Beyond the printed book
We have “re-launched” the theme of stone on the web, but this has not stopped us from continuing to closely follow the life of the printed book Stone Architecture, recently published in English by Skira of Milan. As well as representing a cultural contribution and a significant step in the disciplinary reinstatement of the stone culture, the book has always appeared to us in its tangible role of an economic product. Considering the book as a product to distribute and sell on the editorial market, in our opinion, highlights the cultural potential which the market can assume; transactions linked to the sale of the book potentially correspond with the diffusion of its contents.
Familiarising ourselves with, exploring and increasing the editorial market of Stone Architecture using internet as a launching pad, and – parallely – developing knowledge on the world of stone, encouraging new members of an intellectual community to partake in the cooperative digital project of collective intelligence, seemed to us essential to creating a vast ambit of communication, capable of synergically assessing the editorial product, its contents and the digital project on the web, linked to the logics of free-of-charge production, distribution and sharing of information.
In the architetturadipietra.it space, for some time now there has been a series of contributions related to actions, events and online debates concerning the book; these contents have included presentations, reviews, partial re-editing of its contents, reflections in the form of post scriptum, interviews regarding the printed book, etc.
But, over the last year, we have become increasingly intrigued by the idea of innovatively sharing the book in “virtual reality”, transferring the contents of Stone Architecture onto the web, at the same time preserving the image and original graphical and editorial characteristics of the printed book; a digital format which enabled us to penetrate the book’s structure and follow the narrative rhythm of its graphic composition, to linger over the “design” of the pages and single details.
In fact, technological innovation applied to the digitalisation of cultural heritage, among which we can include printed books, can nowadays be considered a formidable opportunity to diffuse the knowledge and economic value it has assumed in the new economy.
From this particular perspective, it is evident how, in recent years, the use of multimedia technology and three-dimensional graphic systems have considerably broadened the traditional methods of representing and communicating physical reality; virtual reality is becoming an increasingly widespread instrument for appreciating arts and culture from a distance, stimulating us psychologically to see the original and, consequently, contributing to the increase in demand for direct use.
From these expectations – experimentation of new methods of digital reinstatement and editorial promotion of the book itself – stems the idea of a virtual book that can be leafed through on the internet, capable of conveying the printed work’s salient characteristics of graphic architecture and the structure of its contents, entire chapters of which may be accessed online for public reading.
In actual fact, digital technologies are increasingly demonstrating their fundamental synergical (more than competitive or alternative) role compared with paper editorial products. The virtual book, which duplicates the printed book Stone Architecture on the web, is seen as an opportunity to apply such innovative scenarios to the new frontiers of sharing, exploiting and promoting cultural products.
Furthermore, for us the editing of this book takes on particular symbolic meaning in its ability to include and give importance to – within the architetturadipietra.it space – the protagonist placed at the origins of the project of collective intelligence. A sort of transplant of the “founding stone” in order that it may be viewed throughout the cultural cyberspace.
Leafing through the virtual book
For this purpose, a specific digital space was designed within architetturadipietra.it, indicated on the home page by the link LIBRO (Link). By clicking here, an image of three paper books appears, one of which is open and placed alongside two others, highlighted against a black background. Here, the photographic representation of the printed book begins its metamorphosis towards the “immaterial state” of the virtual book.
A horizontal menu positioned at the top displays the links to the five specific reference areas: “incipit”, “book profile”, “English edition”, “leaf through the book”, “purchase book”.
The “incipit” link offers the user – in both textual form and audio with a narrator – the principals at the root of the printed book’s conceptual structure, while the “book profile” link provides the fundamental editorial characteristics of the printed work.
The “English edition” link simply refers to Stone Architecture, printed translation of Architettura di Pietra destined for the international market with copyright (2006) Skira of Milan.
In relation to these additional links, of central importance is the “leaf through the book” link, through which it is possible to access the area dedicated to the book’s virtual edition. We believe it necessary to pause to reflect a little upon the nature and meaning of the electronic book, which has required a great deal of work and planning.
Firstly, we should point out how the solution published in architetturadipietra.it is by no means comparable with electronic book formats in the most widely known sense of multimedia e-books, until now considered an abandonment of or alternative to traditional paper books.
Multimedia works – the e-books of which people have spoken for over a decade now, with a mixture of enthusiasm and disappointment – which surely cannot be referred to as books, neither in the traditional paper version nor in the virtual version, like that we have developed.
The edited virtual book on the website, which can be leafed through in a linear and sequential logic on the computer screen, possesses very little of the hypertextual use of multimedia so typical of e-books (or of similar works on CD), which comprise a fusion of narrative methods and production techniques. In e-books, the language used is neither that of books, nor that of magazines, but is conveyed as a fusion of genres (something of television format, cinema or shows with sounds and moving images, music to listen to or commentaries, the press with texts to read and images to look at).
What we have edited on the architetturadipietra.it website has been achieved through computer strategies, the digitalisation of traditional works, and innovative ways of getting enjoyment out of books conceived in paper form. Numerous works, now found in a variety of forms (codes, manuscripts, atlases, etc.), but also ancient and modern books can be consulted and read entirely on the internet.
On the internet, increasingly aimed at recovering a cultural role as opposed to merely an informative or commercial one, “virtual libraries” are multiplying – in the form of websites for museums, bookshops, documentary conservation structures – where we may consult and read all kinds of books, above all rare and ancient volumes no longer covered by copyright.
This philosophy, which places at our disposal (online) entire books (or significant parts), was adopted in our cultural project not so much as an alternative strategy to the editorial market but more as a support. Stone Architecture’s “virtual book” has no intention of replacing the “paper book”, but wishes to enrich it through its vast redistribution on the net. In this process, the book itself is not damaged but, on the contrary, given a tremendous boost.
So it was within this logic that we moved, promoting research into communicative innovation and at the same time experimenting online “social shopping”, the meaning of which we shall explain later on.
By using advanced software prepared by Lunet of Lucense, which enables us to immaterially leaf through each page of the book, we have the impression that the actual book is before our eyes, with the possibility of focusing on its linear composition and exploring the content of each chapter.
The paper book thus transforms into its immaterial version and becomes globally available, with the mere click of a mouse, to scholars, inquisitive people or the young generations who prefer to surf the cultural cyberspace of the net rather than pay visits to libraries or bookshops. The digital platform enables us to enter the book, leaf through it, enlarge its pages and download free-of-charge whole chapters so that we may read and familiarise ourselves with the work, whose existence and contents are thus communicated throughout the net.
In order to read the virtual book – after having selected the desired chapter – one simply positions the mouse’s pointer on the pages and clicks on their upper or lower corners to turn them; or alternatively, it is possible to turn the pages by keeping the mouse’s button pressed and dragging.
To enlarge sections of pages, one simply selects the “enlarge” command from the pop-up menu, activating it as many times necessary in order to achieve the desired enlargement factor. Whilst viewing the contents in an enlarged format, it is possible to scroll down the page by keeping the mouse button pressed and dragging the document in the desired direction.
The virtual version of Stone Architecture re-edits online the nine chapters which form the printed work, and is thus shared with the public.
Three chapters from the book – Beginnings, Architraves and The Material Today – together with the Introduction have been completely re-edited, with the possibility to leaf through, download and print through pdf.
The remaining chapters – Walls, Columns, Arches, Wall and Floor Coverings, Stone Roofs, Urban Paving – have been edited in illustrative sections, owing to the considerable time required to download the contents.
The computer screen therefore becomes a public library, which permits us to browse through texts and images, download free of charge the book’s contents, obtain – through hypertextual links – documents inside the blog which refer to the life of the printed book, such as presentations, reviews, critiques and post scriptums.
Stone Architecture is thus virtualised and the path taken to push us “beyond the printed book” into the immateriality of the web marks the achievement of a long-awaited goal. We are satisfied with the results and thank Andrea Mariani, Riccardo Nieri and Emilio Orsi of ISP Lunet of Lucense (Link) for their hard work and commitment in this project.