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Sphere One x De Paor Architects

Sphere One Collaboration Tom de Paor architects Brandub game playing surface felt turf

We enjoyed playing games with De Paor architects to create the Brandub playing surface, the surface of which is a circle.

Collaboration really works well when the two parties, in trying to resolve their own element of the project, influence the other to improve the overall design. In the case of Brandub, architect Tom dePaor had come up with a wonderful version of the ancient game, carving the pieces from extruded peat, a material of which he is fond. Although the ancient found specimen was square Tom had in mind that the board of his modern version would be round and perhaps that’s why he invited Sphere One! We wanted the ‘board’ to act as a surface on which to play but also bag for the pieces when not in use. We tried a cotton drawstring bag. We tried a canvas circular piece that zipped to a half moon. We sourced Irish linen and tweed. We spent endless rounds experimenting with bar-tac stitching and button holes to mark the positions. We tried Sam Brown closures to make a military looking telescope holder. We tried string and punching metal eyelets but everything seemed a bit complicated. One day we realized that the beauty of the playing pieces was that they fitted together and that the real pleasure was in simply rolling them in fabric, as one might make a sushi roll.

This circle of felt is hand made in Dublin from pure, un-dyed wool.

The puncture marks reference the 10th century Brandub board, found in 1932 during the excavation of a 'crannog', or lake dwelling at Ballinderry, West Meath, Ireland. In De Paor’s modern version of the game, the pivotal character is An Brandub. She is the female war goddess in folklore who appears as a raven. Her central perch puncture is marked inside by red nail polish.


Felt was chosen because it is natural, has an affinity with Irish sheep-farming and tradition. It is tactile, pleasant to rest ones hand on but, more importantly, it was designed to wrap snugly around it’s charges. Like mover’s felt, it is the best material to cosset the small sculptures that are the playing pieces. Mimicking Saint Brigid’s cloak, it is a piece of cloth that unfurls to become ‘land’ and then rolls back to hide and shelter it’s inhabitants. There is delight in the way the turf pieces are designed to puzzle together into a column. A rubber band disciplines the combatants before they are rolled, as soft-shelled crabs might, into a sushi roll. The vibrant green of the rubber band bites against the deep, natural colours of the turf and wool. It alludes to the common domestic fuel in Ireland; the bale of moulded peat briquettes.


Chatting to Tom about collaboration he said insightfully “They say that all real discoveries happen at the interstices or overlaps of disciplines. I think that when it works, the magic is here.”