Sunday, April 8, 2018


Too long between posts, and especially behind on reporting my Bank of England
work.  We've been plugging away steadily, but even with a three day weekend, time seems to run out before I can document the progress.

Waiting Room Court was due for an upgrade, including the loggia along the northern side.  Soane had a strong liking for processions of tall narrow arches.  We have come across this in his church at Walworth as well as the central corridor of the Board of Trade.  I think the loggia is one of his best variations on this theme.  The drama is heightened by the way it proceeds from the relative darkness of the Doric Portico, opens up into the courtyard, then closes up again.

In preparing this post I came to another of those "realisation moments" that make this work so addictive to me.  The paired, shallow, flat columns of the distinctive north façade of Waiting Room Court are not just one of Soane's mannerisms.  They are their because of his wish to combine an "enfilade" of arches down the length of the corridor while keeping the space open to the elements on the courtyard side.  On the internal side, the cross-walls that host the arches are framed by a pair of half-pilasters.  On the open side these half-pilasters wrap around to be expressed as those distinctive flat columns that make such an impression in Yerbury's record photos from c1930.

Another subtlety I quite enjoyed was the splitting of walls in section view to create the hint of an entablature resting on the pilasters.  Along with the two types of arches, come two arrangements of ceiling coffers, both quite elaborate and treated here as loadable Generic Model families.  The enscape3d image below was captured before creating the coffers families and the three images on the left record a developmental sequence, starting with an in-place extrusions, copy-pasted into a family template, then cut by voids.  Is this a Soane original design, or is it developed from a classical precedent?  Obviously stepped coffers, and oval coffers were not invented by Soane, but what about this combination.  I really don't know.  Perhaps someone will stumble across an answer.

It's important to remember that Waiting Room Court (WRC) is built at the junction of old and new.  Princes Street used to run diagonally across this space, until Soane straightened it on behalf of the Bank as it flexed its muscles over its former landlords the Grocers' Company, who owned the land where the loggia was built.  So the loggia represents the new regime: modern banking with shareholders and a board of directors, while the other 3 sides of the courtyard recall the older world of medieval guilds and hereditary occupations.  Whether consciously or not, Soane has expressed this transition in his architectural treatment.  And it's interesting to note that he maintains a balance between contrast and harmony.  The courtyard holds together despite the rather different elevational treatment of the loggia.  All four sides stand on the same rusticated base.  Britain managed its transition into modernity without the cataclysm of the French Revolution partly due to the moderating influence of the Bank of England.

It's almost embarrassing how easy it is to capture compelling images with Enscape3d.  Here you can see the two types of coffer and the two different arches.  Also on view is the higher ceiling in the central bay, which is still very crudely modelled.  I'm tempted to add some top lighting here, although the survey drawings suggest blind recesses rather than windows.  This is not definitive of course.  The survey also shows the narrow end bays as open, which is a change that was made later on by another architect.  Certainly it would be unusual for Soane to create this additional height without lighting it.  This was done before gas lighting remember. 

The WRC itself was long overdue for a facelift.  Window families were just simple openings in some cases.  The main cornice had been created as a wall sweep and kept coming apart at the corners.  Replaced with an in-place sweep. The basement story needed to be treated as a rusticated base so we made a start on that by fleshing out the large half-round windows.

It's clear that several of the windows are "blind" because they back on to the junction between rooms or, in one case overlap between the top corner of a vault and the ceiling void above.  To achieve the blind window effect, replace the cut opening with a void extrusion.

As the rustication proceeded it seemed appropriate to update the render appearance for the walls to a more stone-like material.  This led to some quite dramatic images, but ultimately the stone finish is not correct for the internal spaces, so I have begun to set up new wall types

All the same it does feel good to have additional richness in terms of material finishes.  We will have to look for other ways to achieve this moving forwards, maybe it will come in features like the fireplaces, and perhaps we can start to add furniture, carpets, etc. to bring spaces to life.

An interesting question that arises in my brain from time to time.  Why spend time creating seductive, dramatic images?  How does that relate to "historically accurate modelling" on the scale of aims and objectives?  My answer usually is: this is all about understanding, finding meaning in our built past.  Understanding doesn't always arise through conscious reasoning.  In fact the evidence is that our opinions are formed at a subconscious level and subjected to conscious reflection after the fact.

So I would say that it's a cyclical process, like anything in the creative realm you pour energy into an activity then stand back and review.  Emotions and reason intermingle to drive the whole thing forward.  Insights often come apparently from nowhere: those Eureka moments.  So while you are "waiting" for the next blinding insight, why not feed the brain with stimulating visual fodder?

Sunday, April 1, 2018


My trip to Volterra is looming and I wanted to do something to get me in the mood, so I started developing an approach to parametric modular windows of a particular Tuscan style.  Here is the first fruits of that venture.

The starting point was a parametric pointed arch. From there I went on to develop 3 more families with nested families for the stone "Insert" and the glazed timber "Window Unit".  The idea is to set up a modular system where you can swap out the Insert and the Window Unit for different versions without starting again from scratch.  By keeping the names constant, all the parameter linking remains intact.

I am using the nested planting family hack to easily scale the columns.  The intention being to allow for more complex capitals and base mouldings, while retaining ease of scaling.
All was fine until I checked out the windows in the plan view.  First of all the top part of the insert tends to show up, blocking everything else.  This is easily solved but I was still left with columns that don't react to the cut plane. 

The complexities of how window families interact with the cut plane are quite interesting, and I recounted my explorations of this, long ago.

As it happens, things get even more complicated when there are nested components of a different category.  Usually I keep all my nested families in the same category as the host family, so that subcategory visibility is predictable and consistent.  But the planting hack throws a spanner in those works.

I don't have time for a detailed analysis just now, but suffice to say I did a whole series of permutations to get the columns to cut nicely without success.  Strategies that seem fine in family editor don't pan out in the project environment.  Conversely families that look fine when placed directly in the project fail to cut when nested into a host window.

In the end I have opted for a shared family for the columns.  This is in the column category, with the "pre-cut" option unchecked.  Probaby a shared Generic Model would also work.  So there is an "inner" planting family, inside and "outer" planting family, inside a shared column family.  The height of the column family is an instance parameter so that it can be controlled from within the host.  You can't link type parameters for shared families because that would defeat the whole idea ... that the family acts as if it was placed directly in the project.

Maybe Paul Aubin has a better solution to this, or even a better approach to the whole business.  I'm sure we will talk that through when we meet up in Volterra in a couple of weeks time.  We won't have much time for making families during the workshop.  The focus will be on collecting data with various bits of reality capture kit. 

At the moment the families are based on a few rather grainy internet images.  It's a very interesting approach to windows I think.  Had never really thought it through before.  It's clear that there is a rectangular window with side-hung casements (must open inwards) and this is tucked behind a decorative stone "double arch within a larger arch"  I'm very keen to scan a few examples now to get the sizes and relationships right. Probably there are more surprises in store.  Internal shutters ?  Splayed internal reveals ?  Sill treatment ?

Then we could develop a range of parametric components which could be used to assemble urban settings like the main square in Volterra.  That's my basic premise anyway.  By the way, here is my solution to the pointed arch parametrics.  Didn't check out any other ideas, just decided to develop my own approach

Monday, March 19, 2018


Next month I head for Italy for a reality capture workshop and another serious think about European cities past and present.  I've been trying to record some ideas about my particular area of interest to share with the rest of the group.  One them that has long fascinated me is the way urban streets vary from city to city.  Take for example the Newari house.

I visited Kathmandu in 2006 and have had a couple of stabs at capturing the typical shop-houses form that enchanted me then.  Very vertical, jammed together with carved hardwood doors and windows, red clay bricks and tiles; propped, overhanging eaves.

The only Italian house-form I have attempted is the Trullo.  Shamelessly copied from Paul Oliver's books this presented an interesting challenge for a fledgling Revit user 10 years ago.  I used this as part of the introduction to one of my sessions at RTC Chicago: an example of trying to capture "organic" form using "clunky" Revit.

Another half-finished experiment arount the same period was my "African Hut", hommage to my 23 years spent living in that continent.  Again this was an interesting technical challenge at the time, but I never took it far enough to describe a way of life convincingly: kitchen, bedrooms, granary, household utensils, etc.  My life seems full of incomplete intentions.

The same criticism applies to my Dogon hut, also based on images from books and mostly about demonstrating tricks for emulating lumpy-bumpy materials like mud and thatch.  All the same it kept alive a dream that has been floating around my head for around 25 years now: a book called "The Way We Build" which explores responses to climate and culture alongside the nitty gritty of bricklaying techniques and eaves details.

In my day job I have had the opportunity to apply Revit to the business of recreating an urban tradition here in the Arabian Gulf: wind towers and courtyards, narrow winding streets, rhythmic rows of recesses.

My role on this project was to create a library of Revit families that could be used in different permutations and combinations to compose and entire urban district.  This is what I have in mind for Volterra also.  If we can capture a variety of typical elements: windows, doors, eaves, chimneys ... then recreate them as parametric families ... maybe students of Architecture could use these to study typical urban groupings. 

But this weekend I was drawn into another urban study that I began in 2007 when I visited a friend of mine in Saltaire.  Titus Salt was an industrialist who made a fortune by spotting an opportunity to convert a neglected raw material into a luxury product.  He took over his father's business in 1833, the year that Soane retired as architect to the Bank of England, and over the next twenty years built a huge business based around "Alpaca".

Saltaire is the urban village he built around his new mill on the outskirts of Bradford: an attempt to create a healthier environment for his workers, within walking distance of open countryside.  The design of the housing units was also substantially above the norm in terms of both form and function.  There was a serious attempt to find a balance between privacy of the family unit and communal facilities for the benefit of the community.

Oddly enough the architecture is inspired by northern Italy, but filtered through the mindset of Victorian England.  The tedium of rows of small terraced houses is relieved by creating 3 storey pavilions at the corners and adding simple decorative flourishes.  Round headed windows, sometimes grouped into threes, add just a hint of Italianate style.

The standard worker's house of the era was the back-to-back terrace, but these houses are more generous with small backyards offering a private outside WC and coal storage.  Full depth houses also provide better cross-ventilation of course.

I intended to just do a quick spruce up, then export a few images, but it turned into a whole weekend.  Quite revealing how far my ideas have progressed when it comes to making complex door and window families for example.  I enjoyed adapting my current modular system to round-headed versions.  This is all based on nested components with standardised names and linked parameter sets.

I previously developed a "Trim" profile for Project Soane which uses a simple "equalised grid" to scale a complex shape parametrically.  This proved very easy to adapt to the simpler mould used in Saltaire.  Didn't have to be parametric, but now that it is I can use it elsewhere with different proportions.

This modular "mix and match" system that have been developing (for doors, windows and classical columns at present) is an ongoing project.  I think the Volterra workshop will be a good opportunity to extend it further.  There are always new challenges when tackling components from a historical context.  Hopefully we can build up a useful "public library" of consistently modelled parametric families with interchangeable nested components.

I spent my childhood living in a terraced house in the north of England.  I think it's called "row housing" in the US.  There are very many variations on this theme and I have long wanted to create an in-depth "BIM pencil" study that explores the construction, functional arrangements and social context a representative selection.  Here is the ground floor plan of four units from a typical Saltaire row.  As you can see, the end pavilion comprised two dwellings (although they were altered in modern times and condensed into one)

That's about it for now.  I'm finishing this off at the office having arrived long before "opening time" to beat the traffic.  My last image uses "cutaway" views.  This was always one of my favourite features of Revit, so exciting a dozen years ago when I was still a novice.  Revisiting projects like this one has a special magic because of the "flashbacks" that occur in the recesses of my brain, remembering what it felt like to take those first faltering steps on my BIM journey.

One question here.  Not quite sure why there is coal storage in the cellar and also in the back yards.  Does it mean that some houses don't have cellars?  I have strong childhood memories of the coal man arriving and tipping sacks down a round hole in the pavement, cast iron covers with an internal chain as an anti-theft device.  So many little details of a bygone era that I would like to capture and share.

Monday, March 5, 2018


In my mind, the Grocer's will always be a small shop in 1960s England which sells just about everything, wrapped in brown paper bags.  Some things were even sold by the gross, a dozen dozens.  Today of course, "gross" means the opposite of "awesome" or "cool".  In the sixties we had "fab" and "grotty".

150 years earlier, Soane was completing his North-West extension at the Bank of England: the green bit in our colour-coded time sequence.  This entailed taking land from the Grocers' Hall garden and straightening Princes Street.  In the photo above I was standing at the edge of Princes Street, and in the middle of what used to be the garden of the Worshipful Company of Grocers ... one time landlords to the fledgling Bank of England.

  Last weekend I discovered drawings, previously glossed over for a lobby connecting the new Discount Office to the Long Passage.  This junction-point in the passage is marked by a skylight that belongs to the floor above, visible through an oval hole in the ceiling with railings around it (not yet added)

This is typical Soane: bringing light in from above and creating surprising visual links between different spaces.  The lobby itself is coming along quite nicely, but I'm setting it aside for now, waiting for my collaborators to work on various partially finished Revit families.

I intended to spend the weekend fleshing out the Long Passage, starting with this junction point. Made pretty good progress. spicing up the shallow arched recess above the Ionic columns with some mouldings; adding a variation on the same them to the opposite side of the passage; populating the wall/ceiling junction with scroll brackets; moving on to coffers in the next bay to the south.

We are having to piece together the clues from oblique shots in photographs and hints on floor plans, but bit-by-bit it's shaping up.  There's a deep coffered arch disguising the location of a door that leads down to the cellars and a tall round arch revealing the upward flight of stairs.  There's quite a bit of rustication, I've begun a panel beneath a lunette window giving borrowed light to the coffee room.  The door to the Directors Parlours in its broad shallow niche was built some time ago.

The Directors Parlours themselves are a reworking of spaces built by Taylor, and that part of the Long Passage belongs to Sampson's original double-courtyard block.  I think it began as an arcade, open to the weather on one side, along the West side of the inner courtyard.  But the rest of the North-West extension was new, and made possible by diverting Princes Street and stealing land from the Grocer's Hall.  The Grocers were merchants, as were the Mercers.  "Gross" and "Grocer" have the same derivation, implying "big-time" trading.  These were the Medieval Guilds, which fell on hard times with the rise of a new kind of commerce.  They rented their Hall to the Bank to make ends meet.

In the old days the big money was in Wool, traded overseas to Antwerp and Florence, but the new traders were importing cotton from India and making a killing.  The resulting rivalries led to the Calico Acts, various riots, and ultimately the industrialisation of cloth making (which happened during Soane's lifetime)

Soane used an element of trickery with the Grocers when buying up property on behalf of the Bank.  He presented a scheme to the authorities that allowed them to keep their garden, but it was a weak design and once he had a foot in the door it was easy enough to press the case for a bolder scheme. 

And so the Bank swept aside their former landlords.  Financial innovation had incubated itself, nestled under the wings of the old guild system.  Now, like a cuckoo it was pushing its adopted parents aside.  The evils of capitalism ?  Maybe so, but the more I look into the history of the bank, the more I see capitalism as a series of mechanisms that evolved over time: double-entry book-keeping in Florence, joint stock companies in Holland, tradable government stocks at the Bank of England.  Neither good nor bad in themselves ... it's a question of what you do with them, where the journey leads.

Sampson's inner court was three storeys high, built to accommodate the Bank's expanding business which had outgrown the Grocer's Hall.  I'm struggling to reconcile the storey heights here.  The groin vault leading into Taylor's Entrance Hall is too high. 

I had cut the floor back, but this won't do I think.  So I decided to cheat a bit and lower the columns and cornice slightly. Then by thinning the floor down to bare floorboards, I managed to clear the vault. 

Moving North, the Long Passage passes by the Chief Cashier's office built by Soane a decade or so earlier.  That's the orange bit, the North-East extension, with Lothbury Court at it's heart.  Now we are having to work with ambiguous hints, to become more adventurous and speculative, like the Bank when they first broke free of the Grocers.  There is a railing in one corner of a photo labelled "view from gallery" and looking down into the Cashier's office.  There is no gallery in the original drawings.  Perhaps it was added when the North-West extension broke of the western edge of that space.  Maybe it dates from later, (after Soane) but I quite like the idea of a view from the upper corridor.

So I have pieced together a sketch of the original west elevation with an interpretation of the gallery, using information from a floor plan to interpret the central opening as a blind recess.  By now the weekend has taken a different turn.  I'm ranging around more widely than I planned, touching here and there, trying to make sense of the upper stories, adjusting the massing.

What is the role of speculation in this kind of work?  Am I a historian? an artist? ... a biased political commentator?  Why am I trying to understand this building in the context of Soane's London and think about implications for how we live our lives today? What is the role of speculation in our economy?  Is it an evil monster?  Is it something to be worshipped ... (aka disruptive technology) ? 

Well I have to make a decision so I've gone with an interpretation of the west end of the Chief Cashier's office, assuming it was modified by Soane around 1805.  The assumption is that there is a layer of circulation above the Long Passage that links the Printing Court and Residence Court with the older upper levels of Sampson's original Bullion Court.

Some of this is based on clues, bits of drawings that I had not noticed before.  I decided that the Bullion Route should be expressed in the roof form.  This is a tunnel cutting through at an angle from Lothbury Court to the old Bullion Court.  It seems there may have been a higher section in the middle, possibly vaulted.  Could it have been side-lit?  It's the kind of thing Soane would have done, so I'm going to risk it for now.  What had been a large expanse of flat orange roof is becoming articulated: much more Soane-like.  This is exactly what has been happening with the Directors Parlours, but in that case with rather more definite evidence to back up my interpretation. 

Just a reminder: Red is Sampson's original block, Pink is Taylor's Court Suite.  Sampson's Court Room was on the upper floor behind the Pay Hall, and overlooking the Bullion Court.  Taylor squeezed it out to the West and let it drop down to the ground floor, looking back the other way over the former graveyard of St Christopher's.  Orange and Green are Soane's two big expansions, doubling the area of the Bank towards the North in two phases.  

As these successive expansions rolled out, the nature of the Bank evolved.  It began tentatively, went through a bold and assertive phase, but gradually retreated into a more aloof posture, overseeing the national economy with a gentle touch.  In a way, this is mirrored in the architecture and even the personalities of the three designers.

It may be speculative, but I rather like the taller middle section of the bullion tunnel.  I'm going to try adding a groin vault when I get around to it.  There is some evidence for this at one side of a sketch section through the Chief Cashier's Office.  This sketch shows a much shallower dome over the office than later photos suggest.  Did he change his mind?  Is this just an early scheme?  Was the dome rebuilt to a steeper pitch during the North-West extension?

I've also taken the liberty of adding a lantern over this dome.  No direct evidence for this, but the room would be poorly lit without it, and most of his domes do have lanterns. So, a bit of poetic license creeping in to my work perhaps.  Soane himself spoke of the poetry of architecture of course.  And perhaps it was time to spend a couple of days jumping around again, after several weeks of systematically upgrading spaces one by one.  It certainly feels good to add more definition to the upper storeys.  I only wish I had better reference material for these.

Editing sessions are usually interspersed with short bursts of Enscape navigation, and I found myself climbing up to review the complexity of the roofscape.  It really amazes me how this has gradually unfolded over the past couple of years as I kept re-working the model. 
I have started to wonder whether some of these back-of-house areas were faced with stock brick.  That was Soane's usual approach to what we now call "value engineering".  

Certainly the drawings for the Printing Court show use of face brick.  So I transferred Revit materials from St Peter, Walworth and applied the brick here.  I wonder if I can get away with using his corbelled brick parapet treatment?  Better check the drawings first.  In a way the Printing Court heralds the democratisation of capitalism.  Bank Notes used to be solely for the rich, but now paper money is being issued in denominations that allow it to become a convenient alternative to coins.  Perhaps this is an indication of the increasing buying power of the man in the street with the onset of the Industrial Revolution.

And finally I added a couple of trees in the Garden Court.  Feels like there should be some grass also, and what about the grave stones?  Photographs show a lot of paving, plus odd little ponds and cherubs.  I think that must be Victorian or Edwardian in origin.  Of course this was all a capitalist plot ... the board of directors appropriating the graveyard to give themselves a nice view.  I Need to spend a day upgrading Garden Court some time soon.

So I spent a weekend roaming across several areas of the building, adjusting the massing, speculating a bit, reflecting on capitalism ... and generally having fun at the Grocers' expense.

Here's a peek at my speculative recreation of the Chief Cashier's office.  I think the recesses should have round arched heads, but will have to come back to that some other time.  At least it's in much better shape than it was a week ago ... starting to feel like a real space.

Chief Cashier panorama.enscape3d

Monday, February 26, 2018



Soane's Bank of England is familiar territory to me by now.  It's been a while since I discovered a drawing for a new space that I hadn't noticed before.  Used to be something that happened regularly, but after 2 1/2 years I have come to know both the building and the drawings archive pretty well.  So I got a bit of a thrill when I realised what this drawing was really about.

I had assumed it was an early study for the Discount Office, which is strange because it clearly says that it is the lobby leading to that office.  As soon as the penny drops it relates very clearly to a space on the floor plan (although the door to the Silver Room is puzzling).  I'm quite excited, because it's an interesting space, and fills out the sequence of rooms that I have been working on recently. 

The treatment is very similar to the waiting room corridor, with rusticated walls and Ionic columns, plus yet another skylight, above a vaulted ceiling.  There is a second drawing with orthographic views. I'm looking forward to developing this, maybe next weekend.

Here is a model view of the lobby, showing the route from the Long Passage leading to the Discount Office entrance door.  The new skylight position is marked by an asterisk, and the large arched window into the Discount Office is awaiting glass and framing.

I started on the Discount Office itself towards the end of this weekend: mostly developing the coffered ceilings.  I roughed out the space at least a year ago, lots of arches and Soane's usual division of the space into a central hall with side and end aisles.

More discoveries this weekend.  For some time now, the linked models have not been showing up in the A360 viewer.  I decided to try removing them and re-inserting; a successful strategy in the end. 

Along the way I thought I should record the positions of the links using shared coordinates before removing them.  Turns out that you can't "Publish" coordinates in A360.  I guess it has something to do with the models not residing locally so more chance of corruption when the system tries to write to it.  In my confusion I pressed "reconcile" a few times, thinking this was an equivalent process, but of course it is actually acquiring coordinates from the link.  Essentially True North was reset back to Project North,

This in turn prompted me to look once again at the orientation of True North.  I was looking to display a grid in Google Maps and came across a link to a Caving Society which has done this via the API.  Actually I have a plan view with lots of different maps brought in, some historic. 

Cross-checking these and taking readouts of coordinates from Google Earth at the four corners of the site convinced me that to change the angle between True & Project North from 24.5 to 26 degrees.  Not sure that it matters very much for the work I am doing, but it was an absorbing puzzle.

I ought to mention that the A360 viewer is much improved now that they added edges.  It's quite responsive too, given the size and complexity of this model.  Here's a shot looking from the Residence Court towards Lothbury Court, not a bad place to live if you were the Secretary or Chief Cashier.

The first half of the weekend was more straightforward, but also rewarding.  I was increasing the level of detail on the Governor & Deputy Governor's Rooms.  Don't have time to describe the process right now, but a couple of Enscape images will convey the reults.  Deputy Governor's office is all about subtle division of space to define a "corridor zone" at one end, leaving the main space centred on the fireplace with a circular recess in the ceiling.  Had fun with the decorative frieze at the junction of wall and ceiling.

The Governor's Room is a blend between Taylor & Soane.  I had to increase the pitch of the groin vault to match archive drawings, then it was mostly down to carefully adjusting the wall panels ... plus a bit of fun with a repeating dentil family topping off the corner recesses.  I think Soane inherited the groin vault and high level windows from Taylor, but the window into the Waiting Room Court is definitely his. I suspect most of the decorative detail is of his devising also, but it's hard to be sure.

LINKS to 360 panoramas of these two spaces:

Governor - panorama.enscape3d

Deputy - panorama.enscape3d

The Soane drawings I began with are of course copyright the Soane Museum and downloaded from their online archive which you can access here.


I'm going to try out a suggestion I received recently from Dmitry and summarise the main points arising in this post.  I have set myself a rambling, diary style format for my posts, bordering on "stream-of-consciousness"  I don't want to abandon this, but a summary at the end seems like a good idea.
  1. Always be ready to find something new in old/familiar material
  2. Soane's variations on a theme are a wonder to behold
  3. The BIM360 viewer is much better with the black edges showing
  4. Design Review & Navis could benefit from this IMO
  5. Can't "Publish" shared coordinates in C4R, only "Acquire".  Plan carefully
  6. Would be great to have a couple more collaborators on Project Soane