DE­SIGN

The Observer Magazine - - THIS WEEK'S USSUE -

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

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