Sunday, November 6, 2016


And what better place to wait than Waiting Room "B"

Just over a week ago I attended a couple of events in London to mark the conclusion of the second phase of Project Soane.  It was a great pleasure to meet Melissa & Graham  of RAMSA who were instrumental in setting up Project Soane in the first place.  We had lots of fun sharing ideas and enthusiasms.  I can never thank them enough for dreaming up the idea of recreating the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street in the cloud. 

And of course Sean Young is "The Man" who kept the wheels turning and persuaded me to take a detour via London on the way back from Porto.  In Porto I ran into Kyle Bernhardt of C4R who came up with the idea of putting Project Soane onto that cloud based collaboration platform.  We did just that, together in one of the speaker rooms, and this weekend I had my first chance to give it a serious whirl.  Very happy to report that it's performing really well so far.

I have been studying the survey drawings by the office of F.W.Troup that were made in the 1920s prior to demolition.  Troup did some schemes for the redevelopment of the bank before the governors decided to appoint Herbert Baker for the job.  The drawings are in fold-out sheets at the back of a second hand book that I picked up earlier this year.  I've photographed these and started to paste them into Revit views where I can scale them up, make some construction lines and figure out the key dimensions. 

I'm focusing on the Court Suite area, which is the least well developed at present of all the areas where Soane did some serious work.  It's not easy to figure out what he was up to here, but I'm starting to see the light.  As usual it's about a series of spaces with contrasting proportions and surprisingly inventive lighting.  He was creating new offices for the Governor & Deputy Governor, and reorganising the circulation in this whole zone.  The two major spaces (Court Room & Committee Room) remained as Taylor had designed them, as did the Entrance Lobby, but everything else was completely reworked.

The two small waiting rooms (A & B) are quite intriguing, so I decided to make a massing model (Generic Model Family). He created a square in the middle and covered it with a groin vault.  In the centre of this is a small lantern.  I was wondering how he had managed to resolve the junction between the cross of the fault and the circle of the lantern when I noticed the corner of the pendentives.  There is a device here that Soane used in some of his canopy ceilings.  (the breakfast room in his own house for example)  I'm not sure where this first came from, but it reminds me of pleats in dressmaking which help to make cloth fall more naturally.

I don't have a photo of the lantern, but I'm guessing that it's octagonal, and that the "pleats" help to blend the ceiling into the circular eye that it sits on.  I think this will repay further study later on, but for now I wanted to move on to adjust the setting out of the walls in this whole area.  Troup's survey gives me a set of dimensional checks and I need to make some corrections to my first-pass layout.  The current model is based on several simplifications and rationalisations.  There's going to be a certain amount of conflict and compromise.  We will never get every dimension to match up exactly with the source material, but we must aim to represent the size and proportions of all the parts without undue distortion. 

I set up a detail group (2d drafting) that is placed twice.  One is overlaid over a plan view of the model, the other over part of Troup's survey plan.  Placing the whole survey plan onto the model is quite confusing.  If you get one corner lining up nicely, the opposite corner gets into a tangle.  So this solution allowed me to jump backwards and forwards between two fairly clear pictures and gradually reach an acceptable compromise.

The translucent green filled region is my proposal for adjusting the walls, and once I had it in reasonable shape, I copy-pasted it into the C4R version of the model.

Then I set to work, and with frequent checks against the photos and survey sections that I had marked up, was able to make a reasonable stab at how the roofscape was developed.  Bear in mind that up until yesterday, this whole area was just covered with a flat slab.  I just had no idea which parts were higher and lower, how the light got in, how the space was drained.

What I have now, (and you can see the results on A360 if you are registered for Project Soane), is a useful first stab at Soane's remodelling of the Court Suite, and especially the waiting rooms and lobbies.  From here we can proceed to add detail and fine tune the setting out.

Hopefully this is the beginning of a new phase of Project Soane.  We have a much improved collaboration platform, and the whole of the bank is now roughed out.  The two banking halls that were modelled by Russel and Alberto during phase one have been taken to a much higher level of detail.  One task, moving forward would be to take other areas that I have roughed out and bring them up to a comparable standard.  Another area that I have started to look at is the development of the design over time.  I have not yet uploaded that massing model to A360, but I do intend to.  There is much more that could be done to understand the building as a sequence of events: demolitions and reconstructions, adaptations, rebirths.

Let's finish with a shot of three gentlemen, meeting up one afternoon in London, en route from Portugal to various other destinations.  Sean Young from HP has become a good friend, and although the sponsorship phase of Project Soane has run its course, I'm sure will continue to take an interest in whatever the community he helped to found chooses to do moving forward.  Randall Stevens is the man from Archvision and Avail, two very interesting contributions to the ever-expanding world of BIM software, one well established, the other quite new.  He has also become a good friend and it was great to hang out again.

Friday, October 28, 2016


Konigsplatz in Munich is a set piece of Neoclassical urban design by Leo von Klenze, court architect to the king of Bavaria.  I stopped off there, pretty much straight from the airport.  I thought it would be interesting to compare this rather formal, academic style with Soane's more idiosyncratic interpretation of the classical orders.  My first shot illustrates the endless variation that is possible within the classical idiom.  Notice the frieze running around the neck of the column, somewhat unusual for an Ionic capital.

This is really a continuation of my previous post where I shared my "tips and tricks" from Washington.  The next one is from my second session. This is me on one of my hobby-horses, pushing the idea that we shouldn't restrict BIM to our day jobs.  I like to think of the "BIM pencil" as an all-purpose thinking tool that can be used in any context where buildings are involved.  My current focus is historical research, but I've long thought that it would be interesting to use BIM tools to develop a reference work like Neufert, or AJ Metric Handbook.  Could be in book format, could be a website, could be really good, what do you think?

Back to von Klenze, and some running ornament. Not sure what this is called, but it's a flattened out version of something that Soane also used.  The flower motif that pops up between the "tongues" must be honeysuckle, also known as woodbine.  That also features quite a bit in the Bank of England.  The abstraction of this Bavarian version reminds me of Soane in his "inventive simplification" mood, which seems to have come and gone depending on the budget available and what the critics had been saying about him recently.

How about a bit of Corinthian?  This one is for Paul Aubin, currently playing with drones in Tuscanny.  It's "light and curly" feel is similar to the one Paul created as a virtuoso exercise in "Point World" geometry.  This also features honeysuckle, a rather unusual choice for the flower motif, and the whole thing has a completely different feel when compared to Soane's version at the bank, which I modelled in a very clunky but surprisingly effective way about a year ago.

Next tip, and this one is from the lab I held in Porto last week.  It's also a fairly conventional tip, and a rework of one I gave in a post I did earlier this year when I was starting off on my "modular doors" idea.

Now for a building by Paul Troost, who was one of Hitler's favoured architects.  Like Albert Speer he used a kind of "stripped classicism" which could be interpreted as taking the simpification that Soane & von Klenze explored and taking it much further so that you get a kind of hybrid between Modernism and Classicism.  There were lots of people who did this in the first half of the twentieth century, but as a style it has become rather tainted by it's association with Hitler (and Mussolini)  This building operated as a Music School for many years, but appears to be empty at the moment.

Another doors tip next.  Seems very obvious, but it's something I missed when I first started making doors, and talking to others at the conference in Porto I found that I wasn't the only on who found the default orientation of doors rather illogical.  But however logical it may seem to "correct" the default template, sooner or later it will get you into trouble when you swap out one of your doors with one made "the default way".

And back to Konigsplatz, this time a panorama of the whole thing, two buildings and a gateway.  Soane would have been really jealous of this kind of commission.  He longed to have a noble patron who would give him the task of devising a monumental civic work to ennoble the city.  For my money though, he was much better off hammering away at the thorny problems he was given to solve by the governors of the Bank of England.  Commercial clients represented the future of architectural patronage in an industrialising world and ultimately Soane helped to shape the modern profession based on his experience working with the governors of the Bank.

Now for a tip from my Project Soane session in Porto.  This addresses the thorny question of LOD and what represents good practice in family editor.  In my view there are very few hard and fast rules.  You have to asses the situation you are in and model accordingly.  Sometimes a really simple and elegant solution may fit the bill.  At other times you might have to compromise and accept something slightly "hacky" that captures the design intent by fooling the eye into seeing more detail than is actually there.

Many of the classical buildings in Munich use a type of stone that seems to have air bubbles in it, sort of a bit like travertine but without the marble quality.  I would love to know if this stone has a particular name and where it comes from.  I'm assuming it is local to the Munich area, but that's just a guess.  Was it used because architects liked the texture? or was it just because it was available?

On our day trip to Nuremberg we came across the house where Albrecht Durer lived.  We didn't have time to go inside.  Durer's father was a goldsmith who moved from Hungary to Nuremburg in early manhood, but the son showed such precocious talent in drawing as a teenager that he was apprenticed to an artist/printmaker.  I was first introduced to his work by my father, who taught me that one of the best ways to understand how something works is to draw it.  The act of drawing is a powerful tool for understanding how something works, what really makes it tick.  I like to think of BIM tools like Revit as "pencils with super powers".  I construct virtual models in order to gain a deeper understanding of a particular building, architect, style or technology.  In that sense I see my work as a continuation of the renaissance tradition established by master draughtsmen such as Durer

My final "triptix" follows on from this.  Masterful technique is essential to Durer's art, but it is not an end in itself.  Far too often we measure our worth by our technical skill, showing off and calling ourselves "guru" or "expert elite".  That's all well and good, but ultimately you either have something worthwhile to say or you don't and no amount of clever trickery will substitute for insight into the human condition, emotional impact, wisdom and compassion.  I would rather touch someone's heart than blow them away with my virtuosity.  Shakespeare was a master of language, but what really makes his plays immortal is his ability to make us see ourselves afresh, to identify with his characters and to be deeply moved  by the tragicomic poetry of life itself.

Love and lust are common themes in Shakespeare, but less obviously so in architecture, unless perhaps you count the voluptuous curves of a baroque church or a Gaudi roofscape.  I am not a great fan of phallic symbols, but if you are going to stray in that direction, do it with style and proportion, as in the image below: a stone buttress at the corner of Durer's house.  Debates about architectural style can often take on a moralistic tone.  Copying the modernism of 100 years ago is somehow more "honest" than taking inspiration from Soane's classicism of 200 years ago.  To me the issue is not so much about which precedents you choose to take as your starting point, but how well you handle the universals: proportion, rhythm, texture, light and shade ... and of course your ability to find a form that is appropriate to the project (its function and its setting)

And so we come back to Zepellin Field.  My final image shows one of the terraces that surround and define the space where thousands paid hommage to the Fuhrer who led the German people on a disastrous escapade, not long before I was born.  Albert Speer found a simple and effective solution: using precast planks and uprights to stabilise rammed earth steps.  Current "renovations" aim to reset these simple precast elements, plant a slow-growing species of grass, and mow them periodically.  It will cost money to stop them reverting to the jungle that you see as a diagonal green strip in the image below.  Is a "stabilised ruin" the appropriate form in which to preserve this shocking piece of human history.  Personally I don't think the city of Nuremberg carries any special burden of culpability.  There go I ... but for the grace of circumstance, the accident of birth.  I was impressed by the careful and considered way that they are going about the task of curating the National Socialist relics that they have interited.  If only we could all treat our histories with the same lack of bias, hubris, sentimentality.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016


I am in Porto, having spent a fascinating weekend in Bavaria with my old, young friend Bernhard and his gorgeous family.  Along the way I was lucky enough to get a special tour (available once a year) of the Zeppelin Fields structures which a certain Mr Hitler used for spectacular propaganda events some 80 years ago.  I actually did a simple massing model of this as part of my research into colossal scale in the build up to my final pumpkin project in 2014

The tour gave some fascinating insights into how it was actually built, as well as a peek into the intriguing dilemma of how to set about "restoring" or at least maintaining a monument with such a terrifying history.  I won't go into that now, but it would be very interesting to do a bit more modelling and to talk about the moral issues involved in historic/heritage projects.  Many of the monuments we revere and hold up as symbols of national pride were built for oppressive regimes using something close to slave labour, but we tend to forget that if it was more than 1000 years ago.
Here's a shot of one of the areas that is very rarely accessible to the public.  This is the back door lobby where Adolf was supposed to gather his before mounting the podium, but apparently it was never really used because the fuhrer preferred to drive up in front of his audience and be seen to walk up the steps.
Returning briefly to my Desert Pumpkin work of 2014, here is an image that references the Cathedral of Light spectacle that Albert Speer devised to instill shock and awe in the assembled party faithful.  Searchlights defining space on a monumental scale.  I did this by processing images derived from Revit in Photoshop.  Would it be possible to mimic this kind of spectacular lighting directly in the rendering engine I wonder?  Another little experiment to while away a future weekend perhaps.
My title is a confused reference to the "Tips & Tricks" sheets that we have to prepare as part of our speaker submissions for RTC.  I tend to rebel against this aspect of the event.  It's not really my thing.  My "classes" tend to be less about teaching specific skills and more an opportunity for my to ramble on about my current obsessions.  Some attendees love it, others find my sessions irrelevant to the serious business of furthering their BIM careers.  It takes all sorts, or at least that's my excuse.
But I stumbled across my slides from the Washington event, and I thought it might be nice to put them in a blog post in the build up to RTC PORTO.
This one is actually quite conventional.  A genuine tip almost, and I should credit Marcello for setting my mind thinking along these lines by highlighting the ability of splines to do "scaling" work during one of his sessions that I attended.  Was that in Auckland?  How time flies.
The next one is more typical of me.  It's a tip I guess, but veering off in the direction of philosophical  guidance as opposed to technical hints.

It's time to head off for breakfast now, so I'll pause here and press the "publish" button.  If you are in Porto, please look out for me and say hello.  The most exciting part of the event as far as I am concerned is meeting friends old and new, sharing worldviews and such like.