Tuesday, March 21, 2017


I set up a Slack account for Project Soane and so far there are 3 of us exchanging thoughts merrily on the General feed.  Nathalie and Matthew (henceforth Nat & Matt) are young aspiring architects in the UK.  I've never met them but they got inspired by Project Soane and I enjoy sharing ideas with enthusiastic young people (and older ones for that matter)

I've been awake pretty much all night (thanks Nat) looking into the Privy Council Chamber that Soane designed in the 1820s when he was around the age that I am now, a little older by the time he finished.  Not sure what actually got built, but I do know that it was swept away within a decade or so by further alterations by Barry (the houses of Parliament guy) 

I made this quick model in Family Editor with model lines and a couple of glass extrusions.  It captures the essential geometry, and it was pretty quick to set up.  There's a groin vault formed where a segmental barrel vault meets another barrel vault based on a partial ellipse.  The critical factor is to have a common centre of curvature between the two vaults.  That way they intersect nicely forming straight diagonals in a plan view.  Here's a 3 dimensional version of that principle from a study I did a couple of months ago.

And another snapshot from my first attempts to model the vault used for waiting rooms A & B between the Court Room and the Governor's Office.  This shows how he converts a groin vault into his signature "Starfish" ceiling treatment.  You have to shave off the corners at the intersection to create the arms of the starfish, culminating in a shape at the apex.  In this case a circular hole for a skylight, but often a diamond shaped feature in the centre of the ceiling.

Going back to the model line version I did tonight you can see that there are semi-circles at the ends, and half elipses at the sides.  What Soane did then was to create narrow slots along the sides that shoot up to skylights bringing in light from above. (the blue extrusions in my earlier image)  The plane of the centres of curvature for all 4 arches is shown as dashed lines.  The geometry on which the actual vault is based is highlighted in red: much flatter than the waiting rooms version above.

He used this same general idea many times in different contexts and to quite different effect, which is typical Soane really.  Once he got interested in an idea or a form, he would rework it endlessly to see how far it could be pushed.  The next shot is a quick study I did earlier this year to capture the ceiling of the breakfast room he designed for his own house (not the Soane Museum)  This was painted to look like a trellis feature in a garden with the sky peeping through

I'm starting to call him a Romantic in Workaholic's clothing.  He worried a way at his designs, going through multiple options before hitting on the right idea, in some ways he seems like a stubborn plodder almost, but he could be so fanciful, and many of his final designs are just stunning, especially in their treatment of light. 

I'm going to close with a shot of where those waiting rooms are.  It's a section through both of them, looking North towards Tivoli Corner.. You can see the high level windows that bring light into the rooms, They show here as black shapes above black door openings.  And just beyond is a high level window that brings light into the Governor's Room, just squeezing in below the red loop.

The space on the right is by Taylor, the main entrance lobby leading to the Court Suite/Directors Parlours.  It's a domed space with a circular lantern.  In fact, I might as well add one more image now. (It's morning and I'm editing the published post to correct a couple of typos) 

Here is the current state of the model.  It's fairly basic but you can get the idea of how the spaces work.  Feel free to volunteer to join our group and help to add more detail.


Saturday, March 18, 2017


I have started publishing short pieces on Linked In.  Gives me a chance to adopt a slightly different persona, perhaps.  Here's a link to the latest


It was sparked by a response to my previous post, which was about my dad and some of the paintings he did over the course of his long life.  They provide fascinating insights into the cultural life of the industrial north of England ,where I grew up. Jo wondered how I would set about depicting the social setting I live in today, as a guest-worker in Dubai.  Here's my dad's work

Actually these are all early works of his, from my childhood days.  I get very nostalgic looking at these.  I wonder if my children will get nostalgic about my Dubai pictures, 40 years from now.

About a month ago, I took some pictures of the mish-mash of low-grade shops and apartment balconies that I see on my walk to buy some local fruit and veg.  I live in International City, in fact I'm one of the pioneers who moved into this tacky/vibrant district while it was still under construction.  Actually it's Dubai, so it's still under construction ... but it was barely half built when I moved in ten years ago.  Lots of lorry drivers and nurses, receptionists, shop assistants, etc living here.  It's not very stylish, but it's kind of "real" which is difficult to find in a theme park city.

Here's what I did with one of the images.

So what is this about?  Is it art?  WTF is art anyway? ....
Exactly.  Those are the kinds of questions I'm exploring.  Trying to get more physical and intuitive, to reconnect with my submerged "drawing self", which used to be one of my primary identities.  At the same time I want to integrate this with the digital tools and processes I've been using the last couple of decades.  So you've go digital photography; hand sketching; layers, filters, transparency ... all mixed up together in a semi-accidental way while I focus my attention mainly on how to create an image that captures how I feel about this environment I live in.

In a way it's not much different from Georges Braque mixing oil paint and newspaper clippings etc ,,, except a lot less innovative and significant of course.  No big ambitions here, just me amusing myself as usual.  One of the things about art, for me, is always the interaction between form an content.  You keep flipping between the quality of the paint as "stuff on a flat surface", pure abstraction if you like, and the meaning: the emotions, the magical conjuring up of 3 dimensional reality, memories, social commentary.  So I'm absorbed in technique: how to get the digital and manual working together convincingly.  And I'm also deeply intrigued by what kinds of images I can use to capture the last 13 years of my life as an alien in the desert.

Here's the view from my desk at work, if I turn my head sideways (more or less)

I like the layers here.  A series of stripes really.  And it's kind of receding but it's also kind of flat and abstract.  I've tried to create some kind of tension between the way different stripes are treated ... the blurring in the foreground (which is kind of a cheat) the rather sloppy line drawing of the second hand car lot, overlaid with the slightly more painstaking and mechanical cross hatching of the wire fence.  Then there's the somewhat palette knife feel of the orange box vans, jumping forward from the background.  The cardboard cutout effect that emerged when I was working on the skyscraper skyline.

Anyway I'm not trying to get all pretentious here.  Just giving a feel for the stuff that flows across my consciousness as I struggle to get to grips with this activity.  It's very different from building BIM models, and I really like that.  Watch out for the next phase, when I start to sketch over Revit renders. 

"What's BIM about that ?" you may ask.  Well if BIM is about gaining deeper insights and making informed decisions, then a different perspective might just help.  If we have started to realise that BIM is really about connecting different software packages together in agile ways, so the "data flows".  And if we also know that the hard part of BIM is the people, the human interactions, the deeply embedded behaviours ... maybe we need to integrate the more physical and intuitive type activities into the BIM loop.

More to come.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


This is another dormant post.  (dating from November 2016)  It's fun for me to look back on what I wrote a few months ago and finish my sentences, so I hope it's also of some interest to other beings out there. Flashback begins here:

I'm back at work now, but still reflecting on a very stimulating two weeks wandering across Europe.  Previous posts dealt with my weekend in Bavaria and the build up to RTC in Porto.  Of course I fell in love with Porto, and though some complained about the venue (distance to hotels, poor wifi) I was more than happy to trade convenience for ambience.  Conferences are primarily about people, so the mood of the moment is critical.  Here is a shot from the riverside terrace of the old customs hall where RTC took place.

There are two beautifully engineered bridges here: one high, soaring concrete curve, spanning the steep banks of the Duoro; one low, sweeping steel curve, skimming over the water. The view is downstream, towards the sea, and behind the chimney (top right) lies a hidden gem of modernist architecture, built in the late 1980s. 

I first became aware of the Faculty of Architecture by Alvaro Siza when I was a mature student, completing my architecture qualifications in Joburg, 25 years ago.  It's a deceptively complex composition, resulting from the careful placement of rectan))gular blocks on a triangular site.  From ground level it seems to be far more irregular than it really is.

The Alfandega Conference Centre is an impressive combination of Metal and Granite, generally vey hard and tough but with the occasional extravagant decorative flourish.  There are tram lines everywhere which were used to transport inported goods on low trolleys to their temporary resting places, awaiting customs clearance.  The floors formed of shallow brick jack-arches spanning between steel joists are typical of fire-proof construction across Europe in the nineteenth century, as are the cast-iron columns.  Everyone I spoke to was intrigued by the little round turntables wherever the tram-lines crossed.

Porto itself is full of tall, narrow houses and steep, cobbled alleyways.  Granite is the predominant material, sometimes plain and square, sometimes intricately carved and curvaceous.  Everywhere there are balcony railings and ceramic tiles, both with infinite variations on decorative themes.  The moorish influence is immediately apparent. 

I had one day to walkabout the old town with an umbrella before plunging into the BCS, a one day event focusing on "content", and bringing together manufacturers, designers and content providers.  This is another little hobby-horse of mine.  I think we should not be focussing on CONTENT as such, but rather on the role of manufacturers in BIM processes, and more particularly on how to enhance existing collaborations between designers and manufacturers using digital tools.  Stefan Larsson of BIM Object gave a very lively keynote address, and the morning sessions generated some heated debate.  It was my second time to meet Stefan, and I do think that BIM Object has made a tremendous impact in terms of alerting manufacturers to BIM.  The BIM Supply initiative that they are about to launch looks especially promising to me and I really do hope it develops into a robust platform for interactive collaboration and data flow.

My contribution was a short "rebuttal" and I used the opportunity to press my case for collaboration platforms, rather than object repositories.  I think it was well received, even though I was denied the use of slides :)  You can see the full version, complete with visuals at my docs.com site here


The afternoon workshops were a bit of an anticlimax in my view.  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps the initial vision of using a forum like this to develop standards and protocols for object creation is a bit unrealistic.  It's very valuable to bring people together and thrash ideas around, but moving on to formulat concrete proposals may be premature. 

My own position is that we have to get the collaboration processes right first, and that once manufacturers are using BIM-like environments to collaborate with designers they will see the value in continuously refining "BIM objects", in standardising datasets, improving interoperability, etc etc.  As long as BIM objects are just another marketing gimmick they are providing to designers for free, we are not going to make substantial progress.  But if they were to become essential tools for their own Specifications Advisors on the ground in every major city around the world, then I think they would become really motivated to ensure that they were really effective.

So what about RTC ... the last ever RTC as it happens.  Well it's only a name change really, but hopefully will continue the trend of opening up the conference to the wider BIM community.  Personally I find the new BiLT acronym a little clumsy, and the logo ... well it's better than the old one, but I still shudder to think what my good friend Ian (a proper logo designer) would think. 

Anyway, the proof is in the pudding, meaning the quality of the sessions, attendees and interactions.  On that score, RTC Porto was excellent.  You can never entirely predict how the sessions you select will turn out.  I always look for variety, to dabble in areas I might not otherwise consider.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.  This time I found a couple of the labs really stimulating.  The plenary sessions on day one were good, and the evening events were excellent.  Here's a snip from the keynote address: digital fabrication research.based in Zurich


People complained about the internet, but for me the ambience more than compensated.  Early evening breakouts by the riverside were just magical.  These conferences are all about the people.  Tips and tricks are svery well, but you can pick those up on the internet.  The value of a really good conference is in the sense of being part of a dynamic community, converging from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds to indulge a shared passion.  The North American conferences are great, but the European flavour is subtly different and I really enjoyed the experience.

I had two sessions to lead, a whistlestop tour of Project Soane, and a Modular Doors Lab.  I enjoyed them both in their different ways and received good feedback.  I'm doing all this for my own benifit, primarily, and at 65 I'm not really looking to enhance my resume or gain international exposure.  But it's nice to be part of a community and to feel that you are contributing something useful.  Obviously I share some common ground with the European BIM/Revit croud, despite having spend more than half my life in Africa and the Middle East.  It's a home-coming of sorts for a self-confessed global citizen.

And of course the gala dinner was a fitting climax, followed by a visit to a little classic of modern architecture the next morning.  Thanks again Porto, see you in Singapore next month, and perhaps in Arhus later in the year.

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