Monday, August 13, 2018


This is another post I started preparing in April that has gone on hold while I plunged into the Volterra reality capture experience.  "Flashback begins"

Over the past three months or so we have spent many hours raising the level of detail in our Revit Model of the Bank of England, as it was in 1833 when Soane retired.  The "map" below shows the area that has been our main focus, and the numbers represent panoramas created using the awesome power of


If you aren't using it, you should be.  Instant gratification.

Much remains to be done, and some of the panoramas shared below have obvious faults, but the character of Soane's masterpiece, (building upon the work of two previous architects) is beginning to shine through.  And so we proudly present a series of panoramas generated via the awesomeness of Enscape3d.  This is a work in progress, a labour of love, a collaborative effort, a lost moment in history, our gift to the world.

First of all a key to camera locations

We start in the Accountant's Office, a large rectangular room associated with the distribution of paper money to the "general public" in England, offering an alternative to metal coins for the first time. It divides the Printing Court (where that new form of daily currency was magically created), from the Waiting Room Court with the window of the Governor's office in the far corner.

The Printing Court is designed in Soane's "Economy Mode" with stock brick in place of Portland Stone and round headed arches setting up a regular rhythm.  The external facade of the Accountant's Office is shown are plain render, but may well have been brick-faced also.  On the opposite side, the entrance to the new Barracks is marked by sturdy Doric columns topped by pyramids of cannon balls.

Separating the Accountant's Office from the Waiting Room Court is the Loggia: an open sided corridor featuring a dramatic sequence of tall arches.  This is a part of a new route from a new entrance in Princes Street to the Directors Parlours, created by Soane for the convenience of priveleged clients and directors of the Bank.

The Waiting Room Court itself is a grand composition in stone, with Corinthian pillars and a rusticated base.  This panorama is somewhat spoiled by the incomplete material treatment, but we are getting there.

Proceeding down the route from the Loggia (known as the Long Passage) we take a sharp right turn, keeping the WRC to our right.    Dive through a door on your left and you are in the Chief Cashier's Office, not his private office, the general office which he supervised. The Chief Cashier was one of two senior employees who lived within the premises.  It was a short stroll from his apartment to the gallery overlooking this space where his clerks recorded the internal finances of the Bank: the salaries and expenses, coal for the many fireplaces, whale oil for the lamps.

Now let's return to the Long Passage. A little further down we come to a portal on our right hand side, with light filtering in from above.  This lobby leads to the Discount Office and here we encounter the rusticated wall finish that helps to define the character of the Long Passage and the Directors Parlours.  I love the three-dimensionality of this space: typical Soane with light streaming in from unexpected angles and "sneak peeks" into adjacent spaces.

Continuing down the passage, we reach three large round-headed windows overlooking the Bullion Court on the left.  This is part of the original building designed by Sampson in the 1730s.  Just ahead of us, on the right, is a shallow curved recess which leads into the Directors Parlours, which date back to Taylor, but were extensively remodelled by Soane.  The original parlours were located above Sampson's pay hall and overlooked the Bullion Court.

The Entrance Lobby is a cube with a dome and lantern.  It was designed by Taylor, with minor modifications by Soane.  The fireplace and the clock above are placeholder families awaiting further elaboration when our little team can get around to it.

In the next panorama we are in the centre of a low, narrow corridor.  As always, Soane is bringing light in from above.  There is no other way in this case.  One one side are doors to two small waiting rooms which I regard as among Soane's best compositions.

This small waiting room is quintessential Soane.  The classical detail is underplayed but the use of space and light is very inventive. It features one of his "starfish" vaulted ceilings: basically a groin vault with the diagonal ribs flattened out into sender curved triangles, like starfish limbs.  Here you might sit and wait for your appointment with the Governor or his Deputy.  The fireplace is rather special also: highly stylised and instantly recognisable.

Emerging from the narrow confines of the waiting rooms corridor, we find ourselves in a lofty, vaulted space lit from both sides by large semi-circular windows.  It would be nice if someone would volunteer to make furniture for these spaces, because they are starting to look a bit empty.  Multiple doors, some of them not leading anywhere (perhaps a cupboard, but primarily there for symmetry)

But the first door on the left as you enter from the corridor leads to a very important room.
This is the governor's office.  Through the window in one corner, you can see the Loggia on the far side of Waiting Room Court.  Sadly we don't yet have furniture to bring this space to life, but we do have the large segmental windows, sitting below the vaulted ceiling, and a hint at the elaborate mouldings and dentils running around at cornice level.  I think Soane & Taylor can take equal credit here.

The deputy governor's room (next door) is less grand, but more completely Soanian in character.  Again you can see the Loggia across the Waiting Room Court.  Note how carefully Soane has divided up the wall and ceiling surfaces to create a main space centred on the fireplace and the window, with a secondary circulation space along the inner wall, with doors to the Governor's Office and Centre Hall.

The Rustic Lobby is basically the last public space within the Director's Parlours, giving access to yet more waiting rooms, and down a passage to the toilets.  At the end of that passage you get a tiny glimpse into the Garden Court.  The name refers to the stone coursing effect which is a recurring theme in the circulation spaces at the bank and very prominent here.  The central space is a top-lit tower using another common Soane motif: narrow, arched openings, grouped in threes.  Doors are confined to secondary, barrel vaulted spaces at the sides.

Backtracking through Centre Hall we come to the committee room, shown in pink because it was designed and built by Taylor.  The "Wedgewood Blue" that I'm using for the panels is a bit of poetic license on my part.  The space is an elongated octagon with bookcases in the four corners.  We will proceed through the doors opposite the fireplace.

The Court Room has been recreated in the current Bank buildings by Sir Herbert Baker, but in a different location.  It is designed in Taylor's typical, ornate style: somewhat pompous perhaps, but a place where momentous decisions were debated.  Its grand Palladian windows overlook the garden court, formerly the graveyard of St Phillip's church.  They don't look like Palladian windows at present, but that's on my modelling list for this week.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018


This was written 3 months ago, before I went to Tuscany and got carried away by a new obsession.  My conscience is nagging and I want to pick up the Bank of England model again.  Anyway here is a report of where things stood in March/April ...  "Open quotes"

Recent work has centred around Soane's North West Extension.  Perhaps now is a good time to present an overview of this phase of the Bank's development in the context of the whole scheme.  Right at the beginning of the Project Soane adventure I decided to invent a grid to act as a skeleton and allow the various spaces to be constructed to regular dimensions.  This is necessarily a fictitious abstraction but it really was the only way to prevent the work from becoming totally  chaotic.

There are three overlapping grid systems, coded as AB, CD & EF.  The individual grids then are numbered as A1, A2, A3 etc.  Clearly some walls are set at fractions of a degree to the grid, but we have resisted the temptation to introduce these irregularities.

In the first diagram, the colours are only there to clarify the areas where one of the three grid system is dominant.  But the colours can be used to indicate the main phases of the Bank's growth over time.  We need to add some red in the middle for Sampson's original double-courtyard block.  Then the pink on either side represents the work of his successor Taylor.  Soanes contributions included many alterations to these earlier building phases, but here we are concerned to identify his two major expansions of the Bank's area: to the North East and the North West.  As mentioned in the last post, the North-West extension required the acquisition of new land and the realignment of Princes Street.  This diagram also contains red chain lines that pick up some of the major axes and alignments.

We have been working on the Long Passage and the Waiting Room Court.  These are the major organising elements in this phase of Soane's work.  The long passage itself is a new route leading to the Director's Parlour from a new, discrete entrance in Princes Street and spiraling around the WRC to enter the Parlours via Taylors original entrance lobby.  The parlours themselves show up in an aerial view as an irregular pattern of small rectangular volumes, jammed between the old and the new.  We can imagine this as a necessary fracturing of the planning process in this collision zone.

At the opposite extreme we have Tivoli Corner, a formally planned device to terminate the whole scheme in a grand gesture of classical order.  I quite like this image which captures the sharp spike of Wren's St Margaret Lothbury alongside Soane's very different treatment of an acute angle in plan.

A birds eye view from behind Wren's spire puts things into a broader perspective.  The North West Extension is in effect a double courtyard block, like Sampson's original modest container.  That second courtyard is the Printing Court, a significant place in the spread of paper money to everyday use.  To the left we can see Lothbury Court, the central feature of Soane's earlier North-East extension (in orange)  We will get back to that eventually, but for the moment there is plenty to do, progressing the North West, home of the Long Passage.

The loggia was a new construction, but the second long run, turning sharp right, evolved from a major circulation route down the side of Sampson's rear courtyard.  To mark the entrance to the Director's Parlours, Soane added a shallow concave recess with rustication below a broad "picture rail" moulding. Above this is a very shallow part-dome below a flat arch, with a central reeding motif typical of Soane.  The rest of the passage is quite a complex composition that we are gradually working out based on incomplete information.

This last section features three ceiling bays split by beams with scrolled brackets, supported on fluted columns.  These are actually the three bays that look into the Bullion Court, via large arched windows.  The work on the Long Passage is heavily dependent on Section Boxes and it struck me that a section box around the WRC would give a very interesting insight into the relation between the  courtyard and the spaces around it, some of which are poorly understood at present.

Meanwhile the rusticated base of the WRC is shaping up very nicely.  Not sure what to call those two features like spinning tops that link the three arched windows.  You would imagine they were lighting fixtures if electricity had been around in Soane's time.

To the north of the Loggia is a large rectangular space labelled Chief Accountant which is also very under-developed.  A quick revisit has refined the spacing of the columns and replaced half cylinders with more accurate, (and rather grand) Ionic columns. The shallow vault of the ceiling should be coffered.  I wonder if I can persuade someone else to tackle that?

I managed a quick foray into the Printing Court which has an interesting doorway/portico with cannon balls in a pyramid stack.  This symbolises the barracks which moved into the basement of the Printing Court from its previous location.  Actually the basement is more of a ground floor in this location as the natural ground level slopes away towards Tivoli Corner.

So the Loggia and the Accountant's Office lie sandwiched between the two courtyards, which have a very different feel.  The WRC is very much a formal show-piece, viewed from the loggia by VIP visitors as they head towards the Directors Parlours.  Printing Court is much more "back of house" using Soane's face brick mode with round arched windows.  Lots of unfinished business in these images if you look closely.

It seems that I managed to make a start on the coffers of the accountant's office.  Probably there is scope for someone else to finish the job.  Also I managed a basic cornice moulding around the room above the columns tying everything together, and to rough out the two different "temple front" motifs that give character to the end walls.  I think that must have been my last spurt of effort on the bank before I turned my attention to Tuscany and then preparations for the BiLT conference in St Louis.

Saturday, July 28, 2018


I will be in St Louis in about 10 days time for the BiLT event.  I'm doing a lab where I will walk people through the system I have developed for creating modular classical columns. 
By coincidence, my good friend Marcello (Mr Simply Complex) shared a Corinthian column the other day, so I decided to download it and take a look.  It's a very nice demonstration of what can be done with conceptual massing, and ... it weighs in at under 12mb.  That may seem quite a lot, but "Point World" is notorious for generating huge files, so in my book he did a great job.

My own modular system is mostly based on the traditional family editor, and aims at "good enough" representation of classical form while allowing for all five classical orders, scalable, round and square columns, smooth and fluted shafts, full columns, half columns, attached corner columns ... there is a huge range of possibilities once you attempt to model real classical buildings (eg Project Soane)
I have two different styles of leaf at present, and neither of them looks much like his, so I immediately thought "let's canibalise those."  This took me on an interesting journey yesterday which I decided to share.

The strategy is to isolate a single leaf, export to SAT, bring back into Revit, & scale to the size I need to be compatible with my system. But there is a snag.  Revit 2017 changed the way that SAT imports are handled.

This has advantages and disadvantages.  I my case, mostly disadvantages: can't scale, can't find the CAD layers in "imports in families".  The solution is to bring it into 2016, save it, then open in 2018.  That way it gets treated as an old fashioned CAD object.

Looking closely at Marcello's leaf, it's made from two surfaces.  If it had been solid we could have exploded the SAT import in 2018 and applied a material parameter to the resulting "freeform" object.  But you can't really make this kind of shape as a solid, I've tried.

Each surface is created from a series of curved reference lines.  You select the lines and "Create Form"  The curve that defines the edge is shared be both surfaces so you get a seamless join, but at the tip and the base, the surface approximates a curve from the end points of the lines.  As a result there are very small gaps.  It's not a problem, you have to look very close to even see them, but it gives an interesting insight into how conceptual massing works.

I also noticed some strange artifacts on one of the flutes of the column.  No idea what causes this, and again it doesn't really matter, but it's worth knowing that Conceptual Massing is a bit quirky.

So I went through the SAT to 2016 to 2018 process and created families for "Leaf-A" and "Leaf-B"  These are the standard names I use to be able to swap out different styles of leaf while maintaining all the parameter settings that I use to control visibility for half-columns and corner-columns.

The result is a third variation of the Corinthian Capital for my collection, and it weights in at just less than 1mb.  There are some rather odd artefacts that seem to behave like quantum objects.  As you rotate the view they pop into existence, disappear, then reappear somewhere else.  Very odd, but let's press on.

There are a square versions of my other two capitals, and it's very easy to swap the leaves out now I have the standardised families.  But I do need a third leaf type: a corner version of Leaf-B.

This means going back to the source geometry.  For now I just did a very rough and ready fix by dissolving the geometry, deleting three of the reference lines, then remaking the surfaces.  Two of these pieces, placed at right angles make the corner leaf.  There are big open gaps at the corner, but from a distance it's fine.  I'll do a better job one of these days.

I went on to use the leaves with volutes from one of my Ionic capitals to create my first version of the Composite order.  Progress indeed!  I am characterising Marcello's leaves as "fleshy" and when you look around, you will see capitals that look a bit like this.  Probably more common, however is the "feathery" leaf style.  I have a simplified version of this at present, and decided to try to push this a bit further.  It's just one solid extrusion cut by a void extrusion at right angles.

I felt pretty good about the progress I had made in a few hours.  So I decided to revisit the column that Paul Aubin submitted as a contribution to Project Soane.  I know from talking to Paul that he was really trying to push Conceptual Massing to its limits.  The result is a pretty hefty file size.  I decided to target his scrolls which are more impressive than my highly abstracted versions, also slightly bigger, so that's another variation which does occur in reality.

Same process of going to SAT to 2016 to 2018.  Bring this into my existing scroll family, adjust the size and position as close as possible, then delete my earlier geometry and save.  Once again the standard naming convention preserves visibility controls when loaded into any of my Corinthian capitals.

Unfortunately the scrolls don't just drop into place seamlessly, so I had to go back to the original geometry again.  Once more it was a quick fix to get things working, but I'm pretty happy with the results.  Deleted a bit of foliage and extended the stem of a tendril downwards.  I'll get around to some square versions later (this one and the composite)  The great thing about a modular system is you can just keep on growing the collection and refining existing components as time permits.

Before I finish I must recommend Paul's book "Renaissance Revit", an absolute treasure trove of advanced family editor techniques.  Check him out on also.  One of the best Revit/BIM educators out there.

And of course there is Marcello.  If you haven't seen him in action presenting a class, you are missing out, big time.  Check him out on Twitter also, or his blog.

If you are coming to St Louis, please come and say hello.  If you are interested in contributing to the creation of an open source library of classical elements … even better.

Sunday, July 22, 2018


I have just uploaded my first post to the Volterra-Detroit Foundation Blog.  You can find it here.

There is quite a big overlap with my last two posts here, but also a slightly different take on the topic and a couple of new images.

While I'm at it I may as well share my latest work with Autodesk sketchbook.  

This one was done on my phone and for some reason reminds me of the work of Modigliani.  Difficult to say why, probably the stylisation and use of black.  He came from Tuscany, was famously wild (even for an artist of the period) and specialised in female nudes.  But this deals with layers receding into the distance: the hills in the distance echoing the tumbling rhythm of tiled roofs.  Chimneys in Volterra seem to indicate wood stoves, a slightly different role from brick chimney breasts that feature so prominently in the traditional housing forms of Northern Europe.

The tiled roofs are based on a two par system: flat pan with half round cappings.  Both elements are tapered of course so that they can overlap in courses.  It's a very ancient system.  Greek Temples seem to have used a very similar arrangement.  I modelled it quickly in Revit to gain a better understanding.

In practice the system is much more subtle than that.  You can use the half-round pieces "upside down" to tighten up the gauge, or reverse the pan to widen it.  This allows local builders to cover irregular shapes and twisted surfaces.  The slopes are usually quite shallow and the tiles are not nailed to the timbers below.  It's common to see stones on the roof to hold end tiles in place during windy weather.  

My next sketch captures the informality of one of the many shared domestic courtyards in Volterra.  It's something of a study in diagonals and an abstract composition in colour and texture.  At one level, the architecture here is a series of random accidents, an unthinking jumble.  But somehow there is a romanticism, an unfailing sense of the picturesque.  Is this just in the eye of the beholder?  Why does exposed plumbing and dangling electric wiring sometimes seem to be an eyesore but in other contexts a picturesque frivolity?

I want to close with another little Revit study of local construction techniques.  It shows the use of thin flat bricks for ceiling vaults and for flooring, as well as for walls.  The floors use closely spaced hardwood joists carrying two layers of bricks at 45 degrees to each other.  This reconstruction is based partly on observation and partly on educated guesswork.  

I'm finding the combination of hand sketching and Revit modelling to be a very productive way of sifting through the data I collected in Italy.  I'm calling it data, but I mean everything from personal memories to point clouds: lots of photos, screenshots from web research … the material is diverse and so are the methods for engaging with it.

That's all for now.