Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Second week back at work.  It's been hectic, so first post is going to be a mixed bag of memories. 

RTC 2012 USA was brilliant.  First of all the people.  So many new friends and internet connections come alive in the flesh.  I hope I can stay in touch with you all.  A close second, the sessions.  So much to think about.  So many experiments & explorations beckoning.  Can I find the time ?

England was all scattered showers & brief sunny periods.  The usual complaints from the locals, but for me it was a welcome change from the relentless Dubai sun.  Water was the theme of a day out with two old friends from university days.  We visited Cromford in Derbyshire, the site of Richard Arkwright's first mills.  His water frame brought serious mechanisation to cotton spinning, using the kinetic energy of the River Derwent to launch the industrial revolution.

The building themselves are fascinating.  Thick walls with stone exteriors & plastered brick inside.  Splayed reveals to sash windows with wooden lintels.  The floors were the key innovation.  Fireproof construction, based on cast iron beams and shallow brick arches.  In the first Cromford Mill this permits a clear span, but for later & larger enterprises both upstream and down, cast-iron columns permit deeper floor plates.  Wouldn't it be wonderful to have Revit models of these historic buildings made available on the web ?  So much information is freely available these days from Wikipedia to Panoramio, but BIM models would take this to another level entirely.  Make your own walkthroughs, section boxes, sunshading studies, structural analyses.  Bring history to life.

That evening I saw my 3 cousins, who have lived their lives close to Barnsley where we grew up.  Exactly a week before I had played a gig with 2 old school friends from Barnsley Grammar School.  This was the third annual performance of a band that continues to grow and develop.  An excellent example of real-life, intense, face-to-face interactions, made possible by internet-based preparations & support.  Emails fly back and forth, practice sessions are posted on You Tube, song sheets sit in the cloud and the full band meets up for the first time on the day of the gig. 

The final weekend took me to London and some quality time with my youngest son.  Unlike my cousins from Barnsley, my branch of the family has dispersed all over the globe, so these are precious moments.  We visited the Shard, towering above Borough Market.  Context is crucial.  In Dubai it would be dwarfed, just another wierd tower, trying to be different.  But here the play of contrasts is superb. 

London has been doing a great job of inserting new high-tech interventions into historic locations this past few years.  The conversion of the undercroft of St Pancras into a shopping mall has really given this grand old building new life and vigour.  Note the connection to Cromford's mills.  Cast Iron from Derbyshire, which was on the cutting edge of technology in those days, not the quaint tourist backwater of today.

I saw the new insertions at Kings Cross for the first time last weekend.  Just passing through, but they looked impressive.  I think it's appropriate that the additions to St Pancras play it straight: simple and rectangular in contrast to the gothic exhuberance of Scott's hotel & Barlows magnificent arch.  Conversely, the historic context at King's Cross is restrained and business-like, inviting a much more organic addition.

It was not always thus.  Three stops on the Northern Line takes you to Camden Town, scene of one of Nick Grimshaws early forays into Hi-Tech imagery.  Somehow, the blatant facadism of the Odeon Cinema seems to have aged better and to be more in keeping with Camden Town's current black leather goth persona.

On Sunday we took the central line out to Stratford to take a look at the Olympic village, but it was no longer accepting visitors so we had to make do with the new Shopping Mall.  Not sure what to make of the metallic forest.  Seems to be there to distract the eye from the rather bland architecture beyond.  I rather liked the big red hands that were being used as an adjunct to conventional signage.

London's second Westfield shopping centre is very stylish, well up to the standard of Dubai malls.  Check out the slick recycle bins in comparison to Borough Market's plastic eggs.  One thing interests me.  Everyone seems to be agreed that you need 3 bins, but there are different ideas about how to label them.

So to finish I can't resist a tribute to Borough Market's riotous diversity. 


  1. I like the theme of blog that is matched according to blog title "shades of grey."...There is no doubt in it that London has been doing a great job of inserting new high-tech interventions into historic locations this past few years...

  2. Hi, and thanks for the comment. Wish I had more time to travel & to blog about "the way we build", no complaints though. Life is good



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