Thursday24 July 2014

Assemble & Join: making manufacturing cool

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Could one CNC machine finally launch the maker movement in the UK?

The maker movement has been taking America by storm. Make magazine was launched in 2005, followed by the first Maker Faire in California in 2006. It attracted 20,000 attendees, a figure that doubled the year after. And ever since, the hungry self-producing start-ups have been steadily multiplying, hammering, building and carving their way to success.

The UK has been a little slower on the uptake. But now a group of young architects and graphic designers have come together to pioneer “making”, all with one cacophonous CNC machine in a former cafe kitchen.

Sited on one of London’s last thriving independent high streets, GD/hta, Tom Tobia and Christopher Jarratt have opened a community micro-manufacturing workshop. The Assemble & Join team, sited on Lower Marsh behind Waterloo Station, will collaboratively design, manufacture and build their ideas on site with the community. 

And it’s certainly shaken up the community’s curiosity. When BD visits on a typically rainy afternoon, the door is constantly opening and closing. As the CNC machine starts up its dull groan, ears prick up in the peaceful bookshop next door (despite layers of sound insulation) and the shopkeeper comes in to find out what’s going on. Everyone on Lower Marsh seems to want to know what this strange new pop-up is and how they can get involved.

Assemble and Join

The CNC machine

The A&J team first set about refurbishing a former cafe on Lower Marsh into a temporary pop-up when they were awarded a three-month contract from Lambeth Council. Initially commissioned through a competition to design public art for the high street, A&J proposed reversing this idea and getting the community to create the art themselves. They then purchased a bespoke CNC machine from a family-run business in Devon to fit into the small galley kitchen on Lower Marsh high street.

The entrepreneurial young team includes GD/hta — a core team of graphic designers supported by architecture practice HTA — and product designer Christopher Jarratt. The team is also supported by Tom Tobia, who works as a designer, setting up community centres, designing museum exhibitions and even has the Guinness World Record for designing and building the world’s largest bee hotel. They work full-time in Assemble & Join two days a week and squeeze their day jobs around the workshop.

Assemble and Join

Inside Assemble and Join’s workshop

They now have an open-door policy, where anyone from the local community can step into the workshop to create a variety of objects, from bird boxes, Christmas trees and plant pots, to tactile shops signs, childrens’ jigsaws and small pieces of furniture. Everything is slot jointed, meaning no screws or glue, just a mallet and a bit of muscle power.

When BD visited the team, A&J was in the process of creating a death wheel for the retro clothes shop down the street, as well as bespoke flower-holders for the local flower stall. The shop was littered with handmade stools the local Coin Street art group had recently made at a workshop and small wooden mice for local school children.

Through free workshops and drop-in centres, A&J hopes to get the community absorbed in their high street and inspire them to be creative. What is great about the workshop is that it is accessible to all ages, and all skill-sets, you just need a bit of imagination. As Ben Derbyshire, managing director at HTA, told BD: “The informality of a pop-up creates an atmosphere of engagement and social interaction that really lifts the spirit.”

Assemble and Join



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