Side by side outside - Cabinetmakers’ Autumn exhibition 2017



This was the first day of the Cabinetmakers’ Autumn exhibition at Designmuseum Danmark.

It was raining and cold and the leaves are turning but it didn’t matter. In fact it meant I had the garden of the museum to myself. 

For me this annual exhibition - to show the work of the cabinetmakers - is always one of the best exhibitions of the year. It never fails to challenge or delight or make you look at a material or a form or a convention in a different or new way.

In a city where there is so much good architecture and so much great design, it is actually this exhibition that comes closest to summing up what this site is about - about looking at and taking photographs of and writing about those works where imagination; the ability to translate an idea into a working and feasible design; a command of the materials being used and the skill of the craftsman or the quality of manufacturing - all come together. 

A full review to follow


Side by side outside continues at Designmuseum Danmark until 5 November 2017


outdoors in the city

the citizens of Copenhagen at Bakken


Looking back over the last year or so, one theme seems to stand out for me from looking at new architecture and recent planning in Copenhagen and that is the importance of public urban space … how it is used and how it can be improved and how new developments have to enhance or have to add to the public spaces of the city.  

Last year there was a major exhibition here addressing how we use or could use public space - Reprogramming the City at The Danish Architecture Centre - and their exhibition through this summer was Lets Play, on outdoor leisure in the city. The current exhibition at the Centre, Our Urban Living Room looks at the work of the Copenhagen architects COBE and is primarily about the interaction between buildings and public space and looks at how that relationship either has to reflect and respect recent change in society or the provision of public spaces can be proactive and can change how people appreciate and use open space. 

I've put together a collection of photographs - most taken through this last year - of public events outside, so the outdoor exhibitions and displays of art and sculpture, the popularity of eating outside, the gardens - not just parks but also private gardens planted in public space and the amazing courtyards to apartment buildings that are part private and part public space and of course the water in the city … the harbour, the canals, the inner city swimming areas and the beaches along the Sound are all important. Public areas are used for running, taking exercise and skating - on a number of evenings during the summer roads are closed so thousands of skaters can complete a circuit of the city - and there is actually an organised run where people cut through buildings and gardens on the designated route to show people as much of the city as possible (presumably as quickly as possible). 


At every opportunity citizens move out of their apartments to sit and talk, to picnic, to play boules on the edge of a city square. Space for exercise and play for children and also adults is important but large areas of open space are not always available at ground level so there is now a roof-top playground above a car park that has amazing views over the harbour and there are gardens and restaurants on roofs.

I've not lived in a city until now where quite so much day-to-day life is outside and where so much of the planning and the design of new buildings is focused on encouraging and enabling even more life to be lived outside.

The seminal study of urban spaces of the city is New City Life by Jan Gehl that was published in 2006. In that book he explains that “Copenhagen is one of the cities that has made the most targeted efforts to mould its space to match developments in society” and he comes to the crucial conclusion that “In the 21st century, designing good city space where people want to be has become an independent and demanding discipline in terms of planning, design and detailing. The time when useable city space arose between buildings by coincidence or as a post-construction afterthought is definitively over.”

photographs and longer text 

for other posts over the year on public space in the city see:



New City Life, Jan Gehl, Lars Gemzøe, Sia Kirknæs and Britt Sternhagen Søndergaard, The Danish Architectural Press (2006)

Copenhagen Green, 100 green things to see and do in Copenhagen, Susanne Sayers and Poul Årnedal, Foreningen By&Natur (2014)



Guldberg Byplads - kids play


Public space where children can play and good well-designed play equipment can be found all over Copenhagen. Many apartment buildings have courtyards with play areas but all parks, most public squares and many streets have play areas. Public buildings, particularly libraries, will have play equipment in an area outside and, of course, play areas inside.

In some parts of the city, the provision of play areas has had a much wider influence on traffic control and the wider urban landscape of the area and perhaps what is most important is that these areas are not fenced off or locked up but, even when they are part of a school, these play areas will often be open and available for all the local kids in the evening and at weekends.

One of the most extensive and most interesting schemes is around Guldberg Byplads north of the city centre. This was and is not the most affluent part of Copenhagen and relatively rapid and relatively cheap development in the late 19th and early 20th century has meant that historically the area has not had as many open or green spaces as other parts of the city.

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Ordrup … the garden of the landscape designer G N Brandt


While tracking down material about how Arne Jacobsen used geometry and proportion in the process of design - specifically to see how and where he used the Golden Rectangle - there were several intriguing references to work by the Danish gardener, landscape designer and teacher G N Brandt.  

Brandt was a generation older than Jacobsen - some twenty-four or twenty-five years older - and they might not normally have known much of each other’s work particularly in the late 20s when Jacobsen had just finished his studies and just qualified as an architect but in 1927 Jacobsen married Marie Jelstrup Holm whose family lived in a villa in Ordrupvej and in 1929 the couple moved to Ordrup - to a house at Gotfred Rodes Vej 2 that Jacobsen designed and had built for them and where in 1931 he then added a design studio and office for his architectural practice … so for some fifteen years, until Jacobsen fled to Sweden in 1943, he lived and worked just a few streets away from where Brandt lived in Ørnekulsvej. The walk from one front gate to the other is 450 metres so each must have known of the house and the garden of the other.

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P-Hus Lüders - Parking House Lüders - Nordhavn Copenhagen

P-Hus Lüders from the east

looking down the north staircase with the harbour and the sound and in the distance the Swedish coast


Copenhagen is the city of bikes. There are said to be more bikes than people … five bikes for every four people … and the statistics are mind boggling. Each day people in the city cycle 1.27 million kilometres. I’m not sure how that was calculated but if it was organised as a relay race it would be the equivalent of team Copenhagen riding around the World 1,000 times EVERY DAY.

There are five times more bikes than cars in the city but of course that doesn’t mean that there are no cars in Copenhagen … you can pile all your shopping plus all the kids and an elderly relative onto a cargo bike without any problems but how else could you get that lot out to the summerhouse without a car?

So for maybe 20 years, with many of the new apartment buildings constructed along the harbour and around the city, a common solution is to excavate first and build underground parking below the block.

The other planning imperative in the city is for open space where children can play and adults exercise … despite all that cycling an amazing number in the city run and then insist on adding a few pull ups and squats. This means that many larger apartment buildings have a courtyard with play or exercise equipment or apartment buildings are set around a public square or open space with play and exercise equipment. This seems to resolve several problems. Apartments in Copenhagen are generally larger than in cities like London or New York or Hong Kong - many are over 100 square metres and some over 200 - but even with balconies that does not stop people getting stir crazy and needing open space but also, of course, attractive space, used in a practical way, means that public space is appreciated and well used public space is much less likely to be vandalised.

In the new development in Nordhavn a slightly different approach to the problem of parking cars and getting exercise is being tried. The density of housing that is being built on former dock yards is higher than that of many recent developments and presumably excavation of deep car parks, on what has only been solid land reclaimed from the sea about 100 years ago, would be a challenge so here at Helsinkigade the solution is to build a large well-equipped public square and then hoik it up into the air by 24 metres and slip a multi-storey car park underneath.

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model for the extensive new development around Århusgade in Nordhavn that is currently part of the exhibition at the Danish Architecture Centre on the work of the architectural studio of COBE. P-Hus Lüders is at the centre of the three buildings - on the far side of the canal - with the pronounced angle of the east end following the alignment of the canal. There are apartment buildings on either side and shows clearly the proximity of the Silo - just to the right - to the north - but set further back and there is the distinct shape of the two giant cylinders of the former concrete silo to the left - to the south - and set back slightly from the wharf of the Nordhavn basin. 


Sankt Annæ Plads - St Anne’s Square or Saint Anne’s Place



Work on the old pier to the north of the theatre was completed in tandem with work on Sankt Annæ Plads that is not a square, which the name might suggest, but a long, broad and pleasant tree-lined street with grass, statues and play areas for children down the centre. The Plads starts at Bredgade with a large equestrian statue of Christian X and extends for 450 metres down to the harbour and the pier, the Plads and the pier meeting at right angles with the theatre at the outer corner.

Sankt Annæ Plads was excavated for engineering works to construct storm drains to cope with sudden and devastating downpours that are now much more frequent as a consequence of global warming. A holding tank can take up to 9 million litres of rain water so that it can later be released in a controlled way into the harbour protecting property and protecting sewers and street drains … expensive infrastructure that otherwise would not cope and could be damaged. 

So - in essence, Copenhagen has laid a drain and built an underground car park … but what a drain and what a car park. 

Together, and without pomp or any shouting, the square and the pier will not only transform this part of the city but also deal with very specific problems - there was a lack of parking for cars … not for local people but for the phenomenal number of visitors drawn to the area for major events; there is a bus turning area for public transport that comes right down to the north entrance to the theatre; the open space is clear enough to give room for pedestrians and bikes; potentially devastating flooding from surface water after heavy rain will be held back in tanks so that it can be released into the harbour in a controlled way to protect property and drains including sewers that would otherwise be overwhelmed; the square will form a suitable and very attractive approach to the theatre and to the harbour front and the pier forms a huge level, uncluttered open space that will be a venue for a wide variety of public events including outside performances by the theatre.


The selection of appropriate colours and texture and tone for hard surfaces enhances rather than competes with the historic buildings on either side but also help to define where cars and pedestrians should go and trees have been planted to make the area down the centre as green and as pleasant as possible with seats and statues to encourage people to sit and relax. Not over designed but very very carefully designed.


the city end of Sankt Annæ Plads in November 2015 with new surface drains (below) being installed between the pavement and the road and between the road and the central area


May 2016 and an early opportunity for people to start using the newly-planted centre space ... the sunken area holds flood water from rain storms to prevent it from flowing back along Bredgade and into the basements of properties there


rains and drains - more on new schemes in Copenhagen to deal with flooding from the sudden and severe rain storms that are becoming more common with global warming


Copenhagen in the snow

Houses in Kronprinsessegade from the King's Garden


This photograph of houses on Kronprinsessegade in Copenhagen was taken from the King’s Garden walking across to the National Gallery - to Statens Museum for Kunst - to see their major exhibition on the work of the Danish artist Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg on the last weekend before it closed.

Eckersberg was born in 1783 in Schleswig - then part of Denmark - and moved to Copenhagen in 1803 to study at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. He would certainly have known the King’s Garden and these houses. This large area of avenues and formal planting had been the private garden of the King’s house of Rosenborg, built in the early 17th century and just outside the city walls, but was opened to the public in the late 18th century and the iron railings and pavilions, between the gardens and the street, designed by Peter Meyn, date from about 1800 … so just before Eckersberg arrived in the city. 


the pavilions and railings between the garden and the street


Historiske Huse, a catalogue of historic houses in the city, that was published by the National Museum in 1972, indicates that these fine town houses date from the first decade of the 19th century and were part of the expansion of the city to the north in the late 18th century and early 19th century.

The National Gallery did not move to its present building until the 1890s and, through the 19th century, the royal collection of paintings, the core of the National Gallery collection, was housed in the Christiansborg Palace on the opposite side of the city but the Royal Academy, where Eckersberg studied, was in the Charlottenborg Palace on Kongens Nytorv just a few blocks from the gardens. The Academy had been established in the Palace in 1753 and is still in that building.

After a period at the Academy as a student, Eckersberg travelled first to Paris in 1812 to study under the artist Jacques-Louis David and then on to Rome where he remained until 1816. Back in Copenhagen he returned to the Academy and was appointed to a professorship in 1818.

As a product of the Royal Academy and as a teacher Eckersberg did produce grand paintings of historic and classical scenes but he is better known now for his portraits of wealthy middle-class families of Copenhagen society and for marine landscapes and for studies of his city and of his family. He lived in an age noted for rational investigation and he knew and associated with contemporary scientists - men like the physicist Hans Christian Ørested whose portrait he painted in 1822. Linked to scientific observation, an interesting areas of the exhibition at the National Gallery were the cloud studies by Eckersberg and his drawings and studies of perspective including a modern version of the viewing screen with gridded glass that he used for drawing in the landscape and a copy of notes and instructions on perspective for his students produced at the academy.

perspective study by Christoffer Eckersberg from the collection of Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen

By comparing preparatory sketches and the paintings completed in the studio you could see that in the finished works he rationalised the view to create distinct planes, rather like theatre sets, so that more distant features could be pulled forward and given more emphasis. This might sound as if the works were therefore not strictly naturalistic but in fact he simulated well what the human eye does so well naturally … how often have people taken a landscape photograph and realised that a distant feature, quite clear to the human eye, looks more distant and much smaller in the photograph but then if a zoom lens is used, the distant feature looks more like what the eye can focus on but the width of view suddenly looks much narrower.

Eckersberg used the same rationalisation and the same sharp observation in his portraits and his drawings of interiors. In these works, you see some of the well-established and prosperous families of Copenhagen but remarkably little ostentation or show. Clearly, in part, that is because of the style in clothes at this period, with little expensive lace or ornate embroidery, but as with the uncluttered interiors you can see the expression of wealth in high-quality materials and well made clothing and furniture. 

detail of the painting of the Nathanson family from the collection of Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen

The interiors themselves seem surprisingly but deliberately simple with shutters, rather than draped curtains, or at most blinds at the windows and stripped plain floors and unified and straight-forward colour schemes with all the panelling one flat and quite dark colour or at most one colour below the dado and a second colour for all the panelling and the cornice above the dado rail. There seem to be relatively few pieces of furniture in each room but that furniture is relatively restrained but clearly of good quality.

Similarly with the houses of this period, typical examples being those looking down into the King’s Garden, which are sober and elegant with carefully spaced windows and features such as doorways with columns that are based on classical precedents. Solid and respectable.

view of Sankt Annæ Plads, close to the Academy at Charlottenborg Palace


Does this sound familiar? I would not go so far as to suggest that what is called the classic period of Danish design from the 1950s and 1960s - the work of Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner or Finn Juhl - looked back to the first half of the 19th century in terms of style but at least you can see through the works of Christoffer Eckersberg an important stage in the development of middle-class Danish taste that can be seen echoing still in the best modern furniture and interiors in Denmark.


the daughters of the artist as they look out of a window in the Academy. Drawn by Eckersberg shortly before his death in 1853. From the collection of Statens Museum for Kunst and available through the Google Art Project

Thorvald Bindesbøll

There is a bust of the architect and designer Thorvald Bindesbøll in the courtyard garden of Designmuseum Danmark that was sculpted by Kai Nielsen and completed shortly after Bindesbøll’s death in 1908.

Many visitors to the museum, for very understandable reasons, get no further than the garden chairs and tables of the cafe to sit in the sun but it really is worth walking up along the tree-lined path to look at this work. If any man had features and a profile that demanded to be the subject of a sculpture then surely it was Thorvald Bindesbøll.


green and open space in Vesterbro

Halmtorvet looking west towards Sønder Boulevard with the Meat Market area immediately to the left

In a densely built up residential area like Vesterbro, natural planting of grass and trees is important, not just in larger open spaces for recreation and relaxation but in smaller areas to break up visually the mass of masonry, brick and tarmac.

At the centre of the area is Skydebanehaven, a large rectangular space surrounded by the backs of buildings so that it is more like a large courtyard. It is on the site of what was a private shooting range so presumably it was originally open ground with gravel or grass but now has a large number of mature trees. At the south-west corner it has been opened out to adjoining streets with the demolition of some rows of slum housing but it still seems like a well-kept local secret that is hidden away behind apartment buildings and, from the Istedgade side, is entered through a doorway in a forbidding high blank brick wall that closes off a short street of apartment buildings.

Enghave Park

The other large area of grass and trees is Enghave Park at the far west end of Vesterbro laid out in 1929 specifically as an open area with large apartment buildings of that period on the north, west and south sides.

More recent is Saxopark - a long strip of garden created when slum houses to the west of Skydebanehaven were demolished, courtyards cleared of tightly-packed infill and a line of new apartment buildings were constructed.


Sønder Boulevard

Halmtorvet and Sønder Boulevard, its extension west, which run across the south edge of the area was a major road for traffic in and out of the city. As part of a concerted plan to improve Vesterbro, the far end of the road was closed to traffic and the roads, now restricted to local traffic have been reduced in width and the central area of grass widened for space for seating, picnic tables, sports equipment and new play areas for children. The city end has extensive areas of water with fountains, areas for seating and cobbled and gravelled areas used for flea markets, food fairs and other events. Close to the Meat Market area, also being improved, the remodelling of the street has encouraged new restaurants and cafes to the area and most now move seats and table outside to the pavement. 

Litauens Plads and Knoldens Plads

There are also relatively small squares through Vesterbro with mature trees in front of major churches - including the Eliaskirken facing onto Vesterbrogade, the church at the east end of Litauens Plads, almost in the centre of the area, and Kristkirken on Enghave Plads on the east side of the park.

Towards the west end of the area the cross streets are wider and several are set at an angle so they create triangular areas at the junctions with the main roads which are now also being used for outdoor seating for cafes and for some planting.

Of course, as with other parts of the city, courtyards behind the apartment buildings, provide important enclosed, private areas of garden but in this part of the city the courtyards within the blocks tend to be narrower and smaller although the east courtyard of the Skydebanegade apartments is almost as large as Saxopark and there are some larger courtyards in the blocks along the south edge of the area close to the main railway tracks.


For more photographs of the open spaces in Vesterbro see the post on the Copenhagen site

Skydebanehaven - The Shooting Gallery Park


The children's play ground at the south end of the shooting gallery with the screen wall beyond that was built in 1887 ... apparently to protect people walking along the street beyond being hit by stray bullets


Vesterbro in 1879. Istedgade was still only open in sections. The line of the brick screen wall can be seen but it was not constructed until 1887. The railway, marked as ‘Nedlagt Jernbane’ was still then on the line of what is now Sønder Boulevard and the first areas of new land out into the sound had been claimed and a new gasworks and the first buildings of the meat market constructed.

There is an impressive 18th century building onto Vesterbrogade, set back beyond a forecourt. Most people walking along the street would be hard pressed to guess what its function might have been although it was actually built in 1787 for the Royal Copenhagen Shooting Society. Until this summer it was the Museum of Copenhagen which has now closed pending a move to a building close to the City Hall.

The shooting range itself was a broad strip of open ground behind the building that ran down to the sea shore and can be seen clearly on 19th century maps. Then, the south approach to the harbour was much wider and the sea shore was on the line what is now Sønder Boulevard. First a railway into the city was constructed along the shore and then through the late 19th century more and more land and beyond was claimed from the sea and built over so the shooting gallery became rather cut off and in 1887 a large screen wall in brick was constructed across the south end of the gallery to prevent stray bullets injuring citizens on Istedgade. This is the screen wall that still stands at the end of a short street of houses with a gateway at the centre that now provides a partially-hidden access to the gardens and play area on the site of the shooting gallery. 

After the construction of the screen wall, work began on the Skydebanegade apartments that were built over the south part of the shooting range, on the south side of Istedgade and completed in 1893. 

Skydebanehaven is now an important green space in Vesterbro with a very popular playground for children at the south end. Several blocks of slum houses at the south end on the west side were demolished in the 1950s and 1960s as part of an extensive slum clearance programme and the space was opened up to link through to streets beyond. The space is open but not completely successful … the north part of the shooting gallery feels much more like a large Copenhagen courtyard but, at the south end, the space seem to leach out and break down on the west side creating odd chopped off rows of houses and odd views of the backs of houses that were not designed to be seen.

Even so this is an amazingly important and much used green space.

For more photographs of the park see the Copenhagen site

overlooking new water

looking across Peblinge Sø towards the city


Architects and planners in Copenhagen have appreciated the value of water in the urban landscape for centuries: the square in front of the old city hall, now Gammeltorv, was given an elaborate fountain in the early 17th century; in the first half of the 18th century royal gardens laid out on the site of what is now the Amalienborg palace ran parallel to the sea and had terraces and walks overlooking the water and were enclosed by a canal and of course the lakes to the west of the city, stretching for almost three Kilometres, in the 18th century much wider and more irregular and natural in shape, were given a regular outline in the 19th century with a promenade or walkway forming the edge and they are lined for almost the whole length and on both sides by apartment buildings - most dating from the late 19th century.

Some of the most recent developments around the city have been set against new stretches of water: just below the famous Gemini building on Islands Brygge new apartment buildings look down on a new basin; a long canal cuts down through the development of Ørestad on Amager is overlooked by apartments including The Mountain and at the south end, by the Vestamager station of the metro, drainage canals run into open water before the common land of Kalvebod Fælled - the Amager Nature Centre - but overlooked by large, new apartment buildings including the 8House and The Bow by Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects.

In the centre of the city new water channels and fountains have been added in the re-modelling of Israels Plads near Nørreport station and of Halmtorvet as part of the redevelopment of the Meat Market area in Vesterbro.


the basin and new apartment buildings just below the Gemini building on Islands Brygge

The Mountain apartment building on the canal down through Orestad with the raised track of the metro

The Bow by Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects looking over water towards Kalvebod Fælled

Israels Plads

the water and fountains of Halmtorvet

children's play areas in Copenhagen

Exploring Copenhagen I’ve been amazed by the number of playgrounds in parks and in many of the city squares and attached to schools. It’s probably because so many people in the centre of the city live in apartments that both the playgrounds and the play equipment are so important and so well used. Parents, after picking their children up from school, seem to spend at least some time in the play areas before heading for home and most of the playgrounds attached to schools and nurseries seem to be open and well used at weekends. 

What is striking is just how different each of the play areas is and how well the equipment is designed in a range of styles. There are also skate board parks and climbing walls for teenagers and exercise equipment for adults so however big a kid you are there is something to play on.

These well-thought-out, well-constructed areas introduce kids to good design from an early age and they certainly learn that good design can be fun.

gallery of photographs

Trafiklegepladsen in Copenhagen


Writing about Blinkenbikes I mentioned Trafiklegepladsen. It’s on the edge of a large park called Fælledparken on the north side of Copenhagen and is close to the main football stadium. It’s laid out with an extensive and fairly complex arrangement of roads with round-a-bouts and crossings and traffic lights but all scaled down and it is where Copenhagen children learn about riding on roads. There are classes there but there seems to be open access most of the time so you see parents with their kids at weekends and in all sorts of weather.

A new building was completed last year at the entrance that was designed by the architecture practice MLRP with toilets and large areas under cover that can be opened up by folding back doorways for teaching and repair spaces and there are stores for go karts. The area also has picnic tables, play equipment and fun things like vertical rotating brushes of a car wash though I’m sure most parents are relieved to find there is no water.



I liked the idea that clearly the little boy was teaching his dad to use a scooter.

Just after I took the photo of the little girl in a pink hat I had to leap for the pavement as she came racing past. Admittedly she had the green light at the cross roads and the little man on the crossing light was on red and my Danish is not up to arguing the point that actually she was on the wrong side of the road ... better to just get out of the way when a Copenhagen cyclist gets up a bit of speed.


Schools and nursery schools around the city often have their own miniature road layouts in their playgrounds … children here start riding bikes on the public roads at a very early age and this is a good way to teach them to be confident and safe.


Above is the road system laid out in the playground of Kastanie Huset, a nursery and kindergarten on the north edge of De Gamle By in Copenhagen. All the bikes upturned by the kids presumably for servicing made me smile.


On the opposite corner is the new Forfatterhuset kindergarten designed by the architectural practice COBE completed last year and also with its own road layout in the playground.

the summer pavilion of the King's Garden in Copenhagen


The King’s Garden is a public park in Copenhagen that was originally, in the 17th century, the formal gardens of the King’s house of Rosenborg. Its avenues, formal borders and open spaces are incredibly popular in the summer - not just for tourists but for local families to walk, sunbathe on the grass, play boule or watch puppet theatres or listen to music.


A new temporary summer pavilion has just been completed in the garden and will remain here until the end of August. It was designed by the Danish architects Mikkel Kjærgård Christiansen and Jesper Kort Andersen and was the winning entry in a competition organised by the Danish Architect’s Association.

The pavilion encloses a large circular space than can be used for concerts and demonstrations and has inner and outer walk way that rise and fall, marking points where it is easy to step up onto the walk but also, at the higher levels, forming a seat or bench. Vertical timbers for the walls are closely spaced but there are wider gaps at intervals for getting through from the outer to the inner walks and this gives a sense of it being a spiral .... children clearly enjoy running round and round on what is, in effect, a board walk. The structure has a mono-pitched roof that falls outwards over the outer walk and the irregular spacing of the verticals creates dappled shadow and gives narrow angled views into the centre and out, through the structure, to the gardens beyond.