Assemble & Join

A&J is bringing digital manufacturing to the high street, meaning anybody and everybody is able to play a more active role in shaping where they live and work.


Assemble & Join is a community engagement tool used to bring people together to create physical objects for the public realm. Occupying on-site spaces, the project aims to bring people together, using co-design techniques, and giving people access to equipment and activities that they may not otherwise have.

The workshops are centred around utilising a CNC wood router and hand tools, and for participants to design collectively along themes for each place. Designs are then drawn up and cut on the CNC router, using plywood, before being constructed by the workshop participants to be installed in the public realm.

A&J has been utilised as an engagement tool across many of HTA’s projects, with residencies as part of estate regeneration and as a creative way of meeting and talking to communities.

Communications & Engagement

A&J - Lower Marsh, Lambeth

Assemble & Join (A&J) first operated in October 2012, as a community based workshop and design space, based in a converted commercial space on Lower Marsh, London SE5. Situated in a former cafe, A&J offered local residents, school children, shopkeepers, market traders and community groups the chance to collectively imagine, design and build changes to the public realm to better suit their needs, as well as those of the community as a whole.

The project was part of a Lambeth Council funded arts project in conjunction with the local BID (Business Improvement District) team Waterloo Quarter, as part of the on-going regeneration of the local area, and paid for via S106 contribution. The commission was won through open competition, with the original project brief to create a single piece of public art, created through a period of public engagement.

The A&J team was comprised of four collaborative designers – Lucy Smith – Partner at HTA, Theo Adamson (past HTA employee), Tom Tobia – an engagement led designer and social innovator and Christopher Jarratt – a woodworking artist. The team took a short-term lease on a former cafe at 19 Lower Marsh, and took about refurbishing the space, ultimately forming a new gallery and workshop which would house the main piece of equipment – a CNC machine (Computer Numerical Control); a digital manufacturing tool that can be programmed to accurately cut complex shapes from sheet material (predominantly plywood).

The workshops are centred around participants designing collectively along themes:

  • Economic: How to encourage more visitors, and increase footfall to the street, therefore potentially improving revenues for local businesses. Typical outputs – A-frames for shops, market stall signage, wayfinding elements.
  • Social: Looking at how people interact on the street; with each other and with their surroundings. Typical outputs – Street furniture such as stools, benches; street table tennis.
  • Environmental: Encouraging wildlife, ecology and ‘greening the street’. Typical outputs – Planters, bird boxes, vertical gardens.

A number of apprentice opportunities were available whilst we were operating at Lower Marsh, with three regular volunteers assisting with the running of workshops as well as learning new skills, in design, carpentry and digital manufacturing.

In total we ran over 100 free ‘Design & Make’ workshops for over 450 local people of all ages with varying abilities, as well as more informal drop-in workshops for passers by. Activities that are generated within the A&J workshop are created and flourish because of the individual participants taking part.

Workshops succeed by encouraging people to work collaboratively to think about community need. Assemble & Join is a creative catalyst, encouraging communities to come together and collectively contribute to their own environments. This enables all participants to have a voice, engage with and take ownership of something that they themselves have created.

A&J Aylesbury Estate, Southwark

As part of the public engagement programme at the Aylesbury Estate in Southwark Assemble and Join was housed in two shipping containers on the site that is now occupied by Plot 18 – the new public square. Over a four week summer pop-up, the project attracted hundreds of local people, all designing and building items for the local area.

Our client at Notting Hill Genesis worked with us to make the project happen and to help advertise it across the estate. We ran daily workshops for full days, and created many items including street furniture, table tennis tables, bird boxes, planters, a new cross for the church, signage for youth clubs and the local community centre.

The established programme of designing days and making days resulted in the individuals and groups participating to decide chess tables, signs, skateboard ramps and football targets were needed in the play areas and open spaces. A lot of fun was had by the participants from HTA and local residents.

A&J - Winstanley & York Road estates, Battersea

The latest incarnation of the Assemble & Join engagement project opened on the Winstanley & York Road estates in July 2019 with a series of community based design and build workshops. Settled in a converted retail space, the workshops once again focus on resident participation and collective creativity. The workshops are free for all participants and used to help encourage as much participation as possible from the community affected by the regeneration.

Early workshops included a typography session with nearby Falconbrook school, where children designed planters with what they wanted to be when they grow up in different fonts. The children then came back and assembled the planters at the Get Active Battersea festival, held in York Gardens. We also held a community installation with local group Providence House; some carpentry skills sessions with community groups, and drop in sessions where participants came in and designed individual items for the community such as a bug hotel.

Predominantly working with organised community group sessions, A&J in this location, was altered to navigate the effects of Covid-19, moving to online workshops shortly after becoming established.

The workshops went mostly online, with digital consultations, and remote fabrication, with elements delivered to individuals for assembly.

This included an extensive project with local food rescue organisation ‘Waste Not, Want Not’ who needed a new shop fit out for their daily deliveries. We created a modular and mobile shelving system that could be used in their nearby shop space.

We spent some time with the Chelsea Pensioners over the first year, working with their residents to re-engineer bird boxes and planters based on their engineering knowledge and craftsmanship.

The participants put together ideas in the first sessions and we then went away to cut all the elements on the CNC router, before returning to their site to be assembled.

Their designs have been taken forward and used in multiple other locations and by other groups.

A&J - Trevenson Park, Cornwall

Trevenson Park in Cornwall is a housing project designed by HTA with a selection of Custom Build homes. As part of our community engagement programme, we ran workshops with participants creating their own custom build bird boxes for custom build homes. People built and decorated their own bird boxes and took them away to encourage local species to nest in them.

Due to the distance, we cut all of the elements at our workshop and then delivered them to site to be assembled.
The bird boxes were decorated to compliment our idea of ‘custom homes, custom bird boxes’.