Giles Smith, Mathew Leung, and Paloma Strelitz
Photography: David Cleveland Giles Smith, Mathew Leung, and Paloma Strelitz (left to right)

Giles Smith, Mathew Leung, and Paloma Strelitz are principals with Assemble, a London-based design collective founded in 2010 that comprises 14 members today. The group’s work is varied, from installations to furniture to its “live projects,” such as transforming derelict buildings or leading research trips to document how children interact with nature. The principals of Assemble are committed to variation, too. “There isn’t a rule or methodic way of developing projects that we’ve always followed,” Smith says. “We begin projects from scratch.”

Our contribution to the Chicago Biennial is a film documenting the Baltic Street Adventure Playground and its context in Glasgow. We think that architects have a lot to learn from play and good environments for play, and Chicago will be a great opportunity to find a new audience.

An adventure playground is a place that’s dense in variety—full of material, physical challenge, and change. It’s a place that permits children to learn and grow in an environment that is permissive and secure. Contemporary cities, on the other hand, are commodified, tightly regulated, and increasingly uniform.

Cities could be more like adventure playgrounds. In the playground, children are given agency over its change, and for us this is an essential part of being in the city. As [the geographer] David Harvey has said, our right to the city is “a right to change ourselves by changing the city.” Our projects reflect this idea.

The principal challenge as we grow and develop will be ensuring that our particular form of practice—as well as meaningful public engagement, an economy of means, and material experimentation— are maintained as we take on larger and potentially more formal projects. How do you continue to generate meaningful engagement with the construction process on a large and complex formal building site? And how can hands-on testing and prototyping in our humble workshop be used as a tool to help design a £3 million [$4.6 million] project? Far from being concerns, these questions represent exciting challenges that we look forward to tackling.

Assemble is one of more than 70 participants in the Chicago Architecture Biennial, sponsored in part by the AIA. Learn more at