Sunday, July 30, 2017


Extracts from a Slack conversation with my Project Soane collaborators:


If Soane could build a tower I wonder what it would be like?

Yes, I've sometimes wondered about that. I thought of trying to redesign Bakers bank in the style of Soane, and preserving more of Soanes original work.

Then I thought about doing it so that it could expand vertically, ie more like Soanes bank which is an accumulation of disparate parts welded together, like a medieval city that evolved over time.

Could you imagine his style gradually evolving, keeping pace with the modern world (which he always tried to do) becoming more abstract and simplified
The projecting front of his own house was originally open balconies, almost like an exposed concrete frame

Also there is a scheme for a double storey conservatory at the back of Pitzhanger Manor that looks almost modernist
But would he have been able to abandon ornament completely and still stay true to himself? How would he have avoided the awful pastiche of so much Post Modernism?

I like to imagine something a bit like Casa del Fascio, an expressed concrete frame rising out from a seven storey block, similar to Bakers in massing but elevated in extremely austere Soane mode, and a base that is essentially Soanes original screen wall
Not sure if it's possible but I think he would have tried, if he had lived to be 200!!!
Like Soane, Terragni saw himself as expressing the spirit of Ancient Rome in a modern setting, using modern materials. Would Soane have designed a bit like this if he had been working in 1935? It has the complexity and the layering, the top lighting and manipulation of space, ambiguity ..

Interior space, surprising shafts of light from above. Was Terragni aware of Soane? Not as far as I know, but there are interesting parallels ... much more than I had realised (before today).  The images are from a model of Casa del Fascio that I built several years ago.  Amazing how it comes to life when viewed using Enscape 3d.

The glass blocks are too transparent in Enscape, but I just saw the parallel between the way Soane connects rooms together in his own house, with openings above eye leve, over bookcases etc, and the way Terragni puts glass blocks above door head height to let light diffuse between the perimeter offices and the atrium.

Maybe we could make a movie. Soane frozen in a secret compartment of the basement at Lincoln's Inn Fields, brought back to life by a mad Scientist in 1925, appointed to rebuild the Bank and leaves behind plans for a further vertical expansion which is built in 2025


So, I finally got around to turning this little Slack conversation into a Blog Post.  I had already made a massing model of Baker's 1930s rebuild of the Bank. It's pretty much a solid block rising from within the simplified remnants of Soane's screen wall. (this is the Bank as it exists today)

As Daniel Abrahamson has pointed out, Baker tried to preserve something from the work of the previous architects of the Bank (Soane, Taylor, Sampson) but for his entirely new central block, opted to reference Christopher Wren's very popular brand of classicism, which is seen in the popular imagination as quintessentially English.  He deliberately turned away from what he perceived as Soane's dry, esoteric, approach towards something more populist.  And he argued that Soane didn't treat Taylor's work with much respect, so why would he be totally reverential to Soane? 

I think that was a valid argument at the time. It wouldn't stand up in today's "heritage-conscious" world. There would surely be a more vigorous attempt to retain more of what remained of all three architect's work, and not just by incorporating "tributes" using your own reinterpretation of their style.  So I think it's very interesting to imagine how an attempt to remain true to Soane could have worked itself out and in that spirit, I've had a first bash at creating something along those lines.

It's very schematic at present, but I've tried to take a more additive approach. This is a building that could be extended and adapted in stages, as the bank was during Soane's tenure. It's a jumble of parts jostling with each other inside the limits of the city walls.  I try to hint at how "Soane style" could be applied to, the 5 to 7 storey blocks around the periphery. Then as a tower starts to emerge from the middle of the site (let's say in the 1980s) The style shifts into more of an expressed frame, with a bit of a nod towards Terragni.

Hopefully, I will get around to developing this idea further in future.  Or maybe someone else would like to pick it up.  Come to think of it, it would make a very interesting student project.  Anybody out there in the architecture schools like to give it a go?

Just getting back to the original chat.  I was prompted to look closer at Pitzhanger Manor, and the extent of Soane's estate.  I compared his original survey of the land he purchased with Walpole Park as it exists in Ealing right now.  It's a very close match, and it's a great space, as I found out on my recent visit.  I have come to realise just how rapidly Soane rose into the landed classes from a very humble background.  Rags to riches, like a Dickens novel perhaps. 

We think of England in the colonial period as a terribly oppressive class society, but there were also tremendous opportunities for people with exceptional abilities operating within a rapidly expanding economy. 

I have been thinking a lot recently about how judgemental human beings can be.  I guess it was advantageous for our ancestors to jump to conclusions based on scanty evidence rather than forming a committee to examine each threat that came along in an objective manner.  But the implications today can be unfortunate.

John Soane lived towards the end of the enlightenment period  when ideas of tolerance, freedom of speech, the secular state and parliamentary democracy began to take shape in Western Europe.  It's easy to be cynical if you grew up taking these things for granted.  Clearly the reality is fragile and flawed when compared to the lofty ideals, but isn't that the point?

Life comes in shades of grey. Be suspicious of moral panic and slow to label another "tribe" as enemies of truth.  We have amazing tools at our disposal.  How can we best use them to understand our history and imagine possible futures ?

That's my "BIM pencil" challenge for the week.  Take care.

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