
And now, thanks to their latest toy –an old hydraulic ram press, used to mould clay, lodged in a newly built outhouse – the team is launching Splatware: a series of tableware products made using traditional pottery processes in a characteristically un-traditional way.
“We found a cool machine, and then tried to figure out what we could do with it,” says Jones.
What they do, currently, is produce a range of bowls, plates and cups in plaster moulds, made by placing clay in the kiln with different oxides pressed on top – or “squooshed”, to
We found a cool machine, and then tried to figure out what we could do with it