An indoor garden with roof. Part of Granby Four Streets by Assemble
An indoor garden with roof. Part of Granby Four Streets by Assemble

A group of architects based in East London has won the Turner Prize for a project that transformed a street of neglected terraced houses in Liverpool.

Assemble, a group of 18 architects and designers, collected the prize last night at a ceremony at the Tramway arts venue in Glasgow.

The group won the prize for its Granby Four Streets project, in which it spectacularly restored a cluster of terraced houses in Toxteth, Liverpool, that had been purchased by the local council after the 1981 Toxteth Riots and been allowed to fall into disrepair.

Working alongside residents, Assemble refurbished the houses in a way that celebrated the area’s architectural and cultural heritage, creating an indoor garden and establishing a monthly market.

It has also established the Granby Workshop, a social enterprise that trains and employs local people to manufacture and sell a range of handmade products, the like of which were used to refurbish the houses.

These items, which were on display in a showroom at the Turner Prize exhibition at the Tramway in Glasgow,  are very unlike most of what appears in mainstream homeware shops.

The rich textures and colours of the pieces bespeak the relatively simple processes through which they have been created from raw materials. wall tiles reminiscent of Kandinsky, elegant mantlepieces formed of recycled rubble, one-off ceramic doorknobs, and pressed terracotta lampshades.

Granby Four Streets Axonometric View
Granby Four Streets Axonometric View

Accepting the prize from Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Assemble member Joseph Halligan said: “I think it’s safe to say this nomination was a surprise to us all. The last six months have been a super surreal experience but it has been an opportunity to start something which we really hope will be with us for a very very long time.”

During its 31-year history the Turner Prize has questioned traditional boundaries of what may be considered art, with Tracey Emin’s My Bed from 1998 a particularly notorious example.

Assemble’s entry is no less bold, as it blurs boundaries between art and architecture and has an explicit social purpose. It is also the first Turner Prize-winning entry that people actually live in.

Hazel Tilley, a resident on Cairns Street who was involved with the project, talked of how a sense of pride had been restored to the community thanks to Assemble.

She told Channel 4: “They brought art into everyday living and everyone has a right to that, because otherwise art just belongs to rich people who live in posh houses and it should belong to everybody – real art is accessible.

“It’s a story of humanity, and if art isn’t about humanity I don’t know what it’s about.”

Assemble is the first collective to win the Turner Prize.

The group was selected ahead of artists Bonnie Camplin, Janice Kerbel and Nicole Wermers for the £25,000 prize, which is awarded annually by Tate to a British artist under 50.

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