Friday, January 25, 2019


When Residence Court was built, it nestled into the NW corner of the site where the dog-leg of Princes Street joined Lothbury.  Later on this section of Princes was closed off and incorporated into the NW extension.  Two sides of the court were dedicated to 4 storey apartments for two senior officers of the Bank, and a  third to offices for the Chief Cashier's department.  On the fourth side a screen of columns atop broad flights of steps denoted the boundary with Lothbury Court and the bullion passage.

In the N.E. Extension there are several elliptical spaces.  Now the ellipse is not available in the "drawing toolset" for walls.  This is quite logical. You couldn't apply normal "location line" behaviours to an elliptical wall.  If the Interior Face was an ellipse then the Exterior Face would not be.  You can't have two ellipses that are parallel to each other all the way round.  Because if you scale an ellipse, the long axis will increase by more than the short axis.

One solution is to use 4 arcs that meet tangentially.  I was aware of this workaround, I've even used it, but I had never looked carefully into the subtleties of the setting out.  This turns out to be very interesting.  We are dealing with the Secretary's Parlour, and tracing over the plan at cellar level I came to realise that you need 4 centre points (which define a diamond) Extending the 4 sides of this rhombus, establishes the meeting points for the arcs, and the length of one side gives you the difference between the major radius and minor radius.

I quickly realised that in this case we were dealing with a 345 triangle.  This allows the vertical, horizontal and diagonal measurements to all be whole numbers.  Clearly this would make life easier for both draughtsman and builder.  I probably spent a couple of hours figuring it all out, but the insights gained were definitely worth the effort.

I have a generic fireplace family that is used wherever I need a fireplace, but lack specific information about its appearance. It is set up with simple formulas that scale the geometry based on a width dimension. In the cellars below the principal floor are the kitchens and washrooms for the residences above where the secretary and chief accountant lived.

So I have created a generic kitchen range along similar lines.  This was done purely from memory, but later I remembered having images of the range at the Soane Museum (his own house).  Probably I will make a version of the range family that matches this more closely.  Maybe I will make a few different ones based on various reference images.  I'm old enough to remember working versions of these ranges.  Several of my elderly relatives were still cooking on coal fired kitchen ranges when I was a boy.

The secretary's house features a long straight stair with a half landing.  I'm pretty sure these would be stone steps cantilevered out from the wall, each one resting partly on the one below.  That's how the stairs in his own house are, and the ones in his churches.  As for the balustrade, he had two or three designs that he favoured.  Perhaps the most common is a shallow "S" curve.  I decided to have a quick go at this.  It's not quite right when you look closely, but it's certainly heading in the right direction.  At present I am still showing timber construction for the upper flight.  Maybe so, maybe not.

I'm a firm believer in flexible and lightweight generic families.  Seems to me they are crucial to fluid and responsive early design processes. I've got a fairly good modular door system going, but what about the architraves (trim)? Soane used fairly complex mouldings. I wanted to be able to scale these based on a "Trim Width" parameter.  With a bit of thought you can set up a grid of reference planes governed by 3 or 4 sets of equality constraints and make the depth proportional to the width.

The Doors and windows in this model were mostly created "on-the-fly" while fighting my way through the jigsaw puzzles of Project Soane. What was the original design intent: (functional relationships, lighting effects, structural constraints, response to previous work).  There have been periodic attempts to impose some order and consistency, but to be hones, they really need a thorough overhaul.  For one thing, my approach to making door and window families has evolved quite a lot since I started Project Soane.

Sliding sash windows in thick masonry walls usually have a recessed internal sill.  In Revit this requires using voids rather than cut openings.  The windows around the principal floor of residence court have two narrow sidelights and a segmental pediment. Originally I made this with cut openings (as you do). On converting them to an internal recess, the issue of vertical origin arose.  Where previously the lowest point was the base of the window frame, it now became the base of the internal void.  This explains why one of the windows has "jumped up".

The residence court roofscape is a bit of a puzzle.  I've played around with various arrangements.  I know that the top floor has a mansard treatment along Lothbury, behind the "battlements".  But it's not clear how this turns the corner, or just how it buts up to the porter's lodge.  At one stage there was a light well around the corner, up against Princes Street as it used to be.  This may have been enclosed later on, but currently I prefer to keep it in the model.
I think it gives light and ventilation to small bathrooms & toilets fitted into leftover space.  I'm also speculating that the triangular stair rising up in this corner is top lit.  The circular lantern is there to remind me to give it more thought.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018


We're going to walk around the edges of the Bank towards the North & the West: a series of narrow triangular spaces just behind the screen wall that need to be tidied up, elevated, re-assessed.

We looked at the Reduced Annuities (upper and lower) in the last post but one.  I'm not happy with the narrow passage between the battlements and the Reduced Annuities Upper.  Was it really like that?  Could it be made wider by supporting the upper wall on the joist ends below?  Flitch beams perhaps to support the load of masonry offset from the wall below?  If the walkway was blocked here, how did the guards get around to the battlements along Threadneedle Street?  Hmmm.  Note the parapet and stair behind the barracks that I am trying to keep apart.  Lots of questions, but we are definitely moving forward.  Oh yes, those windows in the tower above the Rustic Lobby, groups of three in each side, but I guess the ones facing back into the upper storey were blind recesses.  Something else to get around to.

Moving North again to the Doric Vestibule, what I like to think of as the VIP entrance.  Off to the sides there were two semi-circular stairs.  What were these for?  The levels are difficult to reconcile again.  There are small adjacent rooms to access, and the upper floor of the Printing Court, but what about the screen wall battlements?  I'm starting to think that the two stairs have different functions: one is connecting to the Printing Court, the other takes you up to a flat roof and from there to the wall.  More work is needed to figure that one out, or at least to arrive at a plausible solution.

Once again I am trying to resolve alignments, anomalies, overlaps etc as it becomes clearer how the spaces fit together.  We may never really know exactly what was built, but my goal is to make it believable, and to be consistent with work Soane did elsewhere.  Sometimes it's just a matter of splitting walls in different places or making slight setbacks to resolve 3-way junctions in a cleaner manner.  Ultimately I want to be able to tell an interesting story about the history of the Bank and its architects.  That's not going to be possible as long as the model remains awkward and incomplete as soon as you stray away from the major spaces that are well documented.

The walkway around the top of the screen wall has been modelled with parapet walls on both sides.  That is correct in some cases, and I based it on drawings from the archive.  But other drawings show it as open to the inside.  In fact it seems to be a stone slab cantilevered out over those narrow internal yards.  I know they didn't have health & safety regulations in those days, but this seems unduly reckless.  My guest is that there was a basic iron railing, which is not showing up on those sketches.  That's the interpretation I'm going for anyway, adding railings and supporting the cantilever with a bit of corbelling below.

When we get to Tivoli Corner I have decided to create a flat terrace behind the "attic sentry box"  I think that's the only solution that makes any sense.  The area is too small and oddly shaped to accommodate a small piece of pitched roof.  There are a number of small rooms in the space below that need to be looked at, but for the moment I am cleaning up the exterior.  Let's move on.

So next we come up to the Soldier's Gate and the yard behind which gave access to Soane's New Barracks Block.  Based on my current levels we need a few steps down from the street into the yard, so that's what I'm showing.  No corroborating evidence for these but the alternative would be to drop Lothbury down much lower.  Maybe I will take a look at that possibility later on, but for the moment we are having steps down into the yard.

The elevation of the new Barracks was a mess.  All I have to go on here is the floor plan but I think the solution shown below is a big improvement.  So once again I am taking an educated guess and moving on.  Maybe some additional evidence will catch my eye. now I know what I'm looking for.

So on we go, heading East down Lothbury we come to another triangle.  This is where Princes Street used to terminate before the NW (green) Extension was built.  That's the reason for the curved corner.  That was the outer edge of the screen wall when Soane first enclosed the properties that were acquired for his NE (orange) Extension.  I think that portion probably remained blank after it was incorporated into the site.  But the Printing works was new, and needed to get light and air from both sides.  It's quite scary when you look inside parts of the model that have lain neglected for a year or more.

The central decorative feature of the Lothbury screen wall clearly backs into an attic bedroom in the residence court. but has been modelled as if it was open to the world on all four sides.  Then there are walls that stop half way up an upper room.  I also spent some time adding placeholder fireplaces to these spaces and converting rectangular openings into "real" doors.

At the far end of Lothbury we come to the Consols Library, a structure that was rebuilt as a copy of Taylor's original: four storeys of brick vaulted storage around a central light shaft.  This is a linked file, built originally as a study one weekend.  One corner was sticking out int the apse at the end of Lothbury Court and another overlapped with Russell's C.T.O (Consols Transfer Office) which is also a link.

I've learnt a lot since Russell built this.  Photos and survey drawings show that some of the drawings he used were early design schemes, so there are some small adjustments to be made.  I made a start on this, modifying the niches for example. For the moment I'm just doing what is needed to clean things up at the junctions with the main model. Will come back later to give this space a more thorough review.

The toothed stonework shown on some of the window surrounds was taken from site progress sketches.  Photos show that the final treatment was much simpler.  Once again there are triangular light courts to elevate and stairs to resolve.  Lots of residual spaces to review.  You see a semi-circular lobby in plan and place the wall, then a couple of years later think about the ceiling above.  Perhaps it should be hemispherical.  What about a lantern?  Not sure about that though.  Half a lantern?  Would he do that?

Russell had a lunette at the West End of the CTO.  I think that's based on a Soane archive sketch, but photos show a wide window with a segmental head and 5 divisions.  Now that we can see everything in context it becomes clear that a staircase clips the lunette.  I guess there's a reason for everything.

That staircase is giving access to Sampson's rear courtyard block which had three floor above ground (plus cellars) This is at the corner where the original Bullion Passage came in from the East.  It's fascinating to know my way around this jigsaw puzzle of a building so well, considering it was demolished almost a century ago, and that the passage I just mentioned was moved more than a century before that.  I really do feel that this is an immensely powerful way of studying the past, ( i.e. getting inside the spirit of a period by way of a BIM authoring package)  and something that more people should be doing.

The last post featured hand sketches attempting to analyse Soane's design development process in framing the façade around the Bullion Passage.  Future posts will deal with the passage itself and with further development of Residence Court.  After that, who knows?

Thursday, December 13, 2018


Soane explored a wide range of different treatments for Lothbury Court before arriving at the Triumphal Arch motif that was eventually built.

I have a whole folder full of drawings downloaded from the online archive of the Sir John Soane Museum in London.  I've looked through these many times, but there are so many, and which ones are different views of the same scheme?  What order were they created in?  Maybe some of them were developed in parallel by different pupils.  I ought to read the notes and check for dates on the drawings, but that's so academic.

A faster way to get to grips with these questions might be to make some quick sketches: engage actively with hands, eyes & brain.  So I scanned through the images for noticeably different versions and ultimately came up with four different sketches.

I'm using the Android version of Sketchbook Pro on my phone.  I have it on iPad also, but somehow the urge to sketch often comes to me when lying in bed, or maybe that's when I have the time, when I let go of all the other imperatives. There's a jpeg on the first layer, then a layer of flat colour set with a slight transparency to give for that "yellow tracing" effect. Then a layer for the linework, and another one or two for colour fills.  Finally I will use a soft brush to rough in some shadows, give it some depth.

The first scheme is a 3 storey facade, divided into three bays by columns.  It could be an urban house with a coach entrance.  I'm taking this as the first in the series because that just makes sense to me.  It allows me to tell a story.  Soane is trying to create a ceremonial space for the entry of gold. He wants to represent the people of England rallying to the cause in times of war.  Gold for paper.  So an town-house is not really going to cut it.

Sketch two.  Brings the end columns in and pairs them up, pushing the windows of the side bays outwards to make room for the resulting features which are crowned with his favourite double-scroll motif.  Stand back and look at this scheme.  It's definitely much better, but does it really hang together?  Isn't it just five different bits side by side, with a centre bay that's a little weak?

So we come to the third of my sketches.  You can see that I'm faster and looser in the way that I sketch as I try to hunt down this puzzle. This time he has taken the "columns in antis" motif from the screen wall that he very recently erected along Lothbury, and reproduced it on this parallel internal wall.  Now we have a triumphal arch, (which is great) but is it a good idea to echo the treatment of the external fortifications in this internal "celebratory" space?  And isn't the whole thing rather squeezed into the courtyard with no room to breathe?  (more importantly perhaps no room for the grand flight of stairs he would need to introduce on either side of the processional route)

The fourth sketch brings us most of the way towards the final solution.  He has introduced the four statues, but they are high up above the attic.  Eventually he would drop them down to the cornice level and raise the parapet slightly on the centre bay.  If you look back at the first image, I think you will agree with me that the final solution achieves a unity that eludes the earlier attempts, while focusing attention on the centre bay.

It will be interesting to read the notes and date the drawings now that I've come to grips with the issues.  Maybe I am altogether wrong, but at least I've started to highlight some of the potential issues, to create some scaffolding for a deeper understanding.  But I'll come back to that.  Time to start developing the tunnel itself.

There is a section through the tunnel.  At first sight this is very exciting, but when you start to model, it doesn't quite work. It must have been drawn before he decided to form an apse at the transition to Bullion Court.  This shortens the central portion.  The plan which I have placed next to this section is the same mix of "AHA!" and "WTF?" Service stairs in the leftover trapezoidal spaces on either side: that makes sense.  But why is he showing those long flights of steps around the edge of the courtyard.  They were certainly never built.  Because ... photographs.

This work has been like that all along.  One minute you are full of excitement as another piece falls into place, then you realise that something else just doesn't work, and no single set of drawings or photographs gives a definitive view of the building as it was in 1830.  The photographs of the  tunnel are very dark and grainy, but I have a feeling that it was kept rather plain and simple.  All the same I am trying out a modified version of that coloured section.  Sometimes I prefer the spirit of Soane's intent to the dry letter of inconclusive "evidence".

I think it's worth putting all this elevational development into a planning context.  The North East extension (orange) filled out the site to its irregular rear boundaries, as they were at the time.  Lothbury to the North East, and the dogleg of Princes Street to the North West.  Sampson's double courtyard is in red.  Taylor's extension on either side in pink, with his library tucked around the back.  Soane wanted to create another double courtyard, this time separated by just a thin screen.  But to make room for this he needed to move the library into the top corner of the site.

My final diagram shows how carefully calculated his geometric tricks needed to be.  Obviously I haven't quite got the setting out right because the axis doesn't sit properly down the centre of Lothbury Court.  I think he was remarkably lucky in being able to double up the Lothbury screen wall and maintain symmetry.  But there was skill in pulling it off also.  Lots of awkward junctions to be finessed.