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Should Dubliners dream of Danish design?

Rodhlann Mossop

Working Hard / Hardly Working

“Think big but always remember to make the places where people are to be, small” – Jan Gehl makes a simple and direct guideline regarding the creation of new public space. However, in order to stimulate the successful design of our cities, we must first be able to identify and interrogate the strengths and flaws of existing public space.

Navitas, Aarhus Docklands. Photography by R. Mossop

A cohesive language can be achieved through small design decisions creating a distinct thread through the city. Of course, mistakes will be made, and taste will change, but sometimes Aarhus’ Viking-shaped traffic lights are enough to remind us to be playful when pondering serious matters surrounding the public realm.

Gehl is also no stranger to criticising the existing either, particularly 20th-century modernist urban design [1]. Within the European context, we in Dublin occupy a specific design culture which can harbour an attitude of scepticism towards the prescription of public space, but as our capital grows and sprawls, and land supply diminishes, the "demand for recreational access can no longer be sustained as an informal activity and demands a managed response": as Robert Camlin explained in TOPOS European Landscape Magazine [2].

This article aims to identify the current state of public space in Ireland and compare it with Denmark's much-praised urban design culture. In addition, it will explore how we might exercise a more vernacular approach that could provide successful, generous public space with contextual meaning in Dublin. Examples of works from Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLR) and Dublin City Council (DCC), as well as Aarhus Kommune will be used. This of course is a limited survey and does not claim to speak to the wider culture across each respective country.

The inspiration for this piece must be credited to Frank McDonald’s insight outlining local authority spending in Denmark, which accounts for 64% of total public expenditure, compared to a figure of 9% in Ireland [3]. This supported my positive experience interacting with public space and infrastructure in Aarhus and encouraged me to undertake a comparative study into the two similarly sized local authorities of DLR and Aarhus Kommune.

Christianshavn, Copenhagen. Photography by R. Mossop 

Small and playful interventions

In Aarhus, there exists a strong emphasis on playfulness. Across the city, there are numerous examples of inexpensive, simple public space interventions following basic design principles, which generally nurture a tone of generosity and liveliness in the city and its public space. This echoes the aforementioned words of Gehl on thinking big through small acts.

Among many other interventions, this intent is embodied by a range of wooden structures, which can be found at a few locations across the city, offering some riverside respite in Mølleparken, in the harbour, and surrounding Aarhus Cathedral. Their simple intention of softening the otherwise cold concrete, framing a view, or simply gathering people to one location within a park, particularly on a sunny day, are successful examples of an intervention which works hard to provide a valuable public gesture. 

Through my work in urban design in Aarhus, I was briefed on designing a similar structure elsewhere in Denmark; the brief included among its primary intentions "a place to drink a beer". This more uninhibited approach heavily contrasts with the Irish attitude towards oft-described "anti-social behaviour", which has led to the demise of many fine public spaces in Dublin, such as Chancery Park [4]. It is not beneficial to dwell on the particular issue of alcohol consumption as I believe our local authorities require a more general shift towards a more light-handed, generous model. However, while our attitude towards the consumption of alcohol in public has changed slightly since the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains largely prohibited under stringent and dated by-laws across many local authorities in Ireland, limiting how we imagine enjoying our public spaces [5]. As outlined by Tony Reddy in Dublin by Design: "Dublin, and all Irish cities, should be inspired by these best European examples to become an enabler of activity and nurture inclusive dialogue and the power of civil society" – instead of trying to design within the current narrow boundaries of what is viewed as acceptable public space [6].

Many of these small freedoms are often credited with a greater sense of trust within society across Scandinavia. David McWilliams discusses the effects of this on society and within commerce [7]. While the presence of civic trust is tangible, I suspect greater spending on the upkeep of public space through street cleaning and bottle deposit schemes bear great responsibility as well.

Mølleparken, Aarhus. Photography by R. Mossop

A local context

In recent times, particularly in Dún Laoghaire, it appears there is a tendency to rely on larger public projects to reform our public space. A prime example is the much-anticipated Dún Laoghaire baths project, long overdue and likely to exceed a budget of €13.4 million. Large budgets and long construction times will always be met with some public dissatisfaction, and only time will speak to the success of the project. As the hoarding is removed, an elegant concrete landscape is revealed, and a little time often softens the public reception of this kind of project, as seen in the case of the DLR Lexicon. However, when Senior Architect for DLR Bob Hannan claims "there’s nowhere else where you can sit down in a café so close to the sea", this suggests that greater interrogation into the essence of the project and how it serves the town would be of great benefit. This is related to the fact that efforts to re-establish a bathing place like that of the original 1843 design were unsuccessful, instead offering a rather exposed open-water bathing pier [8].

I believe this is where we can learn from the Danish approach, marrying it to our own culture and ideally creating a simple, elegant, vernacular design for our public spaces. The new cycleway from Sandycove to Blackrock demonstrates the success of a simple idea using simple means and materials. However, I would argue it is more a public requirement than a public gesture. Furthermore, we need not look back too far to one of our city's most charming urban design interventions, linking public space to architecture and culture. Dotting north Dublin’s coastline are seventeen structures, built by Dublin Corporation throughout the 1930s, which form bathing shelters, kiosks, wind shelters, and miniature lighthouses [9]. 

Markievicz House and Clontarf Bathing Shelter. Sketch and mix-media by R. Mossop

These small unassuming structures are steeped in the wider culture of sea bathing, speaking to the early 20th-century zeitgeist of public sanitation, while also revealing an extremely important intention of democratising sea bathing. Ellen Rowley writes, "Although small and simple in concept, they are robust and their curved lines – both in plan and elevation – give them an air of elegance, reminiscent of the architecture of the grand British lidos" [10]. This, again, I can’t help but relate to Gehl’s statement of thinking big through small interventions.

Delicate decisions

As outlined by Mary Freehill, among others in Frank McDonald’s A Little History of the Future of Dublin, city and county councils urgently require more power to make decisions affecting planning frameworks, urban design, and the quality of life of all citizens [11]. I also believe that the decentralisation of power would allow our cities and towns to develop their own design identity. A cohesive language can be achieved through small design decisions creating a distinct thread through the city. Of course, mistakes will be made, and taste will change, but sometimes Aarhus’ Viking-shaped traffic lights are enough to remind us to be playful when pondering serious matters surrounding the public realm [12]. Therefore, we must challenge the standardisation stemming from a more centralised system and reflect on how we previously achieved a cohesive sense of urban design, creating an identity greater than that on postcards. Dublin Corporation and notably Herbert Simms have demonstrated that we are capable of creating a cohesive architectural language, beautifully exhibited in Herbert Simms City by Paddy Cahill [13]. We can achieve this once those responsible "maintain a commitment to a vision of our cities where real people live, work and interact" [6].

Dún Laoghaire baths. Photography by R. Mossop

We must challenge the standardisation stemming from a more centralised system and reflect on how we previously achieved a cohesive thread of urban design, creating an identity greater than that on postcards.

Working Hard / Hardly Working is an article series designed to promote the use and organisation of public space. By presenting two examples - one which works well, and one which needs to work harder - it highlights the importance of clever design, and how considered decisions can make our shared spaces better. For all enquiries and potential contributors, please contact

Working Hard / Hardly Working is supported by the Arts Council through the Architecture Project Award Round 2 2022.


1. Dansk Arkitektur Centre, Architecture Is The Interplay Between Form And Life: Jan Gehl, Let's Talk Architecture, [website] 2021,, (accessed 19 May 2022).

2. R. Camlin, Das Poolbeg Projekt, TOPOS European Landscape Magazine, vol. 48, 2004, p. 65-67.

3. F. McDonald, A Little History Of The Future of Dublin, Dublin, Martello, 2021. p. 151.

4. F. McNally, "An Irishman’s Diary", The Irish Times, 18 October 2014.

5. Know your rights: The law on outdoor drinking, Citizen’s Information, 2021, Available at:, (19th May 2022)

6. T. Reddy ‘City of Opportunity’, in Dr S. O'Connell (ed.) and N. Brady (ed.), Dublin by Design; Architecture and the City, Dublin, The O’Brien Press, 2021, p. 77.

7. D. McWilliams and F. Davis, "Scandinavian Models", The David McWilliams Podcast, [website] 2022, (accessed 19 May 2022).

8. D. Falvey, "Inside the new Dun Laoghaire Bath (spoiler: don’t expect baths)", The Irish Times, 17 December 2021,, (accessed 19 May 2022).

9. 1934 Bull Island Shelters Clontarf Co. Dublin, Archiseek, 2011, Available at

10. E. Rowley (ed.), More Than Concrete Blocks, Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2019. pp. 303-309.

11. F. McDonald, A Little History of The Future of Dublin, Dublin, Martello, 2021, p. 205.

12. Viking traffic lights: These unusual traffic lights will stop you in your tracks, BBC, 2019, Available at

13. Herbert Simms City, (online video), 2019,, (accessed 26 May 2022).


Rodhlann Mossop

Rodhlann Mossop is a recent graduate from the UCD Masters of Architecture. During his studies he spent time working in both Dublin and Denmark across architecture and urban design and. He currently is working as an architectural graduate in Dublin.

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Untapped potential: harnessing rainwater in our public realm

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Crafting public spaces that respond to local climatic conditions demands careful consideration. The ground plane bears the brunt of numerous responsibilities: foot traffic, accessibility, servicing and managing fluctuating climatic conditions – specifically rainwater.  

Met Éireann's preliminary data for 2024 shows that March’s rainfall surpassed long-term averages [1]. Further climate change research conducted by Met Éireann also reveals significant increases in heavy precipitation events, particularly during winter and autumn months, with a projected rise in extended dry periods [2]. This poses challenges for both water scarcity and abundance, necessitating prompt design solutions and adaptations to our public spaces and wider built environment.

Rainwater in cities isn't just an inconvenience, it holds potential. Rather than condemning rainwater into stormwater drains, through careful planning and management techniques there are ways we can redirect and collect it, enhancing the spatial experience and climate resilience of our public realm.

Shop Street, Galway (2020). Source: Tobin Galway


Hardly working

The surface of the pedestrianised core in Galway city over the years has succumbed to the inherent complexities of climate and water, with rainfall historically and consistently being a challenge. It averages at 2,800mm per year, in comparison to Dublin with an average of 680mm per year [3].

Since its pedestrianisation in the late 1990s, the street has undergone various phases of maintenance, resurfacing, and redesign. Previously paved with a cobble lock paving, this surface quickly deteriorated after years of heavy foot and vehicular traffic, compounded by poor drainage, and was removed in 2019.

Since then, it has been temporarily resurfaced with tarmac, and in many ways, is symbolic of the widespread soil sealing occurring across Irish towns and cities. This practice, along with the selection of visually unattractive drainage systems permeating the built environment, reflects a gradual erosion of the importance of aesthetic value in pedestrianised zones. These drainage systems are engineered to direct polluted runoff towards natural watercourses, such as rivers and streams, or in some cases to designated stormwater management facilities. Consequently, the resultant waste has been described as a "toxic cocktail of pollutants’’ identified by the EPA (Environment Protection Agency) [4].

The material surface of Shop Street in Galway city is currently under review as part of a broader public realm redevelopment and city enhancement strategy [5]. The strategy, while ambitious and impressive in terms of its quality of urban place making and accessibility standards, is conservatively reliant on impervious hard surfaces with traditional methods of surface rainfall drainage. The strategy, apart from its introduction of small areas of sustainable drainage systems (SUDS), misses a massive opportunity to effectively integrate and creatively link rainfall drainage from streets to new and existing public spaces, a critical characteristic of nature-based solutions (NBS) to urban run-off and climate resilience. 

Rainwater channels in full flow at Benthemplein, Rotterdam, by De Urbanisten. Source: Jurgen Bals

Working hard

The streets and sidewalks encircling Benthemplein in Rotterdam serve as its water veins, creating a living rainwater laboratory, a ground-breaking urban space known as the Water Square. Designed by De Urbanisten, and completed in 2013, it serves as a multifunctional public space that dynamically integrates water management with recreational and social amenities.The project aimed to address the city's challenges with urban flooding and water management. It not only successfully achieved this, but also exposed these challenges to the public through conscious and clever design [6].

Three basins gather rainwater: two shallow ones collect water whenever it rains nearby, while a deeper basin accumulates water during periods of sustained rainfall. Rainwater from the square flows via stainless steel drainage channels into the basins, visually mimicking natural waterways, while in dry weather, the space is accessible to all [7].

Here, linking the drainage channels to a large public space creates visual interest and dynamic interactions with water, enhancing the sensory experience of the square. The sound of water flowing through the channels contributes to the space’s ambiance, creating a playful, inviting atmosphere that attracts people to linger and engage.

The incorporation of street drainage into the design of the Water Square at Benthemplein exemplifies the seamless integration of water management infrastructure with urban design principles. By combining functionality with aesthetics, these channels contribute to the square's resilience, sustainability, and appeal as a vibrant public space in Rotterdam.


Despite notable differences in context and scale, the Dutch model offers insights and an attitude to climate adaptive design that can be applied to the Irish urban environment. Fundamentally, the Water Square at Benthemplein demonstrates that it is plausible to effectively manage and even embrace heavy rainfall within urban areas.

It is important to recognise Shop Street in Galway not just as an isolated segment of the city's fabric, but as an integral component of interconnected systems within the broader urban water landscape. This perspective acknowledges the wider context and interdependencies within the urban environment, encompassing flood prevention, the preservation of biodiversity, water quality maintenance, and ecosystem wellbeing. This calls for a change in how we perceive and handle our conventional drainage systems, prompting a fundamental question: are we designing what's right for our rain?

Working Hard / Hardly Working

Rainwater in cities isn't just a problem – it's an opportunity. This article delves into the conventional methods of handling rainwater in our urban spaces, and looks to climate-adaptive examples of rainwater management, offering insights applicable to future urban environments in Ireland.


Metropolitan duality: Cork and Naples explored through the Venturi lens

Niamh Hurley
Working Hard / Hardly Working
Niamh Hurley
James Haynes
Aragonese walls and housing block through reflective framed device, Naples

While Cork city is often likened to Venice for its comparable canal system beneath its main streets, its architectural and urban characteristics draw parallels to another Italian city: Naples. Like Cork, Naples is a port city with a rich architectural history stemming from the mediaeval and industrial periods, however, their architectural characters and urbanist developments diverge significantly. 

The city of Naples embodies Venturi’s ideas, through its honky-tonk architecture, with various contrasting epochs stitched together into one elevational run. Structure, facade, stairs, fenestration: all elements become urban characters of a centuries-old play known to the locals as La Città (The City). This eclectic approach to urbanism results from the continual layering up of architecture upon architecture, fragments upon fragment, all with a keen desire to preserve, protect, and most importantly, maintain each architectural style. 

Cork city has an opportunity to draw inspiration from the Neapolitan character by investigating its development through the lens of Venturi's theories presented in his text, Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture. By juxtaposing similar examples from both cities, a connection between Neapolitan theatrics and Cork city’s architectural and urban framework can be discerned.

St. Augustine’s Church, Cork

City gates

Monumental gateways of former entry points are present in both cities. Portas are embedded into the Neapolitan urban environment, creating porous penetrations into the city’s historic centre. Traversing beneath these oversized portals is a colloquial experience. While most of these city gates have been demolished or disappeared over the centuries, fragments of their existence are scattered throughout the city. Four of the most intact examples are Port'Alba, Porta San Gennaro, Porta Nolana, and Porta Capuana. Nolana and Capuana are former entry points of the Aragonese fortification walls, flanked by two towers on either side. Both are embedded into the surrounding urban fabric, with housing blocks capturing portions of the former fortifications. This variegated facade, which conjoins the massive scale of the Aragonese arch and the human-sized domestic architecture into one elevation, embodies what Venturi refers to as ‘superadjacency’.

Bishop Lucey Park gateway, Cork

Looking at Cork city, similar giants appear, however, they take on an alien appearance compared to their surroundings. This is the case for the gateway that serves as the entrance to Bishop Lucey Park, known to Corkonians as the People’s Park. The double-arched entrance is reconstructed from the 1850’s Cork Cornmarket, a former marketplace, not located on the park’s derelict site, but instead at Coal Quay less than 500m away. Flanked by low stone walls and metal railings, recent development plans for the park include the removal of these adjacent structures while allowing the gateway to remain. The threshold becomes monumental rather than transitional. This form of symbolic architecture, represented as fragments of the whole, can be understood as “economical because it implies richness and meaning beyond itself” without the need for the whole [1]. However, care for its continuing existence in the chosen context is key. The gateway to the park rescripts its history into a fraudulent one, a contradiction, but not necessarily the form which Venturi discusses. Approaching by means of inversion, removing the deceptive, and creating a void to signify this entry adheres to the Venturi's idea of fragmentation while remaining faithful to Cork's history.

Urban ecclesiastics

Venturi's theories are not lost on Cork city. It is in the ecclesiastical spaces where these theories are effectively realised. This effectiveness may stem from the proximity of neighbouring buildings, resulting in a densely complex and interconnected urban fabric reminiscent of Neapolitan city development. One example is St Augustine’s Church on Washington Street. The second of its kind on the site, this church designed by architect Dominic O’Connor and completed in 1943, embeds itself into the streetscape, matching street lines and eave heights [2]. Contradictions appear in its material usage and elongated stained glass windows. The scale of the chiselled stone facade compared to the adjacent brickwork follows a height ratio of 3:1 and 5:1 and a width ratio of 2:1. Glazed openings extend to the fourth-storey height with no external breaks. The entry point on Washington Street is marked by a Hiberno-Romanesque style archway, double the height of its central door and those surrounding it. 

Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo, Naples.

Chiesa del Gesù Nuovo in Naples follows a similar over-scaling of architectural features with a more theatrical approach. Typical fenestration proportions are kept, while the scale is magnified to an almost caricature-like quality. Duality is present in its glazed elements; becoming what Venturi describes as “as both structural and ornamental, frequently redundant, and sometimes vestigial” [3]. 

By allowing these structures to play both against and with their architectural context, each element becomes a character in the city’s shared theatrical stage. This extreme multiplicity “reads like a unity through a tendency of the parts to change scale, and to be perceived as an overall pattern or texture”, creating an architecturally theatrical city that seeks to celebrate and conserve its elaborate and paradoxical history [4].

Working Hard / Hardly Working

Robert Venturi's postmodernist theories, outlined in his 1966 book "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture", have significantly influenced urban development. This article examines how two cities, Cork and Naples, have responded differently to these concepts through an analysis of similar heritage spaces, illustrating how one place’s adoption of these ideas may influence the development trajectory of the other.


The autumnal earth: the Irish National War Memorial Gardens

Tom Cookson
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James Haynes

"We have found safety with all things undying,

The winds, and morning, tears of men and mirth,

The deep night, and birds singing, and clouds flying,

And sleep, and freedom, and the autumnal earth".

Extract from ‘Safety’ by Rupert Brooke, 1914.

Located on the southern edge of Phoenix Park in Dublin is the Irish National War Memorial Gardens (1930-39). On arrival one is drawn to a modest structure framed by trees. Inscribed here is a fragment of a poem by Rupert Brooke, the great English war poet. He wrote these words at the tender age of twenty-seven, and was shortly to depart for war, where he perished soon after.

Sentinels guarding a multi-layered threshold, a play of mass and volume at the Irish Memorial Gardens.

The Irish Memorial Gardens were designed by the English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944) at the height of his creative powers, in the twilight of his career. His masterpieces in New Delhi and Thiepval were complete, and he was designing Liverpool Cathedral, feted to rival that of St Peter’s in Rome. Under the auspices of the Imperial War Graves Commission (IWGC) – and its visionary director Fabian Ware – Lutyens had been directly involved in the design of 137 cemeteries and memorials following World War I, and was the spiritual and architectural lodestone for hundreds more. Yet his career began with domestic work in the Arts & Crafts style, commissions and acclaim garnered through the unique patronage of Country Life magazine. As his reputation grew, he was increasingly tasked with civic projects. His mature style, commensurately, is in the Classical tradition; yet bridging the domestic and civic is in many ways the story of his life, and that of the Irish Memorial Gardens.

While civic perhaps falls short of the breadth of Lutyens reach, he was also seeking the universal. He had a belief that perfect shapes and relationships have an eternal relevance, and are reflections of divinity [1]. This is evidenced in the layout he devised at the Irish Memorial Gardens. By composing a series of circular spaces, connected by linear routes, he established a network of cosmic geometries. These are situated within the constructed landscape of Phoenix Park – albeit separated by the River Liffey – with a planned connecting bridge never realised. These cosmic territories hold a family of monuments. In many ways the Irish Memorial Gardens is an exercise in ontology, on the nature of things and their relationships, over many scales.

Following Lutyens proposals, the centrepiece to all IWGC cemeteries and memorials is the War Stone. A neutral but enduring symbol, not overtly related to any particular religion, in line with Lutyens’ humanist values. This final proposal is reflective of his first striking instinct for a memorial, communicated in a letter to his wife, after visiting the Western Front: "a solid ball of bronze!" [2]. Yet as with all commissions of this scale and significance, more conservative voices held sway. These were led by Herbert Baker, another prominent architect, who called for the traditional iconography of the cross. The compromise reached is evident at the Irish Memorial Gardens, with the War Stone twinned to the south with a monumental stone cross.

Lutyens had been working for many years with the classical language of architecture, manipulating its grammar in the Renaissance mannerist tradition. His fascination with the work of Palladio and Wren is clear in the elements that frame the War Stone. A wall encloses this to the south, east and west, with axial entrances to the flanking circular gardens marked by pavilions which borrow the ancient Roman model of the tetrapylon. Openings in the four corners of this central space provide access to radial routes into the wider landscape, framed by gateposts, sentinels guarding their thresholds. These are figurative in character, over-scaled, in the manner Michelangelo Buonarotti depicted the human body. Constructed from sharply dressed and jointed white stone, they contrast wilfully in tone and texture with the more informally coursed walls which they interrupt. They are playful, personal, balancing mass and volume as a painter or sculptor would, roundly rejecting the assumption that the classical tradition is an imitative pattern book. To the north, a view of Phoenix Park connects this outdoor room to its broader context – a recurring motif in Lutyen’s work for the IWGC. Despite its scale, this space truly does feel like a civic room, embedded in its landscape and roofed by the heavens, delivering on Lutyens intent: "The big stone to the East, the flanking pyramid oaks and the sky forming the vault to them all" [3].

The notion of an outdoor room, or ‘garden-room’, is a strand which connects all of Lutyen’s domestic projects, under the influence of his lifelong collaborator Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932). Jekyll’s career began as a painter, before shifting to garden design, inspired by William Robinson’s revolutionary book The Wild Garden [4]. The domestic qualities of the spaces that Lutyen’s and Jekyll spent decades refining together are evident in the Irish Memorial Gardens, individual moments afforded amongst the universal set-piece, a contradiction delicately negotiated, elevating each experience. It is this layering from the scale of the cosmos, receding to landscape, city, building, room, aedicule that uniquely allows us to situate the presence of our individual bodies in the context of a broader continuum. To feel the presence of the earth below, and the firmament above. Another duality that is masterfully explored by sculpting the ground. The majority of landscapes are illusionary, surreptitiously urbanised, with few as skilfully executed as this one. Our experience is also illuminated through the topographic adjustments that have been imposed on this place. The more intimate circular gardens – to the east and west of the central outdoor room – uniquely feel both below the ground and elevated above it, simultaneously buried and projecting skyward.

Irish Memorial Gardens as artefact, fragmenting a constructed landscape.

Rudyard Kipling described Lutyen’s memorials and cemeteries as "silent cities". The 49,400 Irish soldiers that lost their lives during World War I inhabit these gardens, their presence is felt, the empty rooms hold an emotional density. The Irish Memorial Gardens recalls paths not walked, public spaces not shared, domestic rooms not inhabited. The tragedy of this place is that it was made to memorialise WW1, just as WW2 was about to commence. Yet it also carries hope. In the grand tradition of public space, it reminds us that the individual only makes sense as part of the collective. It also fractures our participation in the everyday – for a moment at least – connecting human life with the landscape which we inhabit, a valuable lesson in the context of a climate emergency.

Working Hard / Hardly Working

The Irish National War Memorial Gardens affords individual moments amongst a universal set-piece. Referencing the scale of the cosmos, and receding to landscape, city, building, room, it uniquely allows us to situate the presence of our individual bodies in the context of a broader continuum. A vital experience in a time of climate emergency.



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