Monday, March 5, 2018


In my mind, the Grocer's will always be a small shop in 1960s England which sells just about everything, wrapped in brown paper bags.  Some things were even sold by the gross, a dozen dozens.  Today of course, "gross" means the opposite of "awesome" or "cool".  In the sixties we had "fab" and "grotty".

150 years earlier, Soane was completing his North-West extension at the Bank of England: the green bit in our colour-coded time sequence.  This entailed taking land from the Grocers' Hall garden and straightening Princes Street.  In the photo above I was standing at the edge of Princes Street, and in the middle of what used to be the garden of the Worshipful Company of Grocers ... one time landlords to the fledgling Bank of England.

  Last weekend I discovered drawings, previously glossed over for a lobby connecting the new Discount Office to the Long Passage.  This junction-point in the passage is marked by a skylight that belongs to the floor above, visible through an oval hole in the ceiling with railings around it (not yet added)

This is typical Soane: bringing light in from above and creating surprising visual links between different spaces.  The lobby itself is coming along quite nicely, but I'm setting it aside for now, waiting for my collaborators to work on various partially finished Revit families.

I intended to spend the weekend fleshing out the Long Passage, starting with this junction point. Made pretty good progress. spicing up the shallow arched recess above the Ionic columns with some mouldings; adding a variation on the same them to the opposite side of the passage; populating the wall/ceiling junction with scroll brackets; moving on to coffers in the next bay to the south.

We are having to piece together the clues from oblique shots in photographs and hints on floor plans, but bit-by-bit it's shaping up.  There's a deep coffered arch disguising the location of a door that leads down to the cellars and a tall round arch revealing the upward flight of stairs.  There's quite a bit of rustication, I've begun a panel beneath a lunette window giving borrowed light to the coffee room.  The door to the Directors Parlours in its broad shallow niche was built some time ago.

The Directors Parlours themselves are a reworking of spaces built by Taylor, and that part of the Long Passage belongs to Sampson's original double-courtyard block.  I think it began as an arcade, open to the weather on one side, along the West side of the inner courtyard.  But the rest of the North-West extension was new, and made possible by diverting Princes Street and stealing land from the Grocer's Hall.  The Grocers were merchants, as were the Mercers.  "Gross" and "Grocer" have the same derivation, implying "big-time" trading.  These were the Medieval Guilds, which fell on hard times with the rise of a new kind of commerce.  They rented their Hall to the Bank to make ends meet.

In the old days the big money was in Wool, traded overseas to Antwerp and Florence, but the new traders were importing cotton from India and making a killing.  The resulting rivalries led to the Calico Acts, various riots, and ultimately the industrialisation of cloth making (which happened during Soane's lifetime)

Soane used an element of trickery with the Grocers when buying up property on behalf of the Bank.  He presented a scheme to the authorities that allowed them to keep their garden, but it was a weak design and once he had a foot in the door it was easy enough to press the case for a bolder scheme. 

And so the Bank swept aside their former landlords.  Financial innovation had incubated itself, nestled under the wings of the old guild system.  Now, like a cuckoo it was pushing its adopted parents aside.  The evils of capitalism ?  Maybe so, but the more I look into the history of the bank, the more I see capitalism as a series of mechanisms that evolved over time: double-entry book-keeping in Florence, joint stock companies in Holland, tradable government stocks at the Bank of England.  Neither good nor bad in themselves ... it's a question of what you do with them, where the journey leads.

Sampson's inner court was three storeys high, built to accommodate the Bank's expanding business which had outgrown the Grocer's Hall.  I'm struggling to reconcile the storey heights here.  The groin vault leading into Taylor's Entrance Hall is too high. 

I had cut the floor back, but this won't do I think.  So I decided to cheat a bit and lower the columns and cornice slightly. Then by thinning the floor down to bare floorboards, I managed to clear the vault. 

Moving North, the Long Passage passes by the Chief Cashier's office built by Soane a decade or so earlier.  That's the orange bit, the North-East extension, with Lothbury Court at it's heart.  Now we are having to work with ambiguous hints, to become more adventurous and speculative, like the Bank when they first broke free of the Grocers.  There is a railing in one corner of a photo labelled "view from gallery" and looking down into the Cashier's office.  There is no gallery in the original drawings.  Perhaps it was added when the North-West extension broke of the western edge of that space.  Maybe it dates from later, (after Soane) but I quite like the idea of a view from the upper corridor.

So I have pieced together a sketch of the original west elevation with an interpretation of the gallery, using information from a floor plan to interpret the central opening as a blind recess.  By now the weekend has taken a different turn.  I'm ranging around more widely than I planned, touching here and there, trying to make sense of the upper stories, adjusting the massing.

What is the role of speculation in this kind of work?  Am I a historian? an artist? ... a biased political commentator?  Why am I trying to understand this building in the context of Soane's London and think about implications for how we live our lives today? What is the role of speculation in our economy?  Is it an evil monster?  Is it something to be worshipped ... (aka disruptive technology) ? 

Well I have to make a decision so I've gone with an interpretation of the west end of the Chief Cashier's office, assuming it was modified by Soane around 1805.  The assumption is that there is a layer of circulation above the Long Passage that links the Printing Court and Residence Court with the older upper levels of Sampson's original Bullion Court.

Some of this is based on clues, bits of drawings that I had not noticed before.  I decided that the Bullion Route should be expressed in the roof form.  This is a tunnel cutting through at an angle from Lothbury Court to the old Bullion Court.  It seems there may have been a higher section in the middle, possibly vaulted.  Could it have been side-lit?  It's the kind of thing Soane would have done, so I'm going to risk it for now.  What had been a large expanse of flat orange roof is becoming articulated: much more Soane-like.  This is exactly what has been happening with the Directors Parlours, but in that case with rather more definite evidence to back up my interpretation. 

Just a reminder: Red is Sampson's original block, Pink is Taylor's Court Suite.  Sampson's Court Room was on the upper floor behind the Pay Hall, and overlooking the Bullion Court.  Taylor squeezed it out to the West and let it drop down to the ground floor, looking back the other way over the former graveyard of St Christopher's.  Orange and Green are Soane's two big expansions, doubling the area of the Bank towards the North in two phases.  

As these successive expansions rolled out, the nature of the Bank evolved.  It began tentatively, went through a bold and assertive phase, but gradually retreated into a more aloof posture, overseeing the national economy with a gentle touch.  In a way, this is mirrored in the architecture and even the personalities of the three designers.

It may be speculative, but I rather like the taller middle section of the bullion tunnel.  I'm going to try adding a groin vault when I get around to it.  There is some evidence for this at one side of a sketch section through the Chief Cashier's Office.  This sketch shows a much shallower dome over the office than later photos suggest.  Did he change his mind?  Is this just an early scheme?  Was the dome rebuilt to a steeper pitch during the North-West extension?

I've also taken the liberty of adding a lantern over this dome.  No direct evidence for this, but the room would be poorly lit without it, and most of his domes do have lanterns. So, a bit of poetic license creeping in to my work perhaps.  Soane himself spoke of the poetry of architecture of course.  And perhaps it was time to spend a couple of days jumping around again, after several weeks of systematically upgrading spaces one by one.  It certainly feels good to add more definition to the upper storeys.  I only wish I had better reference material for these.

Editing sessions are usually interspersed with short bursts of Enscape navigation, and I found myself climbing up to review the complexity of the roofscape.  It really amazes me how this has gradually unfolded over the past couple of years as I kept re-working the model. 
I have started to wonder whether some of these back-of-house areas were faced with stock brick.  That was Soane's usual approach to what we now call "value engineering".  

Certainly the drawings for the Printing Court show use of face brick.  So I transferred Revit materials from St Peter, Walworth and applied the brick here.  I wonder if I can get away with using his corbelled brick parapet treatment?  Better check the drawings first.  In a way the Printing Court heralds the democratisation of capitalism.  Bank Notes used to be solely for the rich, but now paper money is being issued in denominations that allow it to become a convenient alternative to coins.  Perhaps this is an indication of the increasing buying power of the man in the street with the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

And finally I added a couple of trees in the Garden Court.  Feels like there should be some grass also, and what about the grave stones?  Photographs show a lot of paving, plus odd little ponds and cherubs.  I think that must be Victorian or Edwardian in origin.  Of course this was all a capitalist plot ... the board of directors appropriating the graveyard to give themselves a nice view.  I Need to spend a day upgrading Garden Court some time soon.

So I spent a weekend roaming across several areas of the building, adjusting the massing, speculating a bit, reflecting on capitalism ... and generally having fun at the Grocers' expense.

Here's a peek at my speculative recreation of the Chief Cashier's office.  I think the recesses should have round arched heads, but will have to come back to that some other time.  At least it's in much better shape than it was a week ago ... starting to feel like a real space.

Chief Cashier panorama.enscape3d

Monday, February 26, 2018



Soane's Bank of England is familiar territory to me by now.  It's been a while since I discovered a drawing for a new space that I hadn't noticed before.  Used to be something that happened regularly, but after 2 1/2 years I have come to know both the building and the drawings archive pretty well.  So I got a bit of a thrill when I realised what this drawing was really about.

I had assumed it was an early study for the Discount Office, which is strange because it clearly says that it is the lobby leading to that office.  As soon as the penny drops it relates very clearly to a space on the floor plan (although the door to the Silver Room is puzzling).  I'm quite excited, because it's an interesting space, and fills out the sequence of rooms that I have been working on recently. 

The treatment is very similar to the waiting room corridor, with rusticated walls and Ionic columns, plus yet another skylight, above a vaulted ceiling.  There is a second drawing with orthographic views. I'm looking forward to developing this, maybe next weekend.

Here is a model view of the lobby, showing the route from the Long Passage leading to the Discount Office entrance door.  The new skylight position is marked by an asterisk, and the large arched window into the Discount Office is awaiting glass and framing.

I started on the Discount Office itself towards the end of this weekend: mostly developing the coffered ceilings.  I roughed out the space at least a year ago, lots of arches and Soane's usual division of the space into a central hall with side and end aisles.

More discoveries this weekend.  For some time now, the linked models have not been showing up in the A360 viewer.  I decided to try removing them and re-inserting; a successful strategy in the end. 

Along the way I thought I should record the positions of the links using shared coordinates before removing them.  Turns out that you can't "Publish" coordinates in A360.  I guess it has something to do with the models not residing locally so more chance of corruption when the system tries to write to it.  In my confusion I pressed "reconcile" a few times, thinking this was an equivalent process, but of course it is actually acquiring coordinates from the link.  Essentially True North was reset back to Project North,

This in turn prompted me to look once again at the orientation of True North.  I was looking to display a grid in Google Maps and came across a link to a Caving Society which has done this via the API.  Actually I have a plan view with lots of different maps brought in, some historic. 

Cross-checking these and taking readouts of coordinates from Google Earth at the four corners of the site convinced me that to change the angle between True & Project North from 24.5 to 26 degrees.  Not sure that it matters very much for the work I am doing, but it was an absorbing puzzle.

I ought to mention that the A360 viewer is much improved now that they added edges.  It's quite responsive too, given the size and complexity of this model.  Here's a shot looking from the Residence Court towards Lothbury Court, not a bad place to live if you were the Secretary or Chief Cashier.

The first half of the weekend was more straightforward, but also rewarding.  I was increasing the level of detail on the Governor & Deputy Governor's Rooms.  Don't have time to describe the process right now, but a couple of Enscape images will convey the reults.  Deputy Governor's office is all about subtle division of space to define a "corridor zone" at one end, leaving the main space centred on the fireplace with a circular recess in the ceiling.  Had fun with the decorative frieze at the junction of wall and ceiling.

The Governor's Room is a blend between Taylor & Soane.  I had to increase the pitch of the groin vault to match archive drawings, then it was mostly down to carefully adjusting the wall panels ... plus a bit of fun with a repeating dentil family topping off the corner recesses.  I think Soane inherited the groin vault and high level windows from Taylor, but the window into the Waiting Room Court is definitely his. I suspect most of the decorative detail is of his devising also, but it's hard to be sure.

LINKS to 360 panoramas of these two spaces:

Governor - panorama.enscape3d

Deputy - panorama.enscape3d

The Soane drawings I began with are of course copyright the Soane Museum and downloaded from their online archive which you can access here.


I'm going to try out a suggestion I received recently from Dmitry and summarise the main points arising in this post.  I have set myself a rambling, diary style format for my posts, bordering on "stream-of-consciousness"  I don't want to abandon this, but a summary at the end seems like a good idea.
  1. Always be ready to find something new in old/familiar material
  2. Soane's variations on a theme are a wonder to behold
  3. The BIM360 viewer is much better with the black edges showing
  4. Design Review & Navis could benefit from this IMO
  5. Can't "Publish" shared coordinates in C4R, only "Acquire".  Plan carefully
  6. Would be great to have a couple more collaborators on Project Soane

Sunday, February 18, 2018


Running short of time so I will attempt a quick one.

I've spent a couple more weekends moving from space to space through the Directors Parlours bringing up the layers of detail.  Centre Hall is what its name implies, the space that links together the rooms where all the major decisions were made: Governor's Office, Deputy Governor, Court Room, Committee Room.  Lots of interesting Family Editor challenges.  The coffered arch with ceiling roses is one I'd like to explain in detail when I have the time.

Beyond the Centre Hall is another impressive circulation space, the Rustic Lobby.  Like the Centre Hall, there are coffered arches either side of a lofty central volume.  But instead of a groin vault you get a tower with top lighting.  And of course the walls are rusticated, hence the name.  Working my way through these spaces I get a tremendous feel for the way Soane could ring the changes.  Notice the different treatment of the coffered arch motif.

As you know, I'm not alone in this task.  A couple of active collaborators chipping in at the moment. The next image is one that I shared to Slack to explain some of the available tasks, and how they fit into the scheme of things, the functional arrangement of spaces.  X marks the spot ... an open court with toilet cubicles. 

This whole area is a terrific sequence of spaces, opening up and closing down, letting in light from all kinds of angles, arches, domes, vaults ...  I'm really excited by the way it's starting to shape up now, culmination of two and a half years of dogged effort (off and on)

To say I've learned a lot is a huge understatement.  Modelling challenges, history of capitalism, spatial creativity, Soane's vision of classical abstracted modernity.  Sometimes it's appropriate to use parametric families, formulas, nesting.  Sometimes simple direct modelling does the trick.  Take this groin vault for example.  It's a one off situation: four extrusions, two solid & two void.

That was for the lobby leading in to the Entrance Hall, a space designed by Soane's predecessor, Taylor.  Very easy to spot the difference, much more heavy-handed decoration. (my bias is showing)  You get a glimpse of some of the more elaborate families here, no parametrics really, but a good deal of complexity and nesting.

Still a fair bit of work to do.  The clock and the fireplace are simple placeholders, to be developed further by "others".  There are some tricky door families to add also, two of them matching, with semi-circular fanlights: one a real door, the other blind ... or maybe a cupboard.

This weekend I moved on to the Court Room, also by Taylor and heavily decorated.  The heavy plaster cornices are sweeps, modelled in place.  This is a pretty good example of a situation where modelling in place is the only realistic option.  These days you can do a lot more stuff in a perspective view.  It was my first attempt to edit a sweep profile in perspective though.  Quite impressive.  Can't wait for the long awaited free perspective navigation now (aka "Do Not Crop View")

Much of the weekend has been spent building decorative plaster panels: wall based and ceiling based.  They may look like they are finished, but believe me they are fairly crudely modeled at present.  Lots of scope for collaborators to step in here.

The families are all packaged up in folders on a Box account.  It's an interesting exercise in collaborative work in an educational context.  Starting to get a good process going.

That process includes the super laptop HP gave me for my work in the original competition (thanks Sean) access to A360 and C4R (thanks Kyle) a license for Enscape3d (thanks Guys) and of course the wonders of "free" cloud services (Slack and Box)