Saturday, October 13, 2018


Entrance Court, Entrance Building, what needs doing, what don't I understand. The external Facade is Soane's work, quite different from the original treatment by Sampson. The internal elevation, facing into the courtyard is essentially Sampson, but Taylor must have glazed the side bays at ground floor level. His East Wing allowed the Transfer Offices to move out from the upper floors, which were then converted to residential apartments. Behind the new ground floor glazing there kitchens and parlours at one side, a porter's lodge at the other.

I added rustication to the ground floor of this inner Facade, giving equal weight to horizontals and verticals. These are loadable, wall-hosted families. Just a stick-on veneer. Maybe we will rethink that later, but for now it's a quick fix.

Externally, Soane chose to disguise the vertical joints. I've created new wall types with a series of horizontal reveals. The joints are diverted where they pass over the three entrance arches, creating a keystone effect. More loadable families. I had done the side arches long back but the central one needed to be reworked.

Finally there are groin vaults over the three tunnels. I'm using a parametric family that I made for the cellars.

How much does a Grecian Urn? More to the point, how many different Urn families do you need in your classical repertoire? Soane used a couple of variations of similar proportions. Sampson's are much shorter and fatter, with garlands linking the handles. An interesting modelling challenge.

So that's it for the entrance block just now, looking pretty good, maybe I should add some chimney pots. But it's more urgent to bring the rest of the model up to a similar level.  I will need to extend the cellars under the entrance but that's in the main model, and there is much to do down there: groin vaults galore.  There are few things to do in the Entrance Court.  Doorways are incomplete.  Railings and steps are needed for the peripheral light wells.  Behind the Pay Hall the old court room and director's parlours need to be fitted out internally.  There is at least one drawing to inform this work.

But we are definitely making progress.  Today I got around to restoring my Enscape3d installation.  Many thanks to Jonathan for renewing my license.  So I have compiled a little collage of images that show the entrance court in the context of an evolving model.

Monday, October 8, 2018


In the previous post I finished with a shot showing an older version of the Bank main model. I used this because its what I happened to have on my hard drive. The current model is in the cloud. But it was interesting, because it reminds me of how little I understood several areas at the time. The reduced annuities office was part of Taylor West Wing, an L shaped block enclosing the garden Court.

Late on in his career, Soane extended this upwards. I call the room Reduced Annuities Upper, but Im not sure what it was used for, or even how it was accessed. I guess you had to cross over the passage that separated it from the old barracks block. That seems to be where the nearest staircase is.
There are quite a few reference drawings, including some amazing work in progress sketches by Soane's students. Insight into building site operations. Image is copyright of the Soane Museum.

The way Soane picks out the three middle bays using a lunette window motif is quite impressive. It's a simple scheme that blends into the existing setting and enhances the composition.  At the same time he builds in his own distinctive style.  It doesn't look out of place, but he has not tried to mimic Taylor's style.  The simplification of classical elements down to their basic geometry is typical Soane.

As you come into the Garden Court from Sampson's Entrance Court you see a colonnade on three sides topped by a continuous stone balustrade.  The plane of the wall with Taylor's modified palladian windows is set back slightly behind this screen,  At the far end, facing you, Soane has extended the three bays upwards to form a cube and echoed the three arches, but in his own language.  Access to the rooms of Taylor's West Wing is via corner doors.  I take the oval shield & garlands motif above them to be Taylor's invention, represented at "low res" currently.

I need to create a new version of Taylor's palladian windows where the void cut only penetrates half-way through the wall.  This will replace the arched recess in the current model.  Why did he choose a "fake window" here, rather than a niche?  It could have had the columns and inner arch, but without the timber and glass.  Would this have been more "honest?"

Also on my to-do-list: develop the lower room. With it's paired Tuscan columns and arches supporting the walls above. 

Sunday, September 23, 2018


I've called Project Soane, a detective story and a jigsaw puzzle before, but perhaps it is better described as a Treasure Hunt: hidden clues, buried gold, one legged parrots ?  Seriously though, up to a couple of weeks ago I assumed that three out of four elevations inside the Bullion Yard were down to Sampson and Taylor, but as I looked more carefully at the vast hoard of reference material we have collected into a Box account (our treasure chest) … I began to realise just how much effort Soane put into remodeling the entire space.

This drawing of the West Side shows Sampson's fenestration in yellow on top of Soane's.  Basically there are 4 bays superimposed on three.  So it wasn't just a case of demolishing the back wall and rebuilding it as a shallow curve.  He must have taken them all down, probably one at a time, and rebuilt them with a different bay spacing.  But it doesn’t end there.  I finally convinced myself that he dropped the level of this courtyard down one floor to basement level.
Let's start with the curved wall.  In Sampson's successful competition design, the bullion passage comes in from the side to enter through the most northerly arch in the East façade.  Now the site slopes from front to back, so the lane coming up from Bartholomew Way would have to ramp up a couple of feet, but that's a fairly gentle slope, and all the better to carry the rain away methinks.

However, when Soane bought out all the remaining properties in that city block, acting as agent for the Bank, he was able to relocate the Bullion passage.  His scheme for a North East extension was ingenious, but required lengthy negotiations with the Building Committee to persuade them to spend rather more money than they originally anticipated.  In order to open up the middle of the site, and make space for a rational planning scheme, he had to demolish Taylor's file storage building (Consols Library) and rebuild it in the top corner of the site.  This allowed just enough space for a large Transfer Office between the library and the Bank Stock Office, but only by blocking off the side lane.

Now he was free to create a much grander bullion route, a truly symbolic statement for this activity that lay at the heart of the Bank's foundation: bringing in gold to finance the government's war debts, in exchange for pieces of paper (stocks and bonds)  Lothbury heads North West at an awkward angle, but luckily a perpendicular line from the centre of the Lothbury façade hits the centre of the Bullion Yard quite nicely.

There is a rather messy sketch showing what happens if you leave the North Façade of the yard as a straight line.  The cranked end solution is really horrible and I wonder if Soane produced this drawing just to prove to the Directors that they had to rebuild that façade to a shallow curve.  But Lothbury is also some six feet below Threadneedle Street.  For Soane this was another welcome opportunity.  He could ramp down gently a couple of feet and excavate the entire bullion yard down to cellar level.  Now you could unload bullion and feed it directly into the vaults below.

I have been puzzled for a long time by Sampson's section, which doesn't show anything below ground level.  And yet his plan clearly indicates the light well in the Entrance Court that is still there in photographs taken almost 200 years later.  I think there must have been an undercroft under the whole building.  That was a standard approach to foundations in those days.  Survey drawings of the cellars produced much later by Soane suggest that for the most part his work and Sampson's were built over brick vaulted cellars, but that Taylor's transfer halls were constructed with cheaper and shallower foundations.

Sampson's rear courtyard had open arcades along two sides.  They are primary means of circulation.  The one on the west side leads through to a triangular yard at the back where the privies were located.  But there are no arcades along the other two sides.  To cross from east to west you would have to use the yard.  So the yard must have been at ground floor level, gave or take.  I don't remember seeing any mention of the fact that Soane excavated this yard in the accounts that I have read.  Maybe I should go through them again carefully.  But maybe it's something you don't realise until you have spent a couple of years using the BIM pencil to search for hidden treasure.

So let's get to the bay sizes.  Soane has a wider passage.  I'm guessing that the constriction of Sampson's arch at the point of entry had been a sore point for some years.  In any case, a double storey archway such as Soane now had would have looked ridiculous with the same width as Sampson's arcade.  So his curved wall had two broad, arched windows balancing out the archway.  It's not completely symmetrical, but it's regular enough.

From here you just have to persuade the committee that the other three facades are going to look out of place.  Perhaps they are going to be unstable anyway when you commence excavation.  Whatever reasoning Soane used (and unfortunately the records of meetings for many of Soane's years are missing) he succeeded in his plan to unify the treatment.  Or did he?  Suddenly I remembered something that I noticed long ago but couldn't understand.  It's a photo looking down the tunnel, showing misalignment between ground and upper floors.  Were the side elevations also misaligned?  Difficult to say.  For the moment I'm going to leave the model fully lined up, on the assumption that this was what Soane "really intended".

The windows echo Sampson and Taylor's Palladian efforts around the garden court, but in a much simplified manner.  It’s all handled in the timber of frame, just a subtle thickening to allow for the boxes that carry the counterweights for the sliding sashes.  But you still have the effect of a glass arch spanning between the two sidelights.  I said before that this glazing was probably Taylor's contribution, & here is my evidence. Sampson's pencil drawings show a conventional Palladian window with no glazing over the arch.

There are variations on Soane's design scattered around his later work: (Lothbury Court, the Accountants Office) but he also glazed large arched windows more simply at times, with a rectangular grid.  Basically it comes down to whether there are opening lights or not.  A large fixed window can be glazed with a simple grid of metal glazing bars.

Taylor's West Wing, blocks off one corner of the Pay Hall.  The glazing over the arch is perhaps a compensation for this, but it's also an attempt to match his treatment of the new Court Room windows.  It looks like he also added an upper window on the side that isn't blocked.

I accidentally created this ghostly cross section that blurs across the period of these 3 architects. It was just a working image to help me scale the model of Sampson's bank that I knocked up quickly over the past week.  But then I realised that it conveys quite a lot.

I also decided to add the images of windows that I snapped in St Louis.  On the left you have a version of the approach that Sampson & Taylor followed: masonry arches and columns to create a rhythmic group of openings that can be separately glazed.  On the right is Soane's method, setting up his rhythms in a more subtle way with variations in the framing.

So here are the basic relationships between the areas I have been working on for the past few weeks.  You can see that the New Court Room is on axis with the old one, projected out to the West, dropped down to the ground and substantially enlarged.

This is model of Sampson's Bank as it stands.  Probably I will leave it now and come back later.  It's served the current purpose of understanding how Bullion Court was modified by Soane.

I quite like the way the city block is represented as bare earth.  The warren of alleys and narrow courts, with its workshops, inns, houses, workshops, stables and church are probably best left to the imagination.
And so the treasure hunt continues. Who knows what awaits next week?  Surely there can't be many more surprises like the discovery that Soane excavated the Bullion Court a full storey.  But you never know.

Here is an odd image to finish with.  It's an old version of the Bank Model linked in to my new model of Sampson's original structure. Most of the links are missing (screen walls, consols transfer office) and I've given it a bit of transparency.  There are areas of flat roof where I hadn't yet worked out what was going on.  So there's a sense of evolution here on two levels: the growth of the bank itself, and the traces of my own fumblings to dig up that history.