Themes/Identity: Design and architecture collectives

Most spaces that we use every day were designed or have evolved into places that are very specific to the needs and desires of its users.

Nick introduces us to some collectives that take this as a cue for making work.

Putting people first is a crucial element of spatial, interior design and architecture — it makes or breaks the ‘social life’ of spaces that we share with each other. Georges Perec was a member of the French collective Oulipo — founded in 1960 — and he often wrote about spaces and how people interact with them:

“There are spaces today of every kind and every size, for every use and every function. To live is to pass from one space to another, while doing your very best not to bump yourself.”

Since the global financial crash in 2008 there has been a resurgence of collectives, offering young designers an alternative way to work away from conventional top-down practices and studios. Collectives are horizontally-organised (meaning everyone has an equal role) and often formed of like-minded creatives keen to collaborate in experimental ways. They lend themselves to an interdisciplinary approach on how best to respond to different design challenges. The wide range of skills and ideas that individuals bring from different creative disciplines can give a refreshing take on design problem-solving.

From the utopian avant-garde groups of the 1960’s to today’s hands-on makers and engagers, design collectives are invariably socially and politically engaged and use collaboration (both together and with a community of users) to create dynamic and exciting new spaces.


Superstudio: Forming concepts of space

Credit: ‘Quaderna’ table for furniture company Zanotta, designed by Superstudio. Photograph, courtesy of Zanotta, Italy, 1971.
Formed by a group of young Florentine architecture graduates, Superstudio used a combination of collage, film, models and performance to propose radical alternatives for the future of cities. Inspired by science fiction and the rapidly changing technologies of the time Superstudio proposed the ‘supersurface’, a spatial device intended to unite and democratise citizens’ relationships to buildings, open spaces and therefore, it was hoped, to one-another.

For more inspiration, seek out other contemporary collectives Archigram, Utopie and Ant Farm


raumlaborberlin: Making space for thinking and learning

Credit: GIF of images from the ‘Spacebuster’ project, for the Pulitzer Art Foundation in St Louis, United States. Photograph by Kevin Mcelvaney for raumlaborberlin, 2017.
Made up of nine core members and a fluctuating number of collaborators, raumlaborberlin have been producing experimental spatial responses to a range of contexts across the world for almost 20 years. The recent ‘Floating University’ in Berlin, was designed and built as a temporary campus for collaboration, hosting 25 universities from across Germany and Europe. The space enabled both fleeting encounters between diverse ideas and more lasting connections between students and the areas they were analysing.

Find out more about ‘Space Buster’ and ‘Floating University’ on raumlaborberlin’s website.


Assemble: Reactivating forgotten spaces

Credit: ‘A Factory As It Might Be’. Photograph by Sam Nixon at A/D/O, 2017.
One for the best-known collectives practicing in the UK presently is the 18-strong, Assemble who shocked the art establishment in 2015 by winning the Turner Prize. Design projects range from the ephemeral, such as the 2010 ‘Cineroleum’ — a temporary cinema created in a disused petrol station — to the more strategic, such as Assemble’s Turner Prize winning project, ‘Granby Four Streets’. This was a long-term collaboration with residents and a local community land trust in Toxteth, Liverpool to reactivate parts of the neighbourhood.

Find out more about ‘A Factory As It Might Be’ on Assemble’s website

Follow Assemble on Instagram


ON/OFF: Imagining new ways to live

Credit: ‘Rhombi House’. Photograph by Mattias Kestel and ON/OFF, 2015.
Established in 2012, the ON/OFF collective is interested in exploring the experience of the city users and mediating new and experimental relationships between communities and their built environment. The ‘Rhombi House’ was a prototype dwelling “built for today’s life communities, which are no longer only made up of father, mother, child and dog. It serves as a training ground for new living.” ‘Rhombi House’ was built in eight days and for under €250 through the use of recycled and re-appropriated materials.

Find out more about ‘Rhombi House’ on ON/OFF’s website


Collectif Etc: Finding like-minded thinkers

Credit: GIF of images from the ‘Folie Bergère’ project. Photographed by Collectif Etc, 2017.
Between 2011 and 2012 twelve members of the Etc Collective launched the ‘Détour de France’, cycling around their home country meeting a mix of fully established design collectives as well as loosely formed, amateur constellations of designers and creatives. The project was undertaken as an exploration of the full spectrum of collective practice they themselves were part of in France and is charted in their book of the same name.

Explore more of Collectif Etc’s projects on their website

Take a look at Collectif Etc’s collection of research images on Pinterest


Orizzontale: Enriching public spaces

Credit: GIF of images from Orizzontale’s ‘8½’ project, photographs by Musacchio Ianniello, courtesy of Fondazione MAXXI, 2014.
Practicing since 2010, Orizzontale (their name is a reference to their horizontal organisation) have been pursuing, in their words, projects of “communal relational space”. ‘8½’, a mobile theatre built for the public square adjacent to the MAXXI Museum in Rome was an example of such a relational space, intended to position public life in the foreground. The 8.5 meter high walls laced with glowing bowl lanterns framed everyday actions which took place in the piazza, which otherwise would have gone unseen.

Seek out out other projects by Orizzontale on their website

Follow Orizzontale on Instagram


Enorme Studio: Encouraging community

Credit: ‘Urban Spa’. Photograph by PKMN Architectures, 2015.
Enorme Studio are based in Madrid and work across a range of scales, from furniture and interior design projects, to playful public interventions exhibitions and temporary built structures. The Urban Spa was the result of a student workshop in the city of Chihuahua in Mexico. Participants used recycled materials to reimagine a challenging and neglected public space as a place of leisure where the community could come together.

Discover more of Studio Enorme’s projects on their website

Follow Enorme Studio on Instagram

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