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a way with words

Tom de Paor is young, he's gifted, and his Dublin-based practice is flying the flag for Ireland after being invited to design his country's first representation at the Venice Architecture Biennale by deborah singmaster. photograph by david richards

De Paor's involvement with A13 Artscape has given him scope to develop his interest in landscape and art. 'I've always been fascinated by landscape architecture and this is about as big a garden as you can get, it's at the scale of Stowe.'The first art work, 'Holding Pattern', developed with artists Graham Ellard and Stephen Johnstone, was completed in May.At the junction of the A13 with Lodge Avenue, 'Holding Pattern' is a floating ring of intense blue light suspended above a forest of stainless steel columns.As well as masterplanning and co-ordinating the project, de Paor is providing several artworks including 36m high, cast in-situ concrete towers, 'acoustic lenses listening to the sky', on a leyline between Barking Abbey and Fords at Dagenham, and earthworks, called 'reptiles' ('recursive tiling'), which 'repeat across the project at different sizes, one moment they're 1.5m high, the next thing you know they're 5m high. This is all about memory. What happens if you repeat a form infinitely bigger 10 minutes later? Does it mean the houses have become smaller? Or I've become bigger?'

Besides adding visual interest to drivers' experience of the route, the scheme, devised by Barking and Dagenham Council in collaboration with the Highways Agency, will help regenerate the adjacent neighbourhoods. De Paor believes road architecture has been neglected in the UK.He finds autobahns beautiful and admires the US Parkways planned at the beginning of the century.For drivers on the A13 he wants to improve the moving landscape framed at 50mph by windscreens and rear-view mirrors, and at the same time to lessen the impact of the visual and acoustic damage to inhabited areas bordering the route.

In Ireland, de Paor's practice is working on 'a polder landscape' in Clontarf, on the north side of Dublin, redeveloping the 1930s sea edge and refurbishing an existing pump house. Another project at the National Sculpture Factory in Cork has just been completed: 'They have a fantastic Victorian tram palace which is used for making large pieces, so we've built an inverted tram, clad it in lead, and hung it upside down in the space.' He fantasises about doing a golf course. And a pub.

'Dublin pubs are not what they were and there are no new good ones.'

Dublin has become a boom-time city during the first decade of de Paor's career. 'Since the Georgians there hasn't been this amount of development. Some good, a lot very poor. Ireland has to come to terms with that, it's being cast in stone now for another 200 years. The responsibility is enormous, and there are a whole raft of social issues emerging which have to be addressed.'

While he admires some of the acclaimed new architecture in Temple Bar and the Dublin Docklands, he has also discovered other enclaves of change: 'What is exciting is what's happening down around Parnell Street, all these new Pentecostal churches in the backs of shops, hair dressing salons, a whole other culture moving in a really interesting way - it's a joy to walk down there, that's where the action is.'

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