Manchester: Something Rich & Strange (Manchester University Press, 2020)

Co-edited with Sarah Butler 

What is Manchester? Moving far from the glitzy shopping districts and architectural showpieces, away from cool city-centre living and modish cultural centres, this book shows us the unheralded, under-appreciated and overlooked parts of Greater Manchester in which the majority of Mancunians live, work and play. It tells the story of the city thematically, using concepts such a 'material', 'atmosphere', 'waste', 'movement' and 'underworld' to challenge our understanding of the quintessential post-industrial metropolis. Bringing together contributions from twenty-five writers from across the region alongside a range of captivating photographs, this book explores the history of Manchester through its chimneys, cobblestones, ginnels and graves. This wide-ranging and inclusive approach reveals a host of idiosyncrasies, hidden spaces and stories that have hitherto been neglected.

Pre-order Manchester here

Future Cities: Architecture and the Imagination (Reaktion, 2019)

Though reaching ever further toward the skies, today's cities are overshadowed by multiple threats: climate change, overpopulation, social division, and urban warfare all endanger our metropolitan way of life. The fundamental tool we use to make sense of these uncertain city futures is the imagination. Architects, artists, filmmakers, and fiction writers have long been inspired to imagine cities of the future, but their speculative visions tend to be seen very differently from scientific predictions: flights of fancy on the one hand versus practical reasoning on the other. In a digital age when the real and the fantastic coexist as near equals, it is especially important to know how these two forces are entangled, and how together they may help us best conceive of cities yet to come. Exploring a breathtaking range of imagined cities--submerged, floating, flying, vertical, underground, ruined, and salvaged--Future Cities teases out the links between speculation and reality, arguing that there is no clear separation between the two. In the Netherlands, prototype floating cities are already being built; Dubai's recent skyscrapers resemble those of science-fiction cities of the past; while makeshift settlements built by the urban poor in the developing world are already like the dystopian cities of cyberpunk. Bringing together architecture, fiction, film, and visual art, Paul Dobraszczyk reconnects the imaginary city with the real, proposing a future for humanity that is firmly grounded in the present and in the diverse creative practices already at our fingertips.

Reviews

'When we dream of the future, Paul Dobraszczyk suggests in this rich and impeccably timed new book, we often dream of buildings. Dobraszczyk makes the case that visions of future worlds, from ancient myths to science fiction, are resolutely urban because of a deep imaginative pull that only cities can satisfy' (Geoff Manaugh, author of A Burglar's Guide to the City and Bldgblog Book)

'A fascinating, erudite survey of visionary cities, from the ocean depths to the skies above. At once fantastical and meticulous, Dobraszczyk's book is anchored like Robida's soaring airships to iron structures. An engaging and revealing text that demonstrates when we create speculative cities, whether utopian or dystopian, we are always writing about our present; our dreams, our fears and our memories. Delving into fictional places, we are delving into ourselves' (Darran Anderson, author of Imaginary Cities)

'A compendious, dizzying collection of the cities of the future, and their analogues in the present. Future Cities holds out the important hope that our cities could be better – fairer, more equal, more open – rather than just taller and weirder' (Owen Hatherley, author Militant Modernism and Trans-Europe Express)

‘Dobraszczyk looks at how the cityscapes once dreamed up by artists and architects are slowly becoming a reality as climate change and overpopulation take hold' (National Geographic Traveller)

‘Dobraszczyk’s eloquent redefinition of ecology, of the imagination and of architecture is breathtaking in its audacity and indisputably brilliant. Future Cities is much more than a book about buildings or Blade Runner, dealing as it does with the critical importance of multiplicity and integration in an increasingly disordered world' (Antonia Gambella-Burke, The Australian)

Future Cities is a philosophically and culturally wide-ranging look at the usefulness of imagined cities. Appropriately for this examination of creativity, its classification of cities into three types is itself rather imaginative: unmoored (in the water or air), vertical (skyscrapers and subterranean structures) and unmade (ruins). The text is accompanied by a number of images that usefully show how visual artists have imagined future cities' (Environment and Urbanization)

‘an impressively in-depth inquiry . . . Especially noteworthy is the book’s accessibility. Dobraszczyk recognizes that the art he’s discussing often comes from mass media, that fantasy world-building has a special pull on the public imagination, and that it’s best to discuss its implications in easy-to-grasp terms. That he does this while still providing insightful analysis is laudable. Future Cities is impressively nerdy . . . and will add a lot of titles to your to-read and to-watch lists, in addition to making you think about the futures we project for ourselves' (Hyperallergic)

‘By linking architecture, fiction, film and art, the book reconnects the imaginary city with the real – proposing future best practices for humanity' (Topscape Paysage)

‘Perhaps Dobraszczyk’s largest contribution is to develop the intermingling of the future urban imaginary as shared cultural resonance between imagined and real practices. In collapsing these disciplinary distinctions, Dobraszczyk begins to validate the experience of both imaginary and real spaces as vehicles for thinking about futures that exceed the disciplinary conceits of the architect, thus opening the discussion of architecture and urban futures to a general audience' (Science Fiction Studies)

Buy Future Cities here

Read the introduction here

The Dead City: Urban Ruins and the Spectacle of Decay (IB Tauris, 2017)

Cities are imagined not just as utopias, but also as ruins. In literature, film, art and popular culture, urban landscapes have been submerged by floods, razed by alien invaders, abandoned by fearful inhabitants and consumed in fire. The Dead City unearths meanings from such depictions of ruination and decay, looking at representations of both thriving cities and ones which are struggling, abandoned or simply in transition. It reveals that ruination presents a complex opportunity to envision new futures for a city, whether that is by rewriting its past or throwing off old assumptions and proposing radical change. Seen in a certain light, for example, urban ruin and decay are a challenge to capitalist narratives of unbounded progress. They can equally imply that power structures thought to be deeply ingrained are temporary, contingent and even fragile. Examining ruins in Chernobyl, Detroit, London, Manchester and Varosha, this book demonstrates that how we discuss and depict urban decline is intimately connected to the histories, economic forces, power structures and communities of a given city, as well as to conflicting visions for its future.

Reviews 

The Dead City is an elegantly argued and lacerating insight into our contemporary collective "ruin lust". The book binds together stunning images and carefully crafted prose in an elegy to ruin aesthetics, moving adroitly between critical commentary to personal experience and propelling the reader into unexpected introspection' (Bradley L. Garrett, University College Dublin)

'This work aims to build bridges between discourses in which ruins are perceived as objects of desire, and condemnatory visions that consider such romanticisation counterproductive for ignoring the political and socio-economic meanings behind abandonment. The book is compellingly rounded, and it must be of great interest to those who love ruins because we think they are one of the few spaces of hope in the on-going neoliberalisation of our cities' (Pablo Arboleda, Urban Studies)

Function and Fantasy: Iron Architecture in the Long Nineteenth Century (Routledge, 2016)

Co-edited with Peter Sealy

The introduction of iron – and later steel – construction and decoration transformed architecture in the nineteenth century. While the structural employment of iron has been a frequent subject of study, this book re-directs scholarly scrutiny on its place in the aesthetics of architecture in the long nineteenth century. Together, its eleven unique and original chapters chart – for the first time – the global reach of iron’s architectural reception, from the first debates on how iron could be incorporated into architecture’s traditional aesthetics to the modernist cleaving of its structural and ornamental roles.

The book is divided into three sections. Formations considers the rising tension between the desire to translate traditional architectural motifs into iron and the nascent feeling that iron buildings were themselves creating an entirely new field of aesthetic expression. Exchanges charts the commercial and cultural interactions that took place between British iron foundries and clients in far-flung locations such as Argentina, Jamaica, Nigeria and Australia. Expressing colonial control as well as local agency, iron buildings struck a balance between pre-fabricated functionalism and a desire to convey beauty, value and often exoticism through ornament. Transformations looks at the place of the aesthetics of iron architecture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a period in which iron ornament sought to harmonize wide social ambitions while offering the tantalizing possibility that iron architecture as a whole could transform the fundamental meanings of ornament.

Taken together, these chapters call for a re-evaluation of modernism’s supposedly rationalist interest in nineteenth-century iron structures, one that has potentially radical implications for the recent ornamental turn in contemporary architecture.

Reviews 

'The book’s strength rests in the editors’ decision to reject the technological determinism of this prevailing narrative. Instead, the book reorients iron around the aesthetics of its lavish decorative uses as both structure and ornament, as evoked in the title’s alliteration. The book’s emphasis on aesthetics, however, is not merely an investigation into form-making. The volume’s contributors animate iron’s shifting aesthetic implications through cultural history, probing iron’s relation to architectural representation in the age of nineteenth-century historicism' (Sean Weiss, Journal of Architectural Education)

Global Undergrounds: Exploring Cities Within (Reaktion, 2016)

Co-edited with Carlos López Galviz and Bradley L. Garrett 

Rest your eyes long enough on the skylines of Delhi, Guangzhou, Jakarta—even Chicago or London—and you will see the same remarkable transformation, building after building going up with the breakneck speed of twenty-first-century urbanization. But there is something else just as transformative that you won’t see: sprawling networks of tunnels rooting these cities into the earth. Global Undergrounds offers a richly illustrated exploration of these subterranean spaces, charting their global reach and the profound—but often unseen—effects they have on human life. The authors shine their headlamps into an astonishing diversity of manmade underground environments, including subway systems, sewers, communications pipelines, storage facilities, and even shelters. There they find not only an extraordinary range of architectural approaches to underground construction but also a host of different cultural meanings. Underground places can evoke fear or hope; they can serve as sites of memory, places of work, or the hidden headquarters of resistance movements. They are places that can tell a city’s oldest stories or foresee its most distant futures. They are places—ultimately—of both incredible depth and breadth, crucial to all of us topside who work as urban planners, geographers, architects, engineers, or any of us who take subway trains or enjoy fresh water from a faucet. Indeed, as the authors demonstrate, the constant flux within urban undergrounds—the nonstop circulation of people, substances, and energy—serves all city dwellers in myriad ways, not just with the logistics of day-to-day life but as a crucial part of a city’s mythology.

Reviews

‘well worth dipping into for its worldwide take on the sheer variety of ways we humans have spun our subterranean webs . . . These underground stories remind us that buried spaces are places of protection as well as of the fearfully unknown, of hope and of political resistance, of science as well as persistent chthonic mythology. Theres always a quirky and sometimes a grisly journey to be had beneath our streets' (London Evening Standard)

‘Global Undergrounds serves as a catalog that positions 80 underground sites of urban, suburban, and rural development, and most segments offer a connection to the culture of the present and the past . . . Diverse authors offer approaches as academics, official visitors, tourists, or adventurers, engaging with spaces and places that usually remain hidden from both sight and mind' (Popmatters)

‘treats the subject properly and carefully the editors acknowledge that this is a world not often seen, one hidden to nearly all, yet one which holds a fascination for anyone who wonders what lies beneath their feet. It is done extremely well, specially as the layout is appealing, being enriched with colour photographs of sometimes obscure underground places it is a book to dip into that becomes difficult not to dip into the next section of engaging text . . . Cavers, mine historians and urban explorers will all enjoy this read . . . a substantial and attractive book book with diversity as its major strength' (Descent magazine)

‘Global Undergrounds takes us fascinatingly deep into the unknown worlds of the urban subterrane: the hidden zones where we store, hide, secure, repress, bury and extract. For a book so concerned with darkness, it dazzles in its curiosity, wit and knowledge. This bunker-Baedeker opens a new vision of the city to us the vertical city, extending far above our heads and far below our feet' (Robert Macfarlane, author of Underland and Landmarks)


‘The volume takes a unique shape, composed of eighty brief essays, each around two pages, from twenty-six contributors. Their geographic reach is truly global, touching every continent. Each contribution analyzes an underground site, memorably and often personally, in a style that varies from autobiographical to journalistic or ethnographic, which strongly suggests travel narrative. The book is richly illustrated with color images, mostly photographs by the contributors. Though not as systematic as an encyclopedia, the collection was similarly assembled from voluntary contributions. More scholarly than an atlas or travel guide but equally attuned to particular spaces, places, and their various social uses and meanings, the book could well inspire travel or urban exploration' (H-Urban)
 

Iron, Ornament and Architecture in Victorian Britain: Myth and Modernity, Excess and Enchanment (Ashgate, 2014)

Comprehensively illustrated and richly researched, this book presents the most sustained study to date of the development of mechanised architectural ornament in iron in nineteenth-century architecture, its reception and theorisation by architects, critics and engineers, and the contexts in which its flourished, including industrial buildings, retails and seaside architecture, railway stations, buildings for export and exhibition, and street furniture. Appealing to architects, conservationists, historians and students of nineteenth-century visual culture and the built environment, this book offers new ways of understanding the notion of modernity in Victorian architecture by questioning and re-evaluating both Victorian and modernist understandings of the ideological split between historicism and functionalism, and ornament and structure.

Reviews

'Dobraszczyk's book teems with ideas and is copiously illustrated throughout, as well as having sixteen colour plates in the middle. Some readers may side with Pugin and Ruskin, and prefer the craftsmanship of wrought iron. But no one could be left in any doubt as to the importance of cast iron in the Victorian age. It has much more to tell us about the visual culture, lives and ideas of the Victorians than we might have expected, and this study of it brings up important issues about aesthetics in the most readable and enjoyable way' (Jacqueline Banerjee, Victorian Web)

'Dobraszczyk's text will certainly attract a wide variety of readers. On the one hand, the book is a contribution to the contemporary debate on ornament and its historical origins. Those studying this issue will benefit from its comprehensive examples and insight. Practitioners who deal with issues of material, structure, and representation, particularly those in preservation, also may find the book relevant to their work.  In addition to those interested in Victorian history and culture, this book is well suited for historians of nineteenth-century architecture, modernism, historic preservation, and conservation' (Christian A. Hedrick, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians)

'The question that lies at the heart of the book is the one the Modernists never cared to ask: why did the Victorians decorate iron and what did their decorations mean? Thoughtful and well argued, it demonstrates that this subject is not only important and interesting, but lends itself to sophisticated academic treatment' (G A Bremner, Victorian Studies)

'This book was well produced by the publisher, with a wealth of good illustrations. It should mark the beginning of a reassessment of cast iron as the plastic medium of Victorian modernity. Recommended' (Choice)

'This book is a welcome addition to the rather small bibliography on Victorian cast iron architecture ... Comprehensively illustrated, extesively researched and with copious footnotes, it presents one of the most sustained studies to date of the development of mechanised architectural ornament in iron in 19th-century architecture ... Dobraszcyzk provides a refreshing evaluation of the contribution made by architects, designers and iron founders to the expanding urban fabric of 19th-century Britain and the world' (Decorative Arts Society Newsletter)

London's Sewers (Shire, 2014)

London's sewers could be called the city's forgotten underground: mostly unseen spaces that are of absolutely vital importance, the capital's sewers nonetheless rarely get the same degree of attention as the Tube. This book outlines the fascinating history of London's sewers from the nineteenth century onwards, using a rich variety of illustrations, colour photographs and newspaper engravings to show their development from medieval spaces to the complex, citywide network, largely constructed in the 1860s, that is still in place today. This book explores London's sewers in history, fiction and film, including how they entice intrepid explorers into their depths, from the Victorian period to the present day.

Reviews

Named by the Guardian as One of the Top 10 Science and Technology Books in June 2014

Designing Information Before Designers: Print for Everyday Life in the 19th Century (University of Reading, 2009)

Catalogue of the exhibition Designing Information Before Designers held at St Bride Library in London in December 2009. and the University of Reading in 2010. The exhibition showed printed documents arranged around three themes: time and travel, questions and answers, selling and buying. It shows a cross-section of print that people of different social classes would have encountered in their daily lives during the 19th century and beyond.

Buy The Dead City here

Read an excerpt here

Buy Function & Fantasy here

Read excerpts here

Buy Global Undergrounds here

Read excerpts here

Buy Iron, Ornament & Architecture here

Read excerpts here

Buy London's Sewers here

Read the book here

Into the Belly of the Beast: Exploring London's Victorian Sewers (Spire, 2009)

In this innovative look at the underbelly of Victorian London, Paul Dobraszczyk offers a new account of how the city's sanitation was revolutionised in the 1850s and 1860s by means of gigantic new sewers and magnificent pumping stations. He focuses on the question of how these new spaces were understood and represented - by both those who planned and promoted them (reformers and engineers) and also by those whom they impacted, namely London's populace. Richly illustrated with maps, engineering drawings, newspaper engravings, and architectural photographs, this book suggests new ways of understanding London's sewers and makes visible these vital, yet hidden spaces of the city.

Reviews

'Exhaustively researched, beautifully illustrated and carefully argued, Into the Belly of the Beast provides welcome and reliable detail about a massive upheaval in the built environment of mid-century London' (David L Pike, Victorian Studies)

'Dobraszczyk's exploration of the London sewers is anything but beastly. An elegant, richly illustrated text that elevates the subterranean passages to the level of myth and high art, Dobraszczyk intertwines art, architecture, maps and press illustrations to locate the Victorian sewers as a contradictory space of progress and destruction, achievement and ambivalence' (Haewon Hwang, Journal of Victorian Culture)

Buy Into the Belly of the Beast here