Shallow Time: The Burren

Shallow Time: The Burren
Photo taken by Tom Cookson
The Burren is a contradictory landscape, both everchanging and imbued with deeptime, which can teach us lessons about our urban and rural landscapes

Tom Cookson
The Burren, Ireland
Field of work
Architecture, Design, Landscape architecture
Project category
Rural spaces
Project submitted

I am an Associate leading Hall McKnight’s Cork Studio. Independently of the practice:
- I led a 3rd year studio at the Welsh School of Architecture from 2020-21 ('Land')
- Returning critic at architecture schools in the UK & Ireland
- 2 no. articles published by Drawing Matter: 'Thomas Chippendale & Ornament’ & ‘Shaping Landscape:Schinkel & Erratics’
- Runner up: International RIBA competition (Heath Park)
- Student Awards: RIBA Silver Medal (shortlisted), Steacy Greenaway Prize, Bown Prize

The Burren is a glacio-karst landscape in County Clare, West Ireland. Its limestone pavements were levelled and scored by slow moving ice sheets, leaving striae and erratics as remnants of their journey. Yet this landscape also conceals over 300 caves, generating turloughs (transient lakes) which appear when the water table emerges above the surface. The Burren is therefore a contradiction, a landscape which is both everchanging and imbued with deeptime.

A karst landscape instinctively rejects the notion of deeptime. Its proximity to the visible surface, its seeming lack of depth, its hollowed innards belies the fact of its creation over millenia. The Burren therefore is the perfect landscape for the Anthropocene, an environment that is changeable enough that we can penetrate its mystery, protected and therefore not urbanised or extracted from, a landscape that can be read.

Kate Raworth's 'Donut Economics' defines 'a set of planetary and social boundaries between which an environmentally safe and socially just space exists’. My suggestion is that just such a space exists within The Burren, and has continued to exist in fiercely constrained conditions for thousands of years. The Burren can teach us lessons about managing and inhabiting a fragile environment, the resilience of the natural world, and an architectural attitude for building in such places. The primary objectives of this study are:

-To raise awareness and understanding of the Burren within and outside of Ireland;
-To consider the Burren in the context of the Anthropocene, deeptime and human centric biological timespans;
-To describe how the Burren can provide lessons for fostering other natural environments both within rural and urban landscapes;
-To raise awareness of Tim Robinson’s work and to use his maps as a guide for structuring the study;
-An underlying theme unifying the study will be the notion of flatness, depth and their allegiances to the Renaissance and modernist traditions


Tom Cookson
Tom Cookson
I am an Associate leading Hall McKnight’s Cork Studio. Independently of the practice: - I led a 3rd year studio at the Welsh School of …

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