Sunday, October 2, 2022



A vault is a leap of faith. Masonry bounding across the space below. This was once a common approach to the lowest storey of buildings, often a cellar or semi-basement.

The kind of vault I'm talking about here is a cross-vault, essentially the intersection of two barrel vaults. This post is a review of a family I developed for Project Soane, several years ago. The old Bank of England had a huge sprawling undercroft, divided up into rectangular bays, mostly covered by brick Cross vaults.

I developed a parametric vault capable of adapting to the many different sizes and shapes represented in this fascinating test case. The spaces beneath the large Banking Halls typically contain a small forest of brick pillars within blank perimeter walls. The pillars themselves could be square, but more often cruciform.


From a Revit point of view, or from a bricklayer's perspective, the space is divided up into cells by a grid of walls. But then it's opened up again by arches that span most of the way from only wall to the next.


Brick groin vaults (cross vaults) jump across between walls, a little way above the arches. In this case I'm using segmental arches throughout. They are built with parameters for "rise" and "width". Formulas use these parameters to define the radius and the position of the centre point.


The arches have been created as wall-hosted door families. The vaults are standalone Generic Models. Maybe I would put them into ceiling or floor categories if those were available for loadable families.


It takes a little imagination and patience to match the curves of arches and vaults if the spacing of the grid is irregular. Also you may notice that as the proportions of the bays approach long narrow rectangles, the diagonal groin lines twist into "S" shaped curves. If we wanted them to be straight lines on plan, at least one of the arches would need to be elliptical.

The floors above these vaulted cellars were typically paves with large slabs of York stone. Presumably the spaces above the curved brick spans was levelled out with rubble, either loose or stabilised with mortar. Grading down to finer material and topped off with a layer of sand bedding for the slabs of stone. 


In Revit terms I have a rectangular extrusion cut by void sweeps that cross at right angles. The top layers will be a system family. To make all the vaults finish at the same level despite having different spans, I have a parameter to control the thickness of material above the rise of the arch. If the rise drops for some reason I can compensate by increasing this "Xtra Top"

As the work on the Bank of England proceeded I realised that I often needed to extend the vaults on one side, typically around the perimeter, giving the effect of a series of recesses. In the end I had six "Xtra" parameters. To avoid the confusion of too many types I kept all these incremental Xtras as Instance parameters.


I will be going on to review other vault families that I developed in coming weeks. Hope you find this useful. There are shortcomings in this approach. Apart from the S shape in plan there is a problem with material representation. Clearly it would be better to have separate extrusions for the two directions of the intersecting geometry. Finally there could be cases where we don't want the rubble fill. We might want the crowns of the vaults to curve in parallel with the soffits.



To be continued. 


Friday, September 30, 2022


Sika, alley, ginnel, there are many words in different dialects for those narrow streets where life seems to press in with greater vitality on all sides.

This collage combines a filtered photo and two Revit views to convey the design process that lead to such a stunning result on the Al Seef project.

Achieving that random, casual look is not as easy as you might think. It was a pleasure to work with a highly talented design team and to help to convert their ideas into a data rich digital construction model.

Al Seef was a brilliant project to work on. Lots of exciting content developments challenges.

There are pedestrian bridges that link blocks together at the upper level. Lots of different designs, never used more than twice.

I worked with Anes developing Revit families based on his hand sketches. Placing them in the project, and generating camera views for review and adjustment.

Happy Times for sure. You can’t beat a collaboration between artists with different skill sets and mutual respect.


Music is a collaborative art, and in my view you can’t beat a small group of musicians who can improvise, at least to the extent of responding in subtle ways to each other’s contributions.  The lack of this group interaction may help to explain my neglect of music in recent years.  I have spurts of activity but never seem to keep it going as consistently as I would like.  Here’s the second episode from the current spurt.

Amazing Grace


Now comes my second wedding of the summer.  Younger son Tom this time.  His in-laws live in Vancouver, so I get to see Canada “in the flesh” for the first time.  The flight took me via Frankfurt.

I sneaked in a quick look at the old part of Frankfurt during a 7 hour layover yesterday, or was it the day before, technically? Early morning light on the river and beautiful old buildings. Plus one tired old man, drinking it all in.


Vancouver in a summer mood. Street life on the East Side of downtown. Meeting up for lunch as my global family gradually assembles for the second wedding of the summer.

Pitched roof cabins, giving way to boxes with shopfront below and balconied flats above. Umbrellas and branding spill out onto the pavement. Or is it a sidewalk?



Lunch-Lady putting on the style with oriel windows. Modillions and cornices giving depth to the façade for once.

Much of what I’ve seen is lightweight and flat in a place where softwood reigns supreme, relying on colour, pattern and texture to catch the eye.

Maybe it all feels very different in December but my first impressions are bathed in August sunshine 


The final image is from International City in Dubai, where I live.  I was walking back from the corner shop: morning stroll to pick up milk.  I have processed it a bit to emphasize the nitty gritty aspect.

Growing up in Barnsley there was plenty of waste ground with discarded items, weeds, puddles.  So this point along the pavement reminds me of that.  The depression in the pavement is partly bad workmanship, no doubt and has been exaggerated by the outflow of condensate water from the ubiquitous A/C compressors that are essential for a sane existence in this climate. The burnt-out mattress springs have a sculptural quality, and from this angle, guide the eye into the wet, muddy patch that sometimes overflows across the entire width of the pavement.

Is this blight?  In a way, but it's also just the reality of life and the world.  It's a feature, not a bug, so best embrace it.  There are residential areas in Dubai that are wonderfully manicured, and I'm sure it would have been nice to have a sea view from my apartment, to walk around a lagoon in the evenings.  But happiness does not lie in being surrounded by niceness all the time.  We look for meaning and purpose.  It's good to have your feet planted firmly on the ground.





Sunday, August 21, 2022


International City is a pretty vibrant (messy) suburb. Somewhat unregulated, very hot and dusty. I've been living here for 15 years. Like much in my life, I just kind of stumbled into it but it's worked out pretty well.

This is a drawing I did in 2016: digital sketching over a digital photo. Tried to catch some of the action on the street, the "lived in" feeling that transforms mediocre architecture into a place called home.




People notice the pace of development in Dubai. There is a lack of obstacles to coming up with a wacky concept, securing land and pushing it through to completion.

Hence the place I live, with clusters named after nations. Apartment blocks styled to vaguely resemble regional vernaculars. It's possible to assemble a flattering set of images. And I do enjoy living here. It also has a squalid side, of course



These paragraphs are all taken from my LinkedIn posts, in this case, a comment.  Use of coral as a building material in various parts of the world.

Coral also used in the old merchant houses along the Creek in Dubai with their internal courtyards and wind towers.



Proud to have worked on this project for Hilton in Riyadh. Yet another innovative scheme by the concept design team at GAJ. I was involved in moving the work into Revit for Schematic Design, gradually tailing off my input as it moved into Detailed Design.

Images here of the Revit model in cutaway 3D, area plans for checking compliance with the brief, part of a facade details sheet and the finished building.

Such a privilege to remain hands on, helping to realise great projects for Brian with a brilliant and diverse GAJ team.



We have delivery bikes galore in International City both pedal and motor. I'm guessing that hey live mostly 3 & 4 to a room. It doesn't rain very much at all, but when it does the roundabouts all flood. Storm in a teacup, its all gone in a day or two.

In the UK they panic if it hits 40c Here we go crazy if it rains two days in a row 🤣🤣🤣
The architecture is a bit amateurish, better not look too closely at the classical detail. But it lights up quite nicely at night.

Front side of the building that I live in. Nice to live in a place where the walls are not quite parallel.


Flash back to 2009. Fete de la Musique at the Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai with my little trio “out of the blue“ That name was meant to capture the spontaneity that I value so much in musical moments.

Two images from my Revit work at the time. A crescent shaped tower that my boss has been hoping to build in Sharjah for at least 20 years. And some 3D detailing for bay windows that I was very proud of at the time. This project was set back repeatedly by knock-on effects of the financial crisis. Never seen photos of the finished villas



 Shop turnover is pretty high which probably means people are pushing the boundaries, looking for ways to hussle a living. Seedbed of creativity.

That crane two doors up from me has been Idle for at least ten years. Looks romantic against the sunrise and next to a palm tree. Not so much when I walk past it to buy some milk.

There were no mosques here when I first moved in. Just a couple of temporary locations. They have been popping up one by one since then.

One act of piety that is quite common if you keep your eyes peeled. Putting food and water out for the feral cats that scurry around the basement parking areas in Dubai.