Understanding a place or idea: Assemble co-founder Maria Lisogorskaya on how storytelling shapes its work

With community at the heart of the collective’s work, Assemble takes into consideration history, function and aestheticism in the design process. As is key to this week’s theme, this is where storytelling comes in. For Maria Lisogorskaya, one of Assemble’s founding members, the notion of storytelling is broad. She tells us: “I guess stories are a way of understanding a place or an idea.” It doesn’t have to be the cementing foundation of a project, it can be in as simple an interaction as getting to know someone or through the materials we work with, the person behind an object and why they made it.
Assemble first came to the fore of the creative industry when the multi-disciplinary collective won the Turner Prize in 2015. Known for its work overlapping architecture, design and art, the collective made a name for itself with its unique working methodologies: retaining democratic and co-operative processes with a social focus which in turn, allow Assemble to both make things and make things happen. Previously, it’s created a new public art gallery for Goldsmiths, University of London, using its Grade II listed former Victorian bathhouse as a site, as well as converted a few derelict terraced houses in Granby, Liverpool, into a freely accessible local hub for the neighbourhood.
In Assemble’s body of work so far, storytelling is hinted in a range of experiences. Currently, as Maria points out, it’s working on a project which sees the former house of artist and activist Annette Pedrtti, transformed into a space that provides resources for grassroots movements and local people in Spitalfields, London. Titled House of Annetta, Assemble is collaborating with not-for-profit Merseyside-based company Rule of Threes to develop this social centre, research platform and resource, in the hopes of aiding housing justice and land rights in the UK. A complex project balancing logistical practicalities alongside design details, Maria explains how the building off Brick Lane is riddled with Annetta’s story. “It’s about telling her story and her interests in beekeeping, social rights activism and plastering,” she says.