Assemble, a London-based collective who "work across the fields of art, design and architecture to create projects in tandem with the communities who use and inhabit them," have been announced as the winners of the 2015 Turner Prize – Europe’s most prestigious contemporary visual art award. Their nomination was a surprise to many, not least because an architect (or architecture collective, in this case) has not been shortlisted before. Previous winners—some of whose work has intersected with the world of architecture—include Gilbert & George, Anish Kapoor (known for the Orbit at the 2012 London Olympic Games), Antony Gormley, Damien Hirst, Gillian Wearing and Grayson Perry (a collaborator on FAT's final built work).
The collective, who were shortlisted for the coveted award alongside British artists Bonnie Camplin and Janice Kerbel, and German artist Nicole Wermers, is comprised of eighteen members and were established in 2010 as they graduated from the University of Cambridge. Although the majority of the members studied Architecture, others have backgrounds in English, History, Philosophy, and construction. Their working practice "seeks to address the typical disconnection between the public and the process by which places are made," and they have championed a working practice which is both independent and collaborative, developing projects which engage the public as both a participant and collaboration in the on-going realisation of the work.
The project which initially clinched their inclusion on the shortlist is Granby Four Streets, a cluster of working-class terraced houses in Toxteth, Liverpool, North West England. Assemble's approach to this urban regeneration project has centred on "a sustainable and incremental vision for the area that builds on the hard work already done by local residents and translates it to the refurbishment of housing, public space and the provision of new work and enterprise opportunities."
As reported in The Guardian, Turner Prize judges praised what they called "a ground-up approach to regeneration, city planning and development in opposition to corporate gentrification." The jury's citation stated that "they draw on long traditions of artistic and collective initiatives that experiment in art, design and architecture. In doing so they offer alternative models to how societies can work. The long-term collaboration between Granby Four Streets and Assemble shows the importance of artistic practice being able to drive and shape urgent issues."
Following the announcement that the project was shortlisted for the Turner Prize earlier this year, Assemble set up the Granby Workshop – an artisan collective which aims to eliminate widespread dereliction in one of Liverpool's most blighted boroughs through the replacement of objects that have, over time, been stripped away. Sustained through a crowdfunding model, the Granby Workshop have since launched a broad collection of locally sourced, designed and assembled homewares available for purchase online. An exhibition of their wares has been on display in Glasgow's Tramway to coincide with the Turner Prize run-up and announcement.
Not without its critics, the great, late art critic of the London Evening Standard, Brian Sewell, once wrote that "the annual farce of the Turner Prize is now as inevitable in November as is the pantomime at Christmas." Although we shall never know whether Assemble's left-of-centre, socially conscious prize-winning scheme would have shaken Sewell's opinion of the Turner, Assemble's success in this field is undoubtedly an example of the diversification, adaptability, and permeability of the profession at large.
As 2015 laureates of the Turner Prize, they will receive a £25,000 (around $38,000) prize and the prestige of being among the ranks of one of the most significant—and often controversial—awards in the contemporary art world. You can find out more about their winning project here.