Hope among the Ruins

Urban regeneration of the district of Granby in Liverpool by Assemble

Rosamund Diamond

Granby Four Streets is a regeneration programme for the small area of that name in south east central Liverpool. This is a neighbourhood of four remaining streets of Victorian terraced houses, forming part of the Granby Triangle, most of which lay derelict after a large part of the area had been raised and redeveloped by Liverpool Council following infamous uprisings/riots1 in 1981, and as part of the Labour government's questionable state funded 'HMR Pathfinder' housing renewal programme2. The name Granby Four Streets is now internationally associated with the art and architecture collective Assemble, who won the UK's prestigious Turner Prize with it in 2015. But Granby's resurgent development has been more organic, with several stages of projects interlinked by a network of parties, coincidental connections, and interests, instigated by a vital residents' group, with Assemble as designer and facilitator. The circumstances which enabled the restoration of the ten terraced houses for which Assemble won the art prize, together with Assemble's setting up of the Granby Workshop Social Enterprise to make products for the houses3, are unusual. The collection of carefully considered ongoing interventions, which have been incrementally implemented, are the result of collaborative practices leading to ambitions for how neglected environments might develop.
Liverpool, once a great industrial port based city, was declining from the 1950s with economic recessions leading to considerable deprivation.The Triangle through which Granby Street runs, which was previously inhabited by shipping merchants, artisans and clerks, became a major immigrant area, (now, recently, of the Somali and Yemeni communities). Until the 1970's, Granby was well known as a thriving multi-cultural High Street with approximately eighty shops. By the 1990s a massive redevelopment programme had lead to the community's fragmentation through eviction, and its abandonment.
The projects in the Four Streets arose from a strong group of remaining residents defending their houses and the last terraced streets from demolition, followed by their direct actions of 'improving' the derelict houses to re-establish and define their desired environment. The delivery of the restored terrace resulted from a collective will to change Granby's condition, and a fortuitous alignment of a private funder, who with the introduction of Assemble's particular design techniques, and a shift in the City council's policy towards urban regeneration, lead Liverpool to take the risk of gifting the ten houses on Cairns Street to the recently formed Granby 4 Street Community Land Trust. CLTs4 are a recent type of self-sustaining, community led regenerative organisation for local housing. The Granby 4 Street CLT formalised the intention of renovating the houses to provide affordable housing for local residents, and to support community enterprises such as the Workshop. The funder of the houses was a private social finance company Steinbeck Studios, who, seeking a first project, was introduced to Granby and Assemble through a contact at the heritage campaign group SAVE who had publicised a successful fight to retain the nearby much larger Welsh Streets area.
Before Assemble's involvement, the Granby residents started with increasingly bold actions to take control of their Cairns Street environment, clearing street debris, externally repainting the boarded up houses, and 'guerilla' front gardening as a counter culture to the conditions of plant overgrowth resulting from the houses' neglect.5 The action was referred to by one of the residents as 'creative care-taking (It) isn't cautious and containing. It needs to be as bold and expansive as you can manage.6 Their expanded projects included further painting and planting in the other streets, installing planters and seats, and a basket ball net. To address the commercial depletion and publicise Granby's resurrection, they started a monthly street market with food and other stalls, live music and performance. From the start, their processes were creative and could engage reciprocally with designers. The residents' direct DIY was adapted by Assemble, synthesising elements of the 'lost' houses in their practical, economic renovation designs, with experimental artistic methods which they could develop with the community in the Workshop. Simultaneously, the CLT's ambitions were formalised by Assemble's research, with a short feasibility study for Steinbeck, resulting in the Ducie Street proposal. Assemble then amalgamated this with all the informal plans by interested parties, including the Northern Alliance Housing Cooperative, into one incremental masterplan, as a convincing proposal to Liverpool Council. The commissioning of the feasibility study by Steinbeck and their introduction of Assemble to the CLT with their funding of a low interest loan for the eight house refurbishments7, validated Granby Four Streets as a viable concern, triggering implementation and other housing association refurbishments of nearby streets8.
The current Granby Four projects start with the eight completed houses on Cairns Street and the Winter Garden which is under construction. For economy, Assemble's final design for the houses, used a more standardised house refurbishment which has nevertheless developed the designs with wit and usefulness, opening the first floors into the roof space to use their whole volume. Internal architectural elements invented and crafted in the Workshop from recycled and standard materials, play on the Council's erasure of every feature and the residents' sense of the old places. They include Granby 'Rock' fireplaces from salvaged brick, slate and stone, and sawdust ceramic cupboard knobs, hand patterned tiles and pressed terracotta lamps, metaphors for the old interiors. The environment in which Assemble has worked and the structure it has built in Granby, synthesises its design with practical and economic conditions, and its artistic methods with community outputs. Assemble runs the Workshop from a corner building on Granby Street, to train local young people, and to sell products. Adapting to what became practical, it now only produces architectural ceramics. The Workshop recently acquired an industrial clay extruder and an electric kiln as 'donations' from a temporary project workshop 'A Factory As It Might Be' Assemble ran in a creative space in Brooklyn, New York. "We are interested in how utopian ideas can be applied to the very practical reality of construction, and how building elements – and their method of production – can become an expression of social, economic and political aspirations"9.
The Granby Winter Garden is now on site as the development of two adjoining houses on Cairns Street. The idea of a covered garden was included in Assemble's original design, proposed because a tree was growing in the middle of a collapsed Ducie Street house. The final scheme has a communal garden, with an artist's residency and studio space at the back of one of them, which can be rented to raise some running revenue. The garden in what were two of the most derelict houses leaves them gutted as a vertical 'knock through' of the whole house volumes with a glass roof added. The funding for this as a creative project is from the Arts Council, reinforcing the crossover of regeneration with the arts. The different funding sources reflect the projects' potentially piecemeal emergence, with the advantage of non homogenised outcomes and the disadvantage of their slowness to happen. The original ambitious proposal for the Ducie Street terrace has stalled after negotiations between Steinbeck and Liverpool council collapsed, partly as a result of the financial risk involved in the development.
The most recent, ongoing project is the Granby Four Corners, a proposal to develop a group of corner buildings as a 'seedbed' to revitalize Granby Street's social and economic infrastructure. The project is developing slowly, dependent on Liverpool Council's handover of the other corner buildings. Nevertheless there are small signs of regeneration, with a thriving hairdressers and nail bar opening on the next block corners. The projects demonstrate the organic way in which revitalising the immediate area might start to happen. The conditions of change are complicated and risk dependent, they can be slow in their outcomes. They are certainly community dependent. The danger is that run down areas such as the Granby Triangle will depend on these small non replicable interventions or local initiatives, which will not be state supported or incorporated into more substantial projects. In this case, a critical factor is at what point the Granby Four projects might be self sustaining. The Granby Four Streets neighbourhood needs to rebuild its depleted community to a sufficient size and critical mass to support commercial enterprises, including shops and the Workshop. Given its aim is the neighbourhood's re-emergence, with youth training, it would be unworkable for it to be permanently dependent on a small core of residents. For Assemble, having committed to the Workshop they founded, their involvement is currently open ended. Having moved to Liverpool, one of their members runs the workshop full time and organizes the means for it to develop and grow. This includes recently launching on its behalf a Kickstarter new business initiative to raise funds to produce the Workshop's recently developed inventive ceramic 'Splatware'. The aim is for the products to be made and distributed by early 2018. Assemble's involvement with Granby Four Streets has maintaned the organic nature of the projects as a creative process. One of the hardest issues is how the informalism by which the projects arose and developed, could be maintained as a dynamic component of their unpredictable future outcomes.

1 Granby's inhabitants describe the events as uprisings, they were described by the authorities and the media as riots
2 The Housing Market Renewal Initiative (HMRI) or Housing Market Renewal (HMR) 'Pathfinder' programme 2002-2001 was introduced by The Labour Government as a questionable policy to improve rundown urban areas to raise house values. The councils wanted the available central government  funding irrespective whether it was in the best interests of the neighbourhood
3 The Workshop was launched with a showroom installation at the Turner Prize exhibition.
4 Community Land Trusts originate from social land reform and the civil rights movement in the US. In 2006 to 2008, a number of pilot projects were supported. In 2010 the National CLT Network was established to support the growing CLT movement.
5 'They placed potted plants and garden furniture out on pavements, painted derelict house frontages.
with murals, and grew plants and flowers up buildings. Much of this was preceded by a council-funded adult education programme on ecology and gardening called “ Growing Granby”.
6 Eleanor Lee 'The power of work in public' in 'Granby Workshop Catalogue' 2015.
7 The CLT have sold three and are renting five to cover the loan.
8 Liverpool Mutual Homes and Plus Dane Group in partnership with Liverpool Council have been refurbish other properties in the Granby Four Steets, in Beaconsfield Road and Jermyn Street.
9 Lewis Jones, Assemble, interview for Dezeen on the A/D/O residency. Jones runs the Granby Workshop as the Assemble member Liverpool resident.