When we first decided to make an issue on collaboration, (Issue 24) we immediately thought of Assemble, it is hard to imagine how such a large group of people actually manage to work together and make decisions…how many are you in total?
There are around 15 of us that meet regularly but the wider group of people involved in Assemble is much more than that – it’s quite an organic group and I couldn’t give you a figure! Because of the fact that most of us are working or still in education, the amount of time people are able to commit to Assemble is always changing. Having enough people in the first place I think allows this flexible model – there will always be enough people to meet to discuss the current project but we try our best to keep the wider group abreast of what is happening through constant bombardment with mass email threads.
You’re an interdisciplinary group…how did it all start?
The main body of the group came together at the beginning of 2010 with the intention of working on a collaborative project and that turned into the Cineroleum. Most of those initial members of Assemble met studying architecture at Cambridge, but through the Cineroleum project it picked up a number of new members – friends of friends, people who helped us out delivering the broader scope of the cinema (i.e. not just the constructional side of things). It is an essential feature of the two Assemble projects so far that the building is a part of the story, but by no means all of it. Having members coming from backgrounds in art, film, performance and promotion among others is both a cause and a result of this. Each time we do a project the group, its scope and ambition grows a little more.
So when was it that you decided to turn a project into a practice?
Another difficult question! I don’t know if we would describe Assemble as a practice, not yet at least, and certainly not in the traditional sense of course. On the technical side of things we became ‘Assemble CIC’ earlier this year, that was necessary just because the scale and budget of the Folly was on another level to that of the Cineroleum. Once you start dealing with larger organisations, larger sums of money and ultimately more risk, inevitably your working practice needs to become gradually more formal. That strictness has so far remained on paper fortunately, we still managed to operate in a fairly informal manner throughout the Folly.
Not having a fixed HQ (i.e. working out of bedrooms and the back rooms of pubs) again contributes to the amorphous nature of Assemble’s practice – most of us have to operate in our spare time to make Assemble happen. We are currently working on a more permanent home for the group at Sugar House Lane (near the Three Mills in Bow) with a workshop, a space to rehouse a mini-Cineroleum and a public cafe. Obtaining an ‘office’ like this one could describe as another move towards formalising Assemble as a practice – albeit an office with an unusually public aspect. Just like the Cineroleum and the Folly, a large part of the development of this project will take place as we go along, on site.
I’m interested in the very practical side of your relationship as a group: do you all work on every project?
The Folly project started as a large group. When we had a good idea of what we were doing and had secured funding after a few months, we began to take on more specific responsibilities simply because the logistics of delivering the project required it. Although we had specialised roles, we all managed to keep an overview of the project and discuss the really important issues as a group, and for this reason we all maintained a sense of ownership and involvement – it would not have been an Assemble project if we hadn’t.
Its definitely a very democratic approach, quite idealistic! But how efficient is that model, can you sustain it for much longer?
This is a particularly live issue for us at the moment. We now seem to be entering into a new kind of phase in the working model for Assemble because for the first time a lot of different people are beginning to approach us with new projects. Because these are not totally self-initiated and because some of these clients have their own ideas about what they want, we are starting to split into smaller groups, each person getting involved in the project that interests them. It is also a question of efficiency in that in some cases it is in fact easier to operate with less people. The important thing for us is to hold on to the group as a whole, for everyone to be have a decent idea of what is happening with each project, and for everyone to be able to comment and contribute where they want.
How do you see Assemble’s model of collaboration reflected in your projects? Would you say it opens opportunities that a more orthodox form of practicing would not?
The broadness of the ambition of the projects reflects the collaboration within the main body of Assemble between a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and interests. Equally as important as this is the way we have worked with other organizations, over the Cineroleum and especially the Folly. Working with specialists and other groups similar to ourselves has given the projects a richness which we could not have achieved by ourselves. In particular I am thinking about Studio Dekka, who developed the lighting schemes for both the Cineroleum and the Folly. Dekka understand our dynamic very well and have really brought a lot to those two projects.
Apart from the main cinematic programme there were a great number of different groups that ran workshops and hosted events at the Folly. The whole of the water-based side to the Folly project would not have been possible without Floating House Productions. Situated just across the canal, Marek (director) became an integral part of the operation – providing advice and expertise, running boat trips, and bringing about another collaboration with Voluntary Design and Build to build The End of the Pier – the pontoon that allowed us to run a boat service to and from the Folly and became a side-project in its own right.