Sunday, June 26, 2022


Tower, reincarnated as a Generic Model family. For context I downloaded a free square kilometre of Topography and Street outlines, added some sloping pads for roads and some more GM families to represent groups of terraced houses.

This morning I downloaded another 14 CADmapper files and used them to create toposurfaces. At some point I will merge these into a single surface but for now I'm taking a break to compile a couple of images and write this blog post.

The water body at the bottom is the dam at Worsbrough Bridge which was a significant landmark on the bus ride from Barnsley to Sheffield which featured heavily in my teenage years.

Both of my grandmas were important presences in my childhood, but they were widows. I never knew my grandpas. I have very clear memories of the little house in Wombwell where my Nan Milburn lived. Outside toilet at the back in a block at the end of the row. Hard toilet paper, or even torn up newspaper at times.


My dad was an art teacher by then. He left school out of necessity. Worked as a pit head clerk, then joined the police force at the beginning of the war. After the war his army service in India entitled him to further education and he trained as a teacher. I have marked the school where he was Head of the art department in my teenage years, now demolished although it seemed very modern at the time.

I walked to school throughout. Agnes Road primary is long gone but the Grammar School survived up to about 10 years ago.

Growing up in Barnsley I longed to spread my wings and discover the world “out there.”  Four years in London, university, manhood, head full of radical ideas. I tried to return to my roots, South Yorkshire and the “working class.” Stupid right? Yes and no. Embarrassingly naïve, but aren’t we all in our youth?
So now I belong to lots of places: Barnsley, Sheffield, London, Zimbabwe, Dubai, the BIMosphere. And I’m using my BIM pencil to peer back into those first 18 years growing up on the South Yorkshire Coalfield in an era when coal mining was still a thing.


Monday, June 20, 2022


 I grew up in these streets. Walked that route to junior school hundreds of times. More often than not I returned home for lunch. I was a very choosy eater. Sometimes, when I had to stay for school dinners, I would have mashed potato and gravy for first course, with a bowl of custard to follow, those being the only items on the menu that I was willing to eat.

Sadly I have struggled to find any images of Agnes Road Primary on the Web, which is a shame. But I do have one snapshot, taken in my late teens when we were starting to treat photography as an extension of the painting and drawing that had long been my greatest passion.

So I have decided to use my BIM pencil as a tool for exploring my schooldays. It started with the viewing tower in Locke Park. Joseph Locke was a Barnsley boy who made good as an engineer in the pioneering age of railways. His statue in the park named after him made a strong impression.

I played football and cricket in that park, took great pleasure the slide and swings in the play area (long since demolished on safety grounds) . There was a greenhouse we used to walk past with a banana tree inside. That seemed so exciting and exotic. I never imagined I would have bananas and mangoes in my own garden some decades later.

It's early days. Just putting in the hours building up the model. The big payback from a BIM model comes down the line, a cumulative benefit. But already the memory cells are sparking. I had forgotten the laundry building on the corner of Day Street. Some of the houses had outside toilets still but we were very proud to have a separate toilet and bathroom at the top of the stairs.

I can still remember the coal man, coming to deliver our only source of heating. Carrying hessian sacks on his back and tipping the contents deftly over his shoulder into the coal cellar under our front door. There was a cast iron cover in the path which could be secured from inside. Can I model these kinds of throwback details at some point? What about the clothes drying rack in the kitchen that could be raised to the ceiling on little pulley wheels?

Barnsley was a coal mining town. But later on, gas heating came into vogue, mostly to do with keeping the house clean. We hadn’t discovered carbon guilt yet.  It may have been coal gas still at that stage.  North Sea Gas was more of a 70s thing as I recall. I do remember the tiled mantelpieces being removed from the downstairs rooms, vaguely art deco, so perhaps not the original fireplace surrounds. I’m guessing that those streets were built around 1910?

I downloaded a square kilometre for free from Cadmapper. Perhaps there are better ways to get topography and street layouts, but this has worked for me several times now. I'm doing rapid sketching here. Broad sweeps of the BIM brush. Trying to distill the essence of this place and squeeze out a few drops of meaning from the world I lived in more than 50 years ago.

So I have a low res toposurface which I elevated to roughly the right height above sea level, using Google earth and Revit shared Coordinates. Street View is great for this exploration. No 3d buildings available for Barnsley. You may have ways to automate more of this but I actually want to build it myself. The whole point here is to revive memories and build insights into the physical environment of my childhood.

Where possible I will wind the clock back to 1965 and represent the world as it was then. I don't need to be super accurate or pick up the fine detail. Some features can be very generic.

I'm using pads to represent the streets, simplifying them in both plan and section. Cheating here and there to get past some of the anomalies I can't quite understand.

There was a bungalow behind us with a large garden. Not directly behind but visible from our back garden. Mr Ray? He had some kind of small business, a builder or a garage. Seemed like a rich man in my imagination. I'm guessing it was a gap in the street caused by a stray bomb from WW2. The bungalow was certainly post war style and completely at odds with all the other stone fronted terraces of the area.

The "backs" were a great place to play. Ours was an end terrace, with a brick gable wall facing the back road that climbed up from Park St to Spencer St. How many hours did I spend kicking or throwing a ball against that wall?

The houses are developed from the families I created for my nordic church studies. There are several levels of nesting, but no performance issues as yet. Hopefully I can represent half a dozen different house typologies eventually, from the all brick 2 up,2 down cottages with front doors straight off the pavement, to the larger, Gothic revival or classical villas that were mixed in here and there.

BIM is essentially an integrative activity.  Collect data from a wide variety of sources and connect them together in a way that makes the sum greater than the parts.  So I will continue to find old photos and drawings of my own, images from the web, hand sketches that I create “on the spot” and my Revit model of Barnsley to link it all together.

More to come.

Sunday, May 29, 2022



If you want to feel happy, help someone else. You may have heard that idea. I think there’s a nugget of truth there.

This blog is for me. It’s a ritual that has given structure to my “private study” for over a decade. A routine that motivates me to go to the extra mile.


But it works because it’s addressed to an audience. I’m not really motivated to build my audience and “get famous“ but I only really get the motivational benefit because there are a few people out there listening. I’m not just talking to myself.

My son Joe told me what a blog was about 16 years ago, or tried to. He was a student in Cape Town. I had been in Dubai for about 18 months, not sure how long I would stay, but desperate to earn real money to put him and his younger brother through university, after the Zimbabwe economy went info free fall.

The focus of this blog has been to document my personal journey, my weekends of exploring ideas. Digital tools are front and centre, but the connection to physical activity is crucial. I used to lay bricks. I’m an old school guy in many ways.

I have been enlarging my map of Denmark to incorporate the Swedish island of Gotland.  It's been a good learning experience for me.  Drawing maps is always a good way to understand geography better.  I like to draw with Revit which allows me to incorporate 3d and data into my sketch.

Perhaps blogging is just an extension of the internal dialogue that we all carry around in our heads. I have always felt that language is just the tip of the iceberg, a thin veneer. I grew up with a pencil in my hand, I think in diagrams and patterns, relationships.  Music often plays in my head, one of the threads that weaves its way through my stream of consciousness.

Perhaps we should call it the internal multilog. We have no idea how multi-threaded our subconscious world is. I think in terms of   to the physical and chemical multi-threaded networks that chug along incessantly throughout our lives.


I have often been a night owl. All nighters. Burning the candle. It’s some kind of flow state.

A dream world now drawing, painting, playing music into the darkness. Letting the ideas emerge and illuminate a little circle of light around me as I drift through the midnight hours.

As I got older and became a parent, getting up early and doing my day took control. I wake around 6 mostly now. So I try to sleep by 10. But still the night owl is reincarnated as insomnia. I’m typing this into my phone at 3am. Grasping at ideas before they evaporate with the morning mist.

The blog has been a motivator for me. It doesn’t stop me from wandering off in too many directions, exploring ideas but never really finishing anything. But it does help me to put in regular effort and to structure my work.

Commercial Break: this popped up on Linked In. Starbucks effusing over their branch at Marsa al Seef.  This is a project along the Creek in Dubai which I worked on a few years back.  Had a lot of fun making “traditional style” families.  It’s an interesting challenge trying to capture just enough detail to evoke a trad feel, without overloading the model.

I used to keep pocket notebooks. They were also a mixture of words and images in equal measure. The digital world allows me to share that activity with others. To interact with a circle of friends and acquaintances.

I guess my sheet layouts have now evolved into a kind of notebook format also. Revit views, textual info, images grabbed during research.  Kind of multi-threaded collages with a BIM feel. Here’s the Gotland churches sheet.  Six examples, located via a Revit map, compared analytically via a set of assembly views with a common layout.

So in a way, the sketching and note scribbling of my youth has coevolved with the digital era. I acquired my first desktop device in the late 80s. My first laptop a decade later. Portability makes a huge difference. You don’t really understand anything until you experience it. You can have a desk diary that you write up every evening, but a pocket notebook that travels around with your body takes you into another dimension. Embodied cognition. These smartphones are dangerous but so was the printing press.

Meanwhile, I’m exploring different kinds of spire.  These are parametric families. You get to define the base width, the roof angle, and for Broach spires, the “knee ratio” (how far up the transition from square to octagon happens, as a value between zero and one)

I find myself absorbing new tools but still continuing a journey that began in the 1950s, before I even had television. Visual thinking + learning by doing. With hindsight, TV was a distraction, far too passive as a medium. I stopped watching 25 years ago, having wasted countless hours, although I often drew while the TV was on.

I had a little back-and-forth with my friend Alfredo Medina who has quite a clever way of creating a parametric octagon.  Not necessarily applicable to the profiles embedded in these spire families, but always good to share ideas.

I’ve been reading Inspector Morse books while attempting to drift off to sleep in the evenings. British detective series.  That was a TV series I actually enjoyed and the books turn out to be equally good in a slightly different way.  Got me thinking about Morse code.  Again the ability of a smartphone to jump between Kindle and Wikipedia.  Flawed though both of these “knowledge sources” … the ability to do a quick background check without losing the flow of a story, is quite special, enhanced further by highlighting nice turns of phrase in the Kindle app, and using my stylus to capture bits of text/image from Woke-ipedia.

Morse code formed a bridge during the rapid evolution of technology during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sending messages in real time over long distances.  There was a manual/embodied element and an acquired skill of converting patterns into language at a sub-conscious level.  We are in an age where technologies are born, spread across the globe, & fade away during the course of a single lifetime. 

The evolution of spire carpentry and the spread of regional variants operated over much slower timescales, and they still have cultural relevance.  They aren’t just curiosities in museums like morse keys or floppy disks.

Interesting aside.  I’ve noted before how “Join Geometry” can sometimes lead to cleaning up of geometry that goes way beyond the original intent.  Complex solids with unwanted edges can often be improved by cutting with a small void in some hidden location (or joining a small solid)

In this case, joining the two blends that go to make up a broach spire also improves the orientation of the fill patterns in the material definition.