Participative renovation: a breath of fresh air for urban planning!




Participative renovation: a breath of fresh air for urban planning!

In 2016, I will be regularly discussing eco-neighbourhoods. I decided I would start this section with a big favourite of mine: the wonderful renovation of the working class neighbourhood of Granby Street in Liverpool, England, by Assemble - a collective of (very) young English architects made up of 18 architects and designers.

I am not going to go into detail about the environmental performance of materials or optimal location of buildings in this remarkable example of participative renovation. I am going to tell you about the approach taken by this English collective, which carries out highly original work in the renovation of entire neighbourhoods for the benefit of local residents.

Urban planning’s “slow food”!

In Granby – a zone earmarked for demolition and then left abandoned for many years – these architects did not just help residents to reinvest and rebuild their old artisan dwellings cost-effectively, they also developed a new participative dynamic locally producing decorative objects and furnishings.

Craftsmen, artists and residents from the neighbourhood use materials recovered locally from disused Victorian style houses.

In a workshop located on the site, they make fireplaces, bookends, window boxes, lamps, tripods, tables and lampshades from bricks, slates, wooden tiles, ceramic, cement and fabric. “All the products are made using an approach embracing chance and improvisation, so that each one is unique”, says the collective.

The workshop only makes articles that are pre-ordered (on site in the shop or on the website - and ensures guaranteed income for the company by helping it to launch. All revenues are reinvested to support reconstruction projects in the neighbourhood and initiate other creative projects involving young people from Granby in other workshops.

For academic urban planning, the original approach taken by these young architects (average age between 26 and 29) is like “slow food” for the food industry.

Assemble obtained the Turner Prize: a first for a collective!

In December 2015, the Assemble collective received the prestigious Turner prize awarded by the Tate Gallery. This prize is normally given to an independent artist under the age of 50. For the first time ever, the organisers, highly impressed by the political and ecological ambition of the young architects and designers providing an alternative organisation model, changed the rules of the award. “They are the heirs of a long tradition of artistic collectives and initiatives experimenting in the areas of art, design and architecture” said the members of the jury.

Above all, the Turner Prize made it possible to put the spotlight on new ways of renovating cities and of rethinking urban space. Especially in a European context where efforts are being made to rethink housing, transport and social relations. It illustrates how to use spaces and materials differently and better; how to envisage the relationship between clients and design teams differently; and how to resist the unrelenting financial logic of traditional property development.

The Assemble collective designed projects rethinking urban space in other regions of Great Britain such as Glasgow and London.

If you are passing through Granby in Liverpool or through the other cities mentioned, send us photos of the renovated houses and workshops. We will be glad to put them on line!

Roger Baltus
Engineer - Architect
VMZINC Communication Director

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