City As Material

City As Material is an ongoing series of collaborative exploratory walks and book-making events. It emerged from a desire to bring people together to create publications, taking a deeper look at the cities and places we inhabit – their patterns, rhythms, fissures and faults – so that these spaces can inform and inspire creative work, rather than act as mere sites for living in. City As Material is a strand of our Public Goods programme. Inspired by Daniel Defoe, Mass Observation, Nicholas Pevsner and others, we are investigating cities, county towns and rural places as part of our efforts to explore the intangible assets and layers that form the social glue binding people, places and communities together.

Our initial series of five events in Autumn 2010, StreetscapeRiverSkylineUndersideSonic Geographies, took groups of people on routes through London guided by evocative topics and themes, to trigger shared discourse and making. Each event ended with the planning of a collaborative eBook made with our self-publishing platform bookleteer, which was then completed remotely and published on Aside from four special guests with certain connections to each theme, the participants were unknown to us – a deliberate attempt to gather a varied selection of people from different disciplines and with individual interests.

City As Material 2 : Professor Starling’s Thetford-London-Oxford Expedition took us on three trips to Thetford, London and Oxford with long-time collaborators Dodolab. We focused on the concept of ‘Migrations’, not just how animals or humans travel to more favourable pastures, but how ideas, perceptions and tales shift across lands and through layers of history. This was inspired by Dodolab’s research into the declining number of Starlings in the UK, by studying sites of historical significance to the species, and was led by a costumed character gathering testimonies from chance encounters with people from each city.

For City As Material 3 we are working with Tim Wright on his digital public art project The Haunter, inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Poems 1912/13, embarking on walks along a specific route in and around Dorchester with a wooden box embedded with smart technology. Able to speak, play recordings of poems, conversations and music, capture sounds and react dynamically using geolocation, the box will enhance and document participants’ experiences. We will use bookleteer to create instructions, personalised guides, and eBooks with creative responses to the walks. It’s an opportunity to experiment with and develop a new kind of technology driven participatory project – aiding the process and encouraging subsequent book making – and is a new direction for City As Material, shifting our focus from existing constructed spaces to what can be considered a mobile sensory environment, designed to be creatively conducive and partly defined by its inhabitants.

We’ve also undertaken some research trips to scout out possible sites – read about our visits to Bristol & Norwich.

City As Material drew inspiration from a course taught by Giles Lane in Autumn 2009 to a group of young students on an International Study Program in London from Vassar College, USA. As part of the course, Giles took the students on long ambles through the city, investigating its layers as inspiration for their own creative interventions.

Begun 2010 | Ongoing