ArtScapers in North West Cambridge Development

Image of a map of the North West Cambridge Development containing words imagining, being curios, reflecting, co-creating, looking differentlyExploring change at the North West Cambridge Development

How can art and the work of artists help children relate to their city as it grows?

How can children help others to think creatively about these changes?

The NW edge of Cambridge is changing.  A new district is being built with homes and spaces for over 8,500 people to live, work and learn together. The public art programme, curated by Contemporary Arts Society and InSite Arts, has been inviting artists to investigate and respond to these changes through commissioned pieces and a residency and research programme since 2013.  The ArtScapers programme invites children and their communities to join in this process. Visit the Public Art website for a web-based resource for ArtScapers developed from this project and other opportunities to engage with the programme.

A partnership between CCI and Dr Esther Sayers, an artist educator and researcher from Goldsmiths University, the Artscapers programme began in 2016  when it worked with both Mayfield Primary School and the University Primary School. There were a series of creative workshops and events for children, their educators and their families:

What I really like about the project is that it gives the kids a sense of say over their environment…it was not like that for my generation. Its lovely being creative and doing a bit of art-I don’t do that any more - and thinking about what community means and how we can bring people together.
Parent feedback, Gravel Hill Open Day, July 2nd, 2016
Gabby Arenge from the University of Cambridge Faculty of Education researched alongside us during year 1 of the project, and reflects here and what it meant to be an artscaper for everyone involved.

Being an ArtScaper means to look at something and make your own ideas. Then, just think of the idea you thought of before and mix it up so you can make something even bigger and newer. Then just design it.. then just find stuff that might be used in the future and use that to help you build it.
Jared, 8, Mayfield Primary School

CCI artist Susanne Jasilek leads the planning and facilitating of the workshops in the programme. She reflects on her experiences in year one here.

Work from the programme has been re-imagined as an interactive resource and accompanying display materials. These have been shared through exhibitions and events including the 2016 University of Cambridge Festival of Ideas:


Artists Sidonie Roberts and Ruth Proctor made this short film of ArtScapers at the University Primary School. The children are exploring Ruth’s own work We are all under the same sky alongside Susanne Jasilek in a CCI workshop:

This short film shows a broom's eye view of our fantastical city resouce being playing with at the Gravel Hill Farm open day (July 2016):

Our year 2 programme will work again with Mayfield Primary School and the University of Cambridge Primary School but will also invite the community from Girton Primary School to join in.  It is continuing to build relationships and take inspiration from the processes, creative thinking, research and collaborative practices of the Habitation Artists involved in the Arts Programme. Regular updates are shared below. 

It’s the future


(by Susanne Jasilek) It’s the future. The ArtScapers have arrived as explorers and prospectors at a site they do not know (actually this is the school) - a building shaped like a donut with space inside. They don’t know what it is - all they know is that it is over-populated and it’s going to be necessary to build extensions to accommodate them. As with previous ArtScapers projects - in this future we can no longer manufacture new materials or take anything further from the earth. We do have the technology though to upcycle old buildings - turn them on their head, cut them up, or place them one on top of another at odd angles.

Extra-ordinary and new ArtScaper architecture emerges from the discarded buildings. Functional buildings for plant making, palaces and one never ending paradise. Dazzling shapes and purposes are allotted to structures The children also think about practicalities and aesthetics. At the end the new individual extensions are place together creating a whole new future extension to this building. 

It's an explorer vehicle..these are for protection from lightening by FelixIt's an explorer vehicle..these are for protection from can be like a department or people can live in it that's why I've put washing lines here. By Felix

A hot air palace by KatharinaA hot air palace

A shiny sliver hot air balloon palace 
fashioned from pure silver. 
Giant garden. 
Free hot air balloon. 
Fly high with a hot air balloon of your own 
and land in a giant garden full of breathtaking flowers.
By Katharina

My building is called the grand olive by OliverMy building is called the grand olive. It can fit 22 children and 14 adults. By Oliver

By ThomasMy building is creating plants. There is a long water tunnel that transports water around to plant storage areas which are filled with plants. The two buildings send deliveries of plants to the shops or sell them. By Thomas

Having created a new architecture, I invite Artsacpers to think about communities and town planning. With their large maps of the North West Cambridge development site as the outline they plan this new place. These are not communities developed over hundreds of years. They are starting from scratch. I ask them to think about:

What is a community?
How can it be created?
What will it need?

These questions are pondered collaboratively - lively discussions take place, solutions are found and the maps are filled in with buildings and spaces for new societies. Beautiful imagery, playful additions, and stunning maps are made. Children stand back at the end and talk about them to the group. 

Archaeology of now


(by Susanne Jasilek) We have returned to the University of Cambridge Primary School this term, working again with the two classes we met last year to help artist Ruth Proctor make her film - We are all under the same sky. Our theme for our first workshop was Archaeology of now and I invited them to explore their own school - a new and contemporary environment -  as prospectors, inventors, explorers, ecologists, imaginators and artists. Could they imagine themselves arriving at this place for the first time with fresh eyes, as the archaeologists and prospectors of the future? We used specimen jars, small boxes, and all kinds of pots to collect the minutiae in the green area just outside the ring of the school building.  Viewed from afar this area seems quite straightforward - grass, wood chip, trees - but the children gathered a huge array of brilliantly diverse objects for drawing, analysis, inspection and naming, creating a new museum as they worked.

Having investigated the area outside the building circumference children took viewfinders to examine more clearly the structure of the building. I invited them to focus on details, perspective, shape, materials, noticing where the man-made and natural meet.

Their observational drawings became the working sketches for developing new ideas. Looking at the work of William Scott (1913 - 1989) and Aboriginal artists such as Ivan  John Mawurndjul and Samuel Namunjdja, our ArtScapers thought how to repeat, pattern, scale up or copy and add to the drawings they had made.

Ivan Namirrkki

Samuel Namunjdja

Willliam Scott

The work was really expressive and experimental and a wonderful gallery of work resulted for the school to view. Here’s just a few examples by Julius, Thomas and Monty.

I drew on the interests, research and processes of previous chosen contemporary artists in residence at the North West Cambridge Development site to shape this workshop and am looking forward to meeting the children again this week for our walk to the Gravel Hill site, an adjacent part of the Development Site, to explore new ideas and spaces.

Bob can talk to his friend through his hair!


(by Susanne Jasilek) A weird and wonderful collection of new and diverse entities and environments were made by the Girton ArtScapers on our final week together. I invited them to think about identity, difference, connections and what it might take to make future communities.

The subject of our workshop was inspired by Melanie Manchot, the current commissioned habitation artist on the North West Cambridge Development site.  She generously shared with us some of her processes and the starting points of her current new work based around what a community might be from different perspectives. It was fascinating to hear some of her ideas and plans and very exciting - local people will be able to witness and attend some of her work in future months.

We decided to think about what a future community might be and also the inhabitants of a future community.   The children were invited to each design and create a new entitiy or life form in plasticine. They could be animal, plant, machine or a new type of future human. Some extraordinary designs and hybrid forms evolved - a new type of population. Diverse, original and full of possibilities. 

Drawing of a zombie robot - A scary one: It can kill everyone with his expensive golden sword….paralyse everyone with his weird eyesA scary one:  It can kill everyone with his expensive golden sword….paralyse everyone with his weird eyes

Plasticine model of the zombie robot

Pencil drawing - A peculiar one: A half human, half worm - he will eat anything including the moonA peculiar one: A half human, half worm - he will eat anything including the moon.

Plasticine model - A peculiar one: A half human, half worm - he will eat anything including the moon

Pencil drawing - A beautiful one: The dream flower is a strong and powerful flower. It takes all your dreamsA beautiful one: The dream flower is a strong and powerful flower. It takes all your dreams

Plasticine model - A beautiful one: The dream flower is a strong and powerful flower. It takes all your dreams.

Pencil drawing - Mr Smart Face is a house

Mr Smart Face is a house. It has a gun and a wand. Also bracelets and lots of cool stuff.It is a walking house that talks

Pencil drawing - A sinister one: It makes people do anything it wants and its an electric jupiter that keeps the eye in the skyA sinister one: It makes people do anything it wants and its an electric jupiter that keeps the eye in the sky

Plasticine model - A sinister one: It makes people do anything it wants and its an electric jupiter that keeps the eye in the sky

Pencil drawing - A practical one: A walking washing machine robot called BertA practical one: A walking washing machine robot called Bert who lies in any household with dirty washing and has a user warning - May eat the odd sock!

plasticine - A practical one: A walking washing machine robot called Bert

Pencil drawing - And a kind one: My creature is a flower that can walk, move and only say kind words. It is yellow and smallAnd a kind one: My creature is a flower that can walk, move and only say kind words. It is yellow and small

Plasticine model - And a kind one: My creature is a flower that can walk, move and only say kind words. It is yellow and small

In order to create some unity they brought their figures together in small groups with other entities. They had to look at the shapes and colours and personalities of these different characters and talk to each other about their entities requirements - eating and sleeping patterns, habits, interests and habitats. With this knowledge to take into consideration they began to design an environment where their group of entites could live together and where all their needs might be addressed and met.  This involved lots of discussion, problem solving and resolving a dispute or two. Our new small communities were created! We walked around them like visitors to a miniature model town.

In order to create some unity they brought their figures together in small groups with other entities

We had:

COMMUNITY OF LIFE’ -  we are all different and we are happy about itIf too many creatures come the land disappears.

THE PLACE OF EVERYTHING - we share everything. its happy and always has fun activities. It has everything that the things need.

MUSHROOM NIGHTS at Freddies - their awesome life was about Freddie the evil animatronic and a hero called bob who always says ‘I’m a cute fuzzball’.

MUSHROOM LAND -  a giant mushroom community that provided food which always grew back and shelter.

INFSSY - where every morning there is a meeting after which they can go to the beach, park, river or theme park. They have dinner, go to a disco and go to bed at 11.30 pm.

Wolf carpet and a boxing ring


(by Susanne Jasilek) We enjoyed a really stimulating 2nd day with ArtScapers at Girton School. Having visited the North West Cambridge development site together a couple of weeks before, we started by thinking about architectural plans and aerial views. I asked the children to imagine their bedrooms with no roof or ceiling and being a bird or even a drone looking down. What do familiar things in our rooms look like from above? What shape is a person (a circle blob - some children suggested) or a familiar object? What is the relationship between objects in the room? This involved a lot of concentration and working out as extraordinary drawings evolved. I then asked them to add an object into their rooms that they did not have.  Here are just a few:

A dragon’s egg, a chocolate machine, sushi, time machine, doughnut, studio lighting, a wolf carpet, a unicorn, a money maker, a magic staff, puppies, kittens, magic handbag, slide, owl, pet horse, flying horse, boxing ring, flower pillows and a rocket.

The children carefully placed them as if in an exhibition in order to view and admire each other’s work.

The children carefully placed their artwork as if in an exhibition in order to view and admire each other’s work

Then we thought about the new Fata Morgana tea house by contemporary artists Winter & Hoerbelt currently being installed at the site; the materials, how it might be used, how they can soon visit it with their families. Having viewed pictures of other tea houses and pavilions old and new from around the world, they worked in pairs to design and make  models of their own ‘tea house’ type structures. What emerged were rich dialogues between partners and innovative and complex shapes of buildings -  each tea house had particular functions and uses. Some were executed religiously from working drawings and some changed as they were built. All were totally original and unique.

by Jacob and Dylan

Sketch, tea house and prototype by Freddie and Zaki

Zaki and Freddie said we are making a prototype in case it goes wrong. It’s going to be a bit like a pyramid.

William and Mason

William and Mason talked about what they would find tricky and struggle with - I’m struggling with what to make the walls out of.

A material teahouse by Freya and Coco

Freya and Coco called theirs a material tea house. We’re going to add a roof and you can enter from all sides. We just liked the shapes. they look really vibrant and different. It involves an obstacle course through it.

by Ellie and Ella

Ella and Ellie thought about the quality of the light in particular - we’ve called ours the little green tea house. When you walk under the green roof it will be all green above you.

A kitty milk room by Tristan, Ruth and Hannah

Tristan, Ruth and Hannah created a kitty milk room with a spiral to the roof terrace There will be 9 or 11 kittens at a time. We’re going to add more and more and more.

Evan created a unique tower working quietly and determinedly on his own. Their teachers also enjoyed taking the time to work alongside them.

Ms Christie drawing

Evan created a unique tower

Group of children working

Conkery and Gonga


(by Susanne Jasilek) Girton Primary School joined us as Artscapers this week. Two classes walked from school to the North West Cambridge site – well over 2 miles - and arrived full of talk of the recent political events.

The invitation as before was to prospect, explore, collect, analyse findings and imagine the future. Together we played with different techniques of cataloguing and identifying including: drawing around shapes and forms; observational drawing; scaling up and down; representing and looking at textures; leaf rubbing; and also making colours from the leaves themselves and naming them. Freya created a new green -  hoola  baloo -  and a brown - fab weena.

Strong individual drawings emerged and the room was soon transformed into a gallery of beautiful work. 

ArtScapers Drawing

Conker incorporated into a drawing

ArtScapers drawing

As new explorers arriving at a strange place for the first-time names needed to be found and invented. The leaves, berries, chestnuts and sticks collected on the walk there were called things like  joy, tiny chest-natongas, medium stoneongas, tangaboo, conkery, gonga and abcdefg.

You use a tobba for making chairs.
Mern is used to make animal feed.

Leaves, berries, chestnuts and sticks collected on the walk

With a mixture of materials both natural (wood, leaves etc) and the type of things archaeologists will find in the future (computer and electoral components) the children worked in groups to create extraordinary sculptures. This involved negotiating, working collaboratively, talking, reflecting, and experimenting with ideas of balance and combining. New worlds and creations emerged -  a secret den, a control tower that controlled the wind and an amazing huge futuristic tree where three girls gave me a description that sounded like a poem:

Trees and berries,
Tree from the future,
Snails grow on trees, 
and only maybe 
one berry,
one leaf

Leaves, berries, chestnuts and sticks collected on the walk re-imaginedIsland of Paradise by Ella, Coco and Ellie

Tectonic nature island by Kirsty, Hannah and BeaTectonic nature island by Kirsty, Hannah and Bea

Space machine by Sofia and JessieSpace machine by Sofia and Jessie

by Sonnie, Yusuf, Jake and Finlayby Sonnie, Yusuf, Jake and Finlay

Space ship by Dominic and SethSpace ship by Dominic and Seth

Pecas playhouse by Ashanth, Abisaiyen and JanPecas playhouse by Ashanth, Abisaiyen and Jan

We will be sharing more ArtScaper adventures with them in school after half-term.

Aid and Abet and Pope and Guthrie are contemporary artists who were both chosen as Habitation Artists working on the North West Cambridge development site art programme. Their work and processes acted as the catalysts and springboards in the designing of the workshops for local school communities. 


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