City as Material: Norwich

Tim Wright joined Giles and I for our second City As Material outside of London on Tuesday, as we took a trip to Norwich, where Tim spent his early years.

The train from London seemed distinctly commuter-free compared to our journey to Bristol, with only a handful of people in our carriage. We bagged table seats, and sat down to some much needed coffee, battling against the dreary weather outside. Mucky, sepia-tinted windows gave the landscape outside a grainy, nostalgic vibe, the perfect accompaniment to tales of Tim’s childhood in Norwich.

Arriving there, after setting up the GPS tracker and sound recorder Tim had brought, we walked down the main stretch of tacky nightclubs and kebab joints, possibly not the best introduction to the city. However, we soon spied Norwich castle, a curious structure, almost too uniform and perfect considering it dates from the 11th century. Tim said it looked like a fairy-tale castle, a manifestation of the first thing you’d see when you heard the word “castle”. Next to it, a space-age cylindrical lift ferried visitors to and from the lower levels – a bizarre combination.

We descended to the city centre, passing the market, towards Elm Hill, a historic cobbled lane with houses and shops dating from the Tudor period. This amazing street is home to the Strangers Club, set up to entertain those from outside Norwich, and where Tim’s father regularly took him to lunch. I couldn’t resist a peek through a lofty window, and was greeted with the sight of a woman carrying flagons from the kitchen, hastily ducking before she noticed. Further up, the window of an antique and curiosity shop in a side court displayed Crowley-esque goat horns and all manner of surreal exhibits.

After passing through the beautiful cathedral and it’s ornate cloisters (and a hilarious sign outside which read “We apologise for the untidy appearance of these ruins”), we popped into the Writer’s Centre, recruiting Chris Gribble briefly as our tour guide. He mentioned that Norwich was barely affected by the industrial revolution, apparent in the structures pre-dating it which are so common. We cut through the shopping centre, past the cinema where Tim first saw Star Wars, and arrived by a huge derelict building adorned with a giant graffiti mural; originally zoned for development, but now a victim of the property crash. A dystopian counterpart to the medieval niches of the city.

Before departing, Chris recommended The Window, the “world’s smallest coffee shop” (appropriately next to the “UK’s best pizza and kebab” shop – a dubious claim). After lunch in the refreshingly different Cinema City dining rooms (housed in a building where parts date back the the 14th century, yet the courtyard is sheltered by a modern glass roof), we stopped by. It resembles a tiny kitchen, with only a small bench and a chair or two to perch on, but has a great atmosphere. We chatted with the owner and several locals, and left with the after-glow of a dynamic and friendly venture trailing behind. Tim’s previous statement that nothing much had changed since he left, and that the pulse of the city was definitely on the slow side, had a small, yet charming, contender.

All day we had noticed plaques underneath various street signs, some with slightly vague origins; the phrases “may have been named because” and “could be” were used an awful lot. Paired with peculiar names, such as “Rampant Horse Street” and “Tombland”, these gave us the idea of perhaps creating some Storycubes with street-sign images, and fictional explanations on the other side, which could be fun. We were also interested in using GPS data and sound recordings from the day for an eBook output, particularly Tim’s childhood memories, and the peaks and lulls in conversations when passing through certain areas, so that we could contrast the physical experiences with raw data, examining the correlations and disparities. We’ll be starting work on those soon, so keep an eye out on Diffusion.

View our photos from the day on the City As Material Flickr page.


City As Material: Bristol

Yesterday, Giles and I took a trip to Bristol to meet Andrew Hunter from Dodolab, for our first City As Material event outside of London.

Rising early to jostle with commuters, gazing out the windows as London slipped away, we found ourselves wishing the grey clouds starting to form would soon depart. Giles recounted some of Bristol’s trading history as a major seaport – first cloth and food, then tobacco and plantation goods, and most recently motor vehicles and other industrial goods.  The diverse influences these commodities have had, and the industries that grew from them, were apparent as soon as we stepped out from Bristol Temple Meads station. Classical architecture nestles alongside warehouses and work yards, the skyline an eclectic mix with multiple layers and contrasting shapes. We headed towards the city centre, past absurdly named company headquarters and a block of ultra-modern flats being developed, the new exterior half grafted on to a former electrical station. Deeper in, the surroundings became rundown and slightly seedy, with plenty of covertly named “massage” parlours. The intensifying rain only added to a faint sense of melancholy. This was soon replaced by the overwhelming juxtaposition of Broadmead shopping centre, its multitude of intersecting walkways and floors giving off a definite M.C Escher vibe.

Andrew met us outside a great little cafe in Stokes Croft,  Zazu’s Kitchen, which we soon entrenched ourselves in and planned our next steps. He was interested in exploring Harbourside and the water, having already spent some time in Stokes Croft, a burgeoning counter culture hub, and an area with complex issues commonly cross-examined.

Along the river we passed some quirky houseboats and a cafe named after Brunel – a name with plenty of homages in this city. The tranquil water, with the cultural and community identity of the people who live and work on it, was a marked contrast from our first footsteps into Bristol. We worked our way towards the Clifton suspension bridge, past crumbling piers, their supports stuck firm in glossy silt, and amazing houses that resembled Spanish villas, ornate features at odds with the hectic road on their doorsteps. Clifton Rocks Railway, a former underground train system set into the cliffs, peeked out from behind bricked up windows and sheer walls.

We clambered up a steep path cutting into the cliffs, through a temporary haven of greenery sheltering the first bees of spring – pleasantly disorientating after the industrial harbour. Exhausted, we arrived by the Clifton bridge, and were rewarded with a staggering view of all we had just passed through. Giles pondered the design of the towers, looking almost Egyptian rather than Victorian. The banal toll houses seemed out of place as well, a mix between a bungalow and a bus shelter. After discovering the observatory nearby was closed, Andrew passed a fitting summary of our experience in the city: “Visiting Bristol is hard a get a grasp on. You get little peeks of contrasting areas and senses, and when you finally get to the top and get a chance to put it all together, you’re denied.” Our take on Bristol is as seen by the curious tourist, perhaps one that benefits from only glimpsing portions of it. After all, whats left to do and wonder after putting the puzzle together?

We’re currently brewing ideas for the publication. Look out for it soon.

Take a peek at the City As Material: Bristol photos here.

examples ideas & suggestions publishing on demand

City As Material Set

We’ve just received the complete set of 10 City As Material books back from the printers and next week we’ll be designing and making the special slipcases to hold them together and collect them into their limited edition (50 copies). The set will go on sale from the 31st March 2011 via the proboscis online store.

We think this is a great way of showing how easy it is for individuals or groups to create and print multiple books in short runs (such as 50 copies) that can be collected together to make a beautiful publication. We will be aiming to add the ability to design and print out your own slipcases to bookleteer later this year, but in the meantime we’re happy to discuss designing and printing custom slipcases for your projects.

case study education examples news publishing on demand

CCI’s Library of Traces

Back in September Frederik posted a case study of Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination‘s use of bookleteer. They’ve continued using it as a creative and documentary resource, and in doing so have created a Library of Traces – a series of eBooks which enable both participants in their professional development workshops, and others, to follow the traces of their experiences and share reflections and observations.

To help CCI widen the audience for their work we’ve posted 7 eBooks on our library and will be making others available there as they are created. All are welcome to download and share eBooks from the Library of Traces.

making news

Two new eBooks for City As Material

This week we’ve published the last two of four commissioned eBooks from our guests at the City As Material events : Tim Wight’s The 2nd book of Urizen and Simon Pope’s Skylines and Sightlines. These add to the other two already published by Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino, Deep City and Ben Eastop, River Gap. Haz and I are working on a final book for the series which will present and overview of the events, our aims and feedback from the participants. This will complete the full set of 10 eBooks for City As Materials series 1, including the 5 collaborative eBooks published last Autumn : Situated Moments from the City, Ebb & Flow, Ancient Lights, City Shadows, Layered and Sonic Geographies.

In the next few weeks we’ll be printing up a limited edition set (50 copies) of all 10 eBooks through our PPOD service and are currently designing a special slipcase to hold them. The slipcases are also being designed as templates which we’ll incorporate into bookleteer later this year as an option for people to customise and create their own. We think they will offer a convenient way to organise or collect your own Diffusion eBooks. As with the other shareables, the slipcases will be designed so that they can be printed out and made up by hand (using an A3 printer/sheet size).

We’ll be hosting an event to launch the limited edition City As Material set this Spring – look out for updates on the date and venue.

events news

Commission a local City As Material event

Reflecting back on the 5 City As Material events of last Autumn, we’re really pleased both with the reception of the events themselves by participants and that of the resulting publications with friends and colleagues. Over the next few weeks we’ll be publishing the personal contributions of the guests (Tim Wright, Ben Eastop and Simon Pope – Alex Deschamps-Sonsino’s is already available) and an overview eBook of our own. And we will print a special limited slipcase edition of all 10 eBooks using bookleteer’s PPOD service and launch them in the Spring.

Future Plans in 2011
This year we hope to take our Pitch in & Publish series of City As Material events outside of London to other towns and cities in the UK (or abroad). We’d love to hear from people or organisations interested in commissioning us to devise and run a one-day (or possibly longer) collaborative urban exploration and publishing event in their own town or city.

A typical event…
We’ll work with the local hosts to devise a topic, plan the exploration route and design customised notebooks. At the end of each walk we’ll need a space (with WiFi access and ideally a printer) to sit down with the participants as a group and work on planning/drafting the collaborative eBook that will be the record of the day. As before we’ll be using a range of online and social media to post up photos, audio, video etc taken during each event by all taking part – and we’ll be encouraging all the participants to sign up with bookleteer to create their own personal eBooks (and/or StoryCubes).

How to book an event
Please get in touch with us to plan an event in your town or city. Our basic fee for each event (payable by the host) will be £600 + VAT and travel expenses (and accommodation where needed). This fee covers pre-planning, facilitation by 2 members of Proboscis on the day and post-event coordination of the collaborative eBook (+ publication on, as well as printing of a limited edition run (50 copies) of the eBook.
Local hosts will be responsible for recruiting the participants to each event. Proboscis will also help promote each event across our own networks to engage as broad a group of participants as possible.


City As Material: Skyline

Last Friday we held our third Pitch In & Publish: City As Material event; the topic -“Skyline”. Taking part was our special guest, Simon Pope, as well as Giles Lane, Martin Fidler, Katharine Willis, plus our new addition to the Proboscis team, Radhika Patel, and myself. Meeting at Leadenhall Market, we listened as Simon explained his interest in the topic, whilst introducing the photo essay he created for the Skyline notebook, before starting our journey through the heart of the city.

Gazing upwards, we strolled towards the Gherkin and then Tower 42, before breaking off from our path to explore some secluded passages and elevated walkways, spotting little wonders you would never notice during everyday travels. Walking right past office worker’s windows, we got some unusual glances as we peered inside and discussed the relationship between the buildings in the City and its dwellers, taking heed of the abundance of CCTV camera’s recording our steps. These, plus the unusual nature of some of the areas we visited, almost make you feel as if you are trespassing, even though we were on public land; a hidden garden we wandered upon seemed to be a haven of exclusivity, with little seating alcoves that resembled guard posts.

Back in the main streets, we made our way to the Monument, our aim to ascend it’s 311 steps and be rewarded with an elevated view of the city. Traveling up the narrow, winding staircase was a hefty task, but once at the top the panorama was breathtaking. The sense of detachment from the lived in, street level, as the strong wind whipped across the tiny viewing platform, was poignant and surreal. 160 feet high, looking down at rooftops and across to spires, we saw London as a bird might, the human element below seeming very far away.

Thoroughly deserving of lunch, we had a rest, ate and further explored Simon’s photo essay, starting to pick up on themes and possible idea’s for the eBook we would produce back at the studio. Once there, we discussed the day and compared photos, as well as a GPS account of the route we took, from Katharine’s phone, and some amazing drawings by Martin, from a previous trip to the Monument. The concept of looking up, and down, rather than purely across at a skyline, really interested us, and inspired the format of the eBook we are currently creating as a result of the event. Look out for it soon on Diffusion, and keep track of the discussion online with the #cityasmaterial hash tag on Twitter. You can also view all our photos from the event on the City As Material Flickr page.

The next Pitch In & Publish: City As Material event, “Underside”, will be on the 26th of November, and will include Alexanda Deschamps-Sonsino as our special guest. Book a place here.

events news

City As Material : River

Giles Lane City As Material River - 03
Last Friday we held our second Pitch In & Publish: City As Material event on the topic of River. We met at Hermitage Moorings in Wapping (where one of the participants is a founder member) and spent a short time introducing ourselves and our interests in the topic. Taking part were Anne Lydiat, Aleaxandra McGlynn, Aurelia McGlynn-Richon, Ben Eastop, Martin Fidler, Fred Garnett and myself. I had prepared a map with a possible route for us to take from our point of origin back to Proboscis’ studio and this served as a useful conversation point about the nature of the river as a channel for transportation, habitation, pleasure, boundary, margin and about the city’s push/pull relationship with it.

View City As Material Series 2010 in a larger map

Whilst sitting in the Hermitage Pier House, then on Anne’s boat in the river the conversation flowed across these issues of liminality and tension – about how the city has slowly encroached on the river, fixing artificial banks where it previously had a wide flood plain, such that we are now concerned about that flood plain being at risk with rising sea levels. Ben, who also lives on the river, spoke of how his home is different every day, changing position with the tide and weather; he also talked of the enormous variation that the sky, light and weather has on the character of the water and its constantly changing surface.

From Hermitage we then walked west along the Thames Path via St Katherine Dock, the Tower of London, Customs House, Old Billingsgate to Queenhithe, where we turned north and cut through the City, St Pauls, St Barts and Smithfield to arrive at the studio.
Giles Lane City As Material River - 29 Giles Lane City As Material River - 37 Giles Lane City As Material River - 50

We talked about how the city so often seems to turn its back on the river, to build buildings that look inward to the city, and how its is only recently, with the shift in the Port of London to Tilbury that Londoners have at last begun to reclaim access to the river from what were previously commercial wharves and stairs. As it was low tide at 12.30pm we were able to include some beachcombing/ mudlarking with our walk – finding the ubiquitous clay pipe stems and pottery shards from earlier centuries, as well as the ever present animal bones, tiles and chalk. we shared stories and bits of knowledge about these stairs, their uses, the hidden rivers flowing out into the Thames.

Arriving back at the studio we began collating the drawings, objects, ideas, writings and photographs that had been created along the way and started to sketch out the structure of the collaborative publication – Ebb and Flow – which is now available. There is also a City As Material group on Flickr, and a Twitter hashtags – #cityasmaterial – to continue the discussions.

The next City As Material event will be on Friday 12th November on the topic of “Skyline” with artist Simon Pope as our guest. Book a place here :

case study

Case Study – Gillian Cowell

This week’s eBook case study involves the work of researcher and community education worker Gillian Cowell. Gillian first encountered the eBooks online while doing research for her masters degree. She was interested in finding online tools help her to “capture data in a more interesting way for local people.” She was also hoping to turn the results of her research into something more unique than a regular research report. Although she had initially been attracted to the StoryCubes on the Proboscis website, she eventually received a version of the eBook after ordering a few things from Proboscis.

Sample project: Greenhill Digital Storytelling Guide

case study

Case Study – Michelle Kasprzak

Last week, I posted the first case study as part of my research on how Proboscis’ design for eBooks is being used. For me, CCI was a great example of how the eBooks are appropriated and used as part of a cultural organisation’s activities. Although Trail of Imagination and Curiosity was only one example of the kind of projects CCI is engaged in, these kinds of  workshops represented a key aspect of the work that CCI did and it seemed that the eBooks were becoming a key tool in the CCI toolbox for collecting and disseminating information.

The next case I want to present is considerably different in that the eBooks were not designed and used by members of an organisation, but by an independent curator and author: Michelle Kasprzak.

Michelle is currently working out of Amsterdam as the Project Director at McLuhan in Europe 2011. You can read more about her in here personal blog Michelle Kasprzak Art+Life+Technology.

I spoke to her from London via Skype on the 29 July 2010. Two specific examples of how she used the eBooks as part of her work came up in our exchange:

Sample project: Conversations