IN PRAISE OF SKIN & BONES

POST 38

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Looking across Doha Bay at the glistening towers opposite, there is one which stands out; the Burj Doha, by Jean Nouvel. From a distance, its surface is smooth but with a lustre which draws the eye. As one approaches, the building’s skin reveals itself to be made up of three layers; a single geometric pattern cut from silver metal plate, each layer of a different scale to the others. Behind the skin is a cavity; space for the window cleaners to do their work in safety. It creates a veil of protection from the harsh Sun and filters the light within into a pattern of continually moving dappled shapes. This building is a beautiful object, sitting amongst the other isolated towers of West Bay, however – having enjoyed the way it nestles into a soft green pocket set into the ground – the profound thrill is in understanding its skeleton.

On going inside, on being lifted – weightless – within the elevator shaft in behind the ‘diagrid’ structure, and on coming out onto an office floor, the benign immensity of the angled concrete columns is striking. They are irresistible to touch; smooth like an eggshell. From far away and close up, from outside and in, to explore this building is an experience of graded scales. To be inside the building is strangely like being inside a giant, not diminished but expanded. It enables us to understand what is behind the skin.

This is an extract from
Touching the City: Thoughts on Urban Scale,
published by John Wiley
ISBN 978-1-118-73772-9

Doha
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BY SAND & SEA

POST 37

BY SAND & SEA-170 pieces of brick clay, cooked in ovens, worn by Sand and Sea. Gathered on the beach in ancient Argentario, by father and son.Loaded onto Instagram by daughter and father just a day or two ago. Subtle selections for which ones are nice: nice to touch, nice to Look at – or to See – what is best about each individual piece. And then to discard the ones which don’t make the grade.

These are the makings of floors, walls and roofs; pots, jars and vessels of every description. They have travelled by sea to our beach. The sandwich of clay and concrete is nice, so are the biscuits with a glazed white crust, ready for eating.

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SEVEN by SEVEN

POST 36

I am pushing against the wind to enter the Park. I leap the fence and suddenly everything is alive; the leaves and grasses bend under the force of the wind and shimmer in restless animation.

I have lapsed lately in Thinking Quietly, so let this be my revival.

I am 49 today, 7×7, 14th June 2014. Having been obsessed with the number 7 since the moment I could count, it is a good number to be. Full of imminence.

Why do I like 7 ? Is it the seven days of Creation, or the days of the week, the number of levels in Heaven and Earth according to Islam or the number of celestial objects in the solar system visible to the naked eye from Earth ? I don’t know, I think it’s just a satisfying number; neither a beginning nor an end. Seven is on its way somewhere; part of something bigger than itself.

At the far end of the MIA Park, buffeted by the wind is ‘7’, Richard Serra’s tower of seven steel plates located at the tip of Doha’s baby Corniche; this is somewhere I have not been since the sculpture was installed.

Seen from afar ‘7’ never seems big enough; viewed across the Bay, dwarfed by the great museum, because it is so far away, it seems less significant than it really is. It is prevented from interaction by mere distance. The Bay is like Doha’s ‘lens’; magnifying the grand structures which surround it and bringing them closer, but not in the case of ‘7’. Up close it is very large; but is it large enough ?

I arrive at the ‘baby Corniche’, like the child’s arm held in embrace, arm in arm with the mother, and look across the roughened water, planished by the incessant wind, making a surface like beaten metal. The slightly leaning form of ‘7’ becomes a flattened shape with the towers of West Bay beyond, distinguished now by its darkness of tone rather than by height; two layers simply glued together.

I want to reach over the water and touch ‘7’, or fly across the baby-bay like a sea-bird, but instead I will walk round the encircling curve, leaning into the wind.

On my way, I am drawn to climb the green hills, cushiony under foot, velvety to touch; a false horizon, truncating forms; and an irresistible vantage point for the quiet few who are out there with me.

The Sun is going down behind the Grand Mosque. The tipping light, from day to night, softens everything; makes it quieter even, inspite of the raging wind.
I look behind me and there to my surprise is the full Moon rising. Sun falls, Moon brightens, Earth spins.

Turning back to ‘7’, and looking beyond it to the city, there is the National Archive, its mottled surface beginning to glow in the dusk light, there is the Islamic Museum beginning to show its age – silicon joints failing – and our own new office (a new home for the next year). It is a time of beginning; the next in a cycle of sevens.

On arriving at ‘7’, this tower of rusted steel seems rather self-contained. I cannot hear it speaking, or singing in the wind. The little man guarding it is comfortable though; sheltered between two of its plates. He brings it to life. Maybe he is there to show its scale.

The patina and thickness of the steel is indeed magnificent. Its warmth to touch is pleasing. Looking up, the way the plates lean against each other is good, although I wonder about its junction with the ground. I move on.

‘7’ ignores the directional forces of the place, something which the trees, shaped by the prevailing Northwest wind, do not. On my way back, a man leans windwards to continue sweeping, until his day’s work ends and he, like me, can go home.

 

Embracing curveEmbracing curve.

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Two layers flattened.

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The Sun.

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The Moon.

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Leaning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOUCH ME NOT

POST 35

Drive a few miles East of Vellore, towards Chennai – the burial place of Doubting Thomas – and you will find a green place, on the South side of the road, spreading out like a garden, leading to the foot of a high hill. It is the site of a new hospital. As you begin to explore, looking down at the rich ground, wherever you look is Touch Me Not, a comb-like plant, Mimosa Pudica, which I have never seen in England. Why is it called that ? Because if you touch it, it recoils instantaneously, with a ‘seismonastic’ movement; tightening its flat spread surface into a fine blade.

You can tell this is a good site for the hospital because Touch Me Not only thrives where there is a good water supply. The hospital will have to be self sufficient for water, at the outset at least, so this is a good site.

Look up now past the lines of palms, heavy with coconuts, and there is Golden Eye Hill, looking down on you, fresh and wild, its fauna and flora co-existing in comfortable balance, untouched by Man.

It is easy to imagine the hospital in the future, opening up towards the Hill. When it is built the landscape will be changed beyond recognition but the hill remains the same. The hospital and the hill will be in continual dialogue; speaking and listening to each other. The wards, consulting rooms and surgeries, OPC, ICU, Emergency, Cardiology, Neurology, Gastrology, Renal, Admin, Labs and Prosthetics, waiting areas, store rooms and laundries – the hurly burly of their grueling daily lives – will all look towards the hill, stable and still, calm custodian of peace, and signal of health.

At the centre of the hospital sits the Chapel. The chapel is central to the hospital just as the healing works of Jesus are central to their work. The Chapel looks out across water, towards Golden Eye Hill. Between the Chapel and the Hill is a garden, a plateau of green pastures and a path leading upwards.

It is just before dawn and I wake. I will walk to the top to see the Sunrise, to clear my head and gain a perspective. I imagine a mother worrying about her sick child in one of the wards, eyes filled with tears; she is walking that way too; walking out from the hospital to the hill, across the Plateau. She sees someone in the garden and thinks it is one of the gardeners at work; ‘Noli Me Tangere’, Touch Me Not.

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THE HOUSE ON THE HILL

POST 34

Normally the layers of cities build up over time. The city gets thicker and thicker and the ground level rises. We are used to walking on a cushion of time (the fourth dimension), six or twelve inches (or feet) above where our forbears walked.

But have you seen the House on the Hill in Zone 18 ?

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What was once a high point has been eaten away to be part of the general flatness; except for the House on the Hill, which is still where it always was.

It is now a rare piece of treasure; a flash of ancient gold in an urban patchwork, calling out to be passed from one generation to the next. Could it ever be saved from the jaws of the bulldozer; by will or by law ? Would it be worth it ?

Indeed this is the spice which makes the stew delicious. It might cost four times as much to renew as to destroy and redevelop but the ‘flavour’ it would give to the entire neighborhood would be of untold value.

In its own right it is a building of unusual charm (an archetype of its kind) but it is not just its charm which matters. It is rather the fact that this is one of the increasingly rare original buildings to be built in the area. Before this very house was built there was sand. It is a direct link to an ancient past, even within a single life-time; a time whence the traditions of human habitation had not changed for centuries, perhaps millennia.

And, according to the writing sprayed on the wall, if you want to live there you can. Just ring 77390030.

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THE STEW AND THE THOUSAND RIYAL BOTTLE OF SPICE

POST 33

There was once a cook who was known for making stodgy stews. They were filling – more than enough to stave off hunger – but they lacked flavor. His restaurant was never full. One day a passing merchant knocked on the door and offered the cook a very small bottle of spice, for the modest price of a thousand riyals. ‘A thousand riyals for that little bottle ? That is ridiculous’ said the cook; ‘I am not interested’.
‘But this is the best spice in the land’ said the merchant, ‘A small fingerful in one of your stews will transform it into a delicious meal. This bottle will last you for a year. There will be queues around the block and you will be able to double your prices. Let me show you…’
So the merchant went to the kitchen and sprinkled a few grains of the spice into the stew, which was bubbling lugubriously on the stove. As the merchant stirred the stew a mouth-watering fragrance wafted up amongst the steam. The cook took a sip and smiled.
He bought the spice bottle for a thousand riyals and from that day on his restaurant became famous. He still made stews with the same simple ingredients he was used to using but there was now something about them which made his customers sigh with delight, and tell all their friends.
It was the spice.

There was once a street lined with very ordinary buildings. Half way along the street was a small run-down old house – one of the original houses to be built when the city was beginning to grow. I am glad to say that an enlightened developer saved that building. It cost him four times as much to refurbish as it would have done if he had knocked it down and built something completely new but as he said, ‘it was worth every penny; people pay more to live on that street now because it’s different from the rest’.
That is the spice.

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This is one of the last remaining ‘first generation’ houses in Old Salata – it is an original – and as such it has Value.

It is the ‘spice’ which makes the meal flavoursome.
It is the spice which we remember.

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ALL CHANGE AT DALSTON JUNCTION: THE JOY OF TRACING

POST 32

The Joy of Tracing

The act of tracing is an ideal state sometimes. The image is softened by a veil of tracing paper. The mind can disconnect as the hand connects. Something like electric currents can be felt at the tip of the pencil, guiding the hand.

 

Subject and Object are perfectly in balance as the hand responds to the image below. It interprets; neither dumbly copying nor being obliged to create something entirely new, in the emptiness of a blank piece of paper.

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In this case the artist is a filter; not a creator. The hand can relax, entering into a state of pure intuitive action. Time is slowed down. The triangle between the hand, the eye and the brain runs smoothly, without interference. If I was a writer I would call it ‘Autonomism’.

High Places

It is always good to go to a high place; one gets a perspective on things, looking down. Things at a distance seem to move in slow motion. The sounds of the city become murmurs in a prevailing silence. I see a person on a street, or in a window, far far away. I notice them as I never would from the ground. My mind’s eye becomes a telescope and I zoom in; it is a fusion of the seen and the imagined. It is a frozen moment ; Time is slowed down.

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All Change at Dalston Junction

Dalston Junction isn’t what it used to be. The very name used to have a thud about it but now, on September 20th 2013, it seems bright and sleak.

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I am on a mission; to look down on this year’s 10×10 grid from Barratt’s Dalston Square. They are sponsoring the event for Article 25 and doing this drawing binds their regeneration work around town into the personal views of myself and 99 others across the grid; coming together to make a ‘collective snapshot’ of the city; a moment in time.

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It is a good view from the tallest tower. The deep cut of the railway leads the eye South, just beginning to veer East as the City rises. Trains move like toys and the bridge seems to hover over the cutting. It is a brown grey patchwork but one red light and one yellow for sale sign shine out. Green tree cushions billow like clouds amongst the blocks of De Beauvoir Town; rising like froth towards the wooded horizon far away.

 

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I watch a mother with a buggy crossing the road in slow motion. I see the London Eye but cannot see it moving. It is easier to see my pencil’s shadow move as the Earth spins, if I hold it still.

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THE YELLOW SEEDPOD

POST 31

I was at Umm Salal recently, the farm of Mohamed bin Jassim; at dawn, looking down at the sand. It was bathed in dappled light, washing through the leaves of a tree, half shadows moving to and fro, on the dry ground.
I saw a seed pod, curled around upon itself, making the letter M in Arabic; one of the nicest I have found.
As I picked it up I felt something intangible inside – a texture sensed; overlaid with the tangible smoothness of its yellow surface.
It rattled. The seeds within were rattling, so slightly that I could feel but not hear them. The sound of the breeze in the leaves of the tree was masking the sound of the seeds.
I took the seedpod home and now it is in a box.
When it is very quiet, in the early mornings at the start of the day, I take it out of the box and shake it gently. If everything is silent, I can hear the rattling seeds.

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DOHA ON CENTRE: The Jigsaw of the City

POST 29

DOHA_ON CENTRE: The Jigsaw of the City is an installation by Makower Architects, sponsored by Qatar Museums Authority as part of the Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture. It concerns Doha’s tripartite city centre. It is an exploration of the essential character or ‘soul’ of the city, and grows out of Tim Makower’s close involvement in the development of the city.

The exhibition also features the inaugural collection of the World Jigsaw Company, a set of jigsaw puzzles, for children of all ages, which focus on Doha and its position in the World.

The exhibition is located at Harrod’s in London, 2nd floor, in the InQ cafe. It runs from August 11th to September 12th from 10am to 9pm daily, and 11.30am to 6pm on Sunday.

The content divides into four parts. Firstly, an overview of the city centre, accompanied by a large drawing and a film. These examine Doha’s ‘blood system’ and the role played by the city’s ‘heart and lung’; its major organs without which it would not have a life.

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Starting with the first survey made of the city in 1952, the film records the process of tracing Doha’s lines and shapes – getting to know its anatomy – whilst looking at the contrasting, and potentially complementary, characteristics of its three central components: Old Doha, West Bay and the Corniche.

 

Secondly, a study of the three parts of Doha’s centre – Old Doha, the Corniche and West Bay – asks ‘what is their essence Past, their character Now and their potential Future ?’

The Centre of Doha is both three and one. First, Old Doha, the ancient tree, deep roots, springing new shoots, fragile but very much alive. The second is New Doha – West Bay – new growth; in need of cultivation, nutrients, and depth; unfinished work in the garden of Doha. The third is the Corniche, the unifying motif, the creative space, the iconic gathering place at the Centre of the City: the Doha Corniche. This is the horizon; the meeting of Land and Sea; the meeting of Past and Future…

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6_DOC_CRACKED EARTHJigsaws are as old as the land; they are made both by God and Man. These clay jigsaw pieces were made by the Sun, after rain at the ancient Rawdah of Education City. Its lines are naturally drawn, responding to the forces of Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Its shapes come together in harmony; like a jigsaw puzzle; like a good city plan.

 

 

 

OLD DOHA

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What is the character of Old Doha ? It is a living patchwork.

With the positive pulse of Souk Waqif and Msheireb at its heart, is there an alternative approach for the surrounding neighbourhoods; to enhance their identity, to bring out their latent potential, and to build on their Character; evolved over time ?

Old Doha is a Complex Collage; of old and new, large and small. It is like a precious piece of fabric, which can be passed down through a family from generation to generation; stitched and re-stitched, to be repaired not replaced; increasing in value.

Old Doha is the seed-bed of Doha’s city fabric. Can the newly blossoming cultural Renaissance in Qatar unlock a fresh, home-grown, vernacular and a new kind of harmony; a synthesis of Qatar’s architectural roots – both Traditional and the Early Modern – with a timeless contemporary and uniquely Qatari language of buildings and landscape, places and memory ?

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The map, made by the Hunting Survey Company in 1952, shows every fereej, every house – every room almost- in Doha at the time. Having been through a period of decline through the thirties, when the pearling trade collapsed, the city was beginning to grow at this time. Wealth, motorcars, cement, electricity – and Modernity – had arrived. However, this was still very much a rooted city; evolving in a natural way.

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 Rootedness: To build on what we have – the historic fabric and rich language of Old Doha, the latent potential of West Bay, the serene arc of the Corniche – and to look far into the Future; to grow new shoots from deep roots; this is an Aim. Process matters, hand-in-hand with Product. The youth of Qatar are central to this. It is a process of Engagement which will lead to a sense of Belonging, and this is the bed-rock; the living roots, the Legacy.

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TWENTY-ONE QUESTIONS

1. Abdul Azeez bin Ahmed Street Could AAA Street be re-invented as an Iconic Public Space ? A pilot project; to contrast & complement Msheireb, and to respond to its influence as a catalyst for regeneration.

2. Could the link to the Souk spark the re-activation of Old Doha ? This quiet but significant back street – Umm Wishaw – could be transformed into a dynamic mix of old and new; brought to life with new paving, lighting, street furniture, signage: ‘Designed in Qatar, Made in Qatar’.

3. An ‘expo’ of New Qatari Architecture – East side of AAA Street ? The buildings on the West side are a ‘timeless classic’ group of early modern Qatari apartment buildings and should be renovated. But the eastern buildings could perhaps be replaced by a new frontage of high quality ‘Qatari Contemporary’ buildings ?

4. Could AAA St be widened on the East side ? This would make an ‘outdoor room’, with enough space for big trees and maybe a linear carpark below ground ? The Jaidah Tower becomes an ‘end-stop’.

5. Could the large parking lot on A-Ring Rd become a local park ? Would Old Doha benefit from a ‘sports park’ with five-a-side football, a climbing wall and skate-park ? There could also be community buildings such as a nursery and a youth centre ‘Media-Tech’.

6. Facing the Park: exemplars of ‘Qatari Contemporary ? Can these very visible new developments be used as examples of a timeless contemporary, and distinctly Qatari, architecture – deeply rooted in tradition whilst boldly looking to the future.

7. How could existing buildings be adapted to greatest benefit ? Indoor/outdoor living – balconies – more shade, more privacy, more choice. Rooftop gardens and liwans – a living roofscape. Increased quality of life brings higher values and creates a more stable community.

8. Widening the A-Ring Rd: opportunities for high-quality buildings ? To build on the example of Msheireb whilst continuing to evolve a unique new vernacular amongst the local design community ? with Guidelines be drafted to achieve a greater harmony between buildings.

9. How can major Opportunity Sites most benefit these areas ? Can the process of optimizing density and land values at opportunity sites, help to safeguard the comprehensive renovation of the largely in-tact historic urban fabric, rather than ‘piecemeal cherry-picking’ of heritage highlights ?

10. Should some buildings on Msheireb St be retained ? For example the ‘3 sisters’, or the ‘Little Gem’ near the Souk. Are they more valuable as a part of the ‘collective memory’ of Old Doha, than as primary development opportunities ?

11. Can open spaces be created to allow the city to breath ? There are two obvious opportunities, both just South of Msheireb St, one on either side of AAA St. Each one also lends itself to becoming a public garden with carparking below ground.

12. Can minor open spaces & cross routes stitch the city together ? There are numerous opportunities for ‘pocket parks’ or barahas, perhaps focused on a single tree, a bench and a destination café. This, with an enhanced) network of pedestrian sikkas, will stitch the city; repairing the patchwork.

13. What contribution can the minor Opportunity Sites make ? Amongst the ‘heritage urban grain’ there are many undeveloped sites, capable of high quality, commercially viable mixed-use development; to enhance rather detracting from the Character of the area.

14. What opportunities does the new ‘Metro-Bus Hub’ bring ? In its own right, this major transport interchange should be a landmark of exceptional quality. Its influence on surrounding sites and public routes and spaces should be controlled. Public spaces and retail should extend below ground; down to the railway platforms.

15. Links West Links to Abdul Azeez can be made, to the south of the Metro. This can ensure pedestrian connectivity while the Metro is under construction. Links across Al Diwan St are also essential; to connect Msheireb to Zone 13 ‘Msheireb West’ and beyond it to Al Sadd.

16. Al Rayyan Rd: an appropriate frontage to the Grand Park Can new buildings on Al Rayyan Rd form a suitable frontage to the Grand Park; like the apartment buildings of Fifth Avenue facing Central Park ?

17. Can links to the Grand Park and the Corniche be optimized ? A Linear Park can be created along the East side of Al Diwan Street, with bike paths and an underpass to the Park.

18. Essence of the Corniche: to be renewed and reinforced ? A ‘Crescent of Lights’, on a grand scale, reinforces the identity of the Corniche and gives it a three dimensional presence: the iconic motif – and the gathering place – for Centre of the City.

19. Can the Corniche project unlock the ‘completion of West Bay’ ? With a pedestrian link between the Corniche and Omar al Mukthar Street, a grand urban boulevard can be created, running past the Convention Centre and City Centre, which provides a spine to link to the Northern Beaches.

20. Connect: Msheireb, the Souk, the Corniche and the Harbour ? There are opportunities to strengthen connection between Barahat al Nouq (the central space of Msheireb) and the Harbour, via the Burial Ground, the Souk and the Corniche.

21. A-Ring Rd; easier to cross – to find lines of desire ? Are there ways, such as ‘super-crossings’ or inhabited footbridges, to make the A-Ring less of an obstacle to movement by pedestrians or bikes: bringing the city to the centre and the centre to the city ?

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CORNICHE

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What is the essence of Doha’s Corniche today ? Can this be the basis of its future renewal ? Its Calm Crescent is the timeless motif of the City. What simple moves can reinforce its Identity and raise its profile to the Iconic status it deserves ? Does it need to be reinvented ? Or just reinforced, renewed and enriched; as a lasting legacy for the Future ?

The Curve of the bay encircles the Centre. Doha – dowaiha – embrace. The Curve embraces the space of the sea. Land and Sea (Earth and Water) Wind and Sun (Air and Fire). It is out pride and joy, our meeting place; our Majlis. The City speaks to itself across the bay; Old City, new City; slow and fast, The Curve rises up and a Crescent is formed. A Corona of light, day and night. A burning Crown for Celebrations and A Collector for our Memories.

 

 

 

 

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WEST BAY

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How can West Bay become an integrated and hospitable piece of Doha’s Centre ? Can new layers of enclosure be added – a ‘retro-fit city’ – to create shade, shopfront and streets for people ? Can West Bay become an easy place to move around; to find one’s way, and cross the road in safety ?

There is too much space in West Bay. The buildings are like toys, scattered accidentally on a floor; they are objects and the space between them is residual.

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Linear buildings with arcades and a living mix of uses should be added to give definition to this piece of the city; currently looking better from a distance than it does from close-up.

 

 

 

 

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14_ThankYou