Thursday, June 28, 2012


It's been a strange day.  For some reason we though we had enough time to have lunch in Brooklyn.  Then just before we left, we realised that actually we needed to just head straight for the airport.  On the way their were all kinds of road works and congestion, so we had to phone from the car and get me on a later flight.  This set me back one hour (and $50)

A couple of people had told me that Atlanta airport was a nightmare.  Turned out to be true in my case.  Actually it's probably fine second or third time around, but this was my first.  So it took longer than it should have to make it to door LS2 and I was just in time to watch the bus for RTC pulling out and to wave my hands and shout in vain.

Perhaps it was a blessing.  I was able to put my name at the top of the list for 7pm, and head back upstairs for a bit to eat.  So my first food of the day was received around 5.30pm.  It's a long time since that happened.  Things started to look up after that.   I admired a replica of a fossilised Chinese dinosaur for a while, then met some Revit fanatics waiting for the bus, pleasant drive through well wooded hills and am now sitting in my room, looking through tall trees at a lake 3 or 4 storeys below as the sun sets.

I have internet access, the AC works, and in any case the temperature outside on my little balcony is extremely pleasant.  It's almost 9pm and still light, which is quite exciting for someone like me who has spend the last 30 years living close to the tropics where the length of the day is relatively constant. 

Yesterday was another feast of simple pleasures, featuring a stroll around the town of Millburn which is very close to where my daughter Wendy lives.  I was disappointed by the  double L, but thrilled to find a manhole cover, a delicatessen, and all sorts of other stuff proudly displaying our family name.  You may not be aware of this, but there is also a village of Milburn in the extreme north of England.  It's a historic fortified settlement harking back to the time when my remote ancestors were a band of robbers who went raiding in the richer southern realms.  Nothing much changes really.

Back to Revit tomorrow.  What a feast of ideas and social mingling awaits.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Here I am in the Gardens State (New Jersey) catching a few precious days with my daughter before hopping on a plane to Atlanta and the glories of RTC 2012 USA

Whenever I visit the land of the free, I am struck by all the little things that are different.  Despite the globalisation of culture & technology so many little details remain to remind us where we are (say for instance we were inadvertently teleported half way across the globe.

You say tomayto I say tomarto.  Little quirks of language act as markers.  Power points become receptacles; sidewalks morph into pavements.  To turn my bedside lamp on I reach under the shade (not the curtain, the lampshade) and manipulate a switch.  In NJ this involves a rotation: once to turn on, again in the same direction to turn off. 

In GB it would be a push to the left, then a push to the right from the opposite side of the neck. There are so many of these small gems that creep up on you unawares.  Sometimes you are aware of a strangeness without being able to home in on the precise details.  I have grown so used to tiled floors in the middle east, that carpets in the home environment are slightly odd and in the bathroom somewhat disturbing.  You would think that faucets translate as taps, but there is something about american design of bathroom accessories that appears odd to the european eye.

I grew up in a world of red brick terraces (row houses).  The equivalent here in Jersey is a series of wooden boxes, decorated with front porches overlooking neat little lawns.

Earlier this year I visited West Africa for the first time.  The contrasts between Dubai and Lagos are many.  Nigeria has lots of oil, Dubai very little.  Nigeria has a lively democratic system, the UAE a council elected by a small minority, which offers advice to the rulers.  Oddly Dubai is much less corrupt, and treats it's population with more respect.

If I sound a little flippant, it's not because I have the answers pat.  Far from it.  The root causes of these differences fascinate me, and I love to speculate, but I have no illusions.  There is no simple formula to explain how Dubai became a space age city on the edge of the desert while Nigeria played out it's tragic comedy of errors.  There is something a little sterile about the streets of Dubai.  It's a bit like living in a theme park.  Lagos is teeming with life.  Note the tell-tale signs of commercial activity on the streets, the open doors.

Yesterday was my first day owning a device called the Inkling : basically a pen that captures what you draw in digital form directly from the pen itself, without having to scan in from the paper you are drawing on.  I used it for the sketch of the bed-side lamp switches.  The image at the top of the page was the digitised version.  The camera shot above is the paper version along with the pen and the receiver device that comes with it.  All you need to carry around is the pen and the receiver. 

It's far too early to say whether this will have the kind of impact on my life that digital photography has, but I hope so.  We need to get the acts of writing and drawing back into the centre of our lives.  Finger gestures are great, but during the transition from child to adult, I developed a skill in using pens and pencils that meant a great deal to me, and sadly much of that has fallen away.

As a species we have been drawing for at least 40 thousand years.  Whether this was for religious purposes, to teach people how to hunt, or as an act of personal expression is open to debate, but the physical acts of drawing and painting have a very long and complex history and often crossed the boundaries between art & science.  What I like about this tool is it's simplicity and adaptability.  Touch screens are OK but we need to find a balance between staring at sophisticated imagery devised by professionals, and making our own images in simple and direct ways.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Staying with the musical references.  Rolling Stones or Nat King Cole, take your pick.

One of the comments on my previous post was to suggest I should be using Civil 3D.  I don't have that option at present, but if I did, would that be the best way ?  I am dealing with a situation where we have buildings and alleyways cascading down a hillside like a mediterranean fishing village. 

The buildings are all in Revit.  As architects we need to have the whole thing in Revit to produce our drawings.  If the paths and roads are done in a different software won't it be a bit cumbersome sending things backwards and forwards via some intermediate file format ?  We may find out shortly, because I think the engineers will be using Civil 3D.  But we will be driving the design.  It's an upmarket resort, so we need to be in control of what it feels like to walk around the place.  I think we may be best off getting it 90% right in Revit before handing over to the engineers to do their engineering thing in proper civils software.

Seems to me an interesting metaphor for the whole architect-engineer relationship.  Can Revit work nicely with Civil 3D ? ... Can Architects work nicely with Engineers ?  Some Engineers seem to like working with Architects, getting into the design process, exploring solutions, trying to understand what the essential issues are.  Others just want to do it by the book ... as in "Finish your drawings, send them over, then we'll do our work"

In this case we had an engineer who saw the main entrance into a resort as "draw a straight line from A to B, calculate the gradient, cut holes in the mountain as necessary.  To us it was "How do you make this an arrival experience ?" plus "Can we tread lightly on the existing mountainside ?"

In Revit terms it was an interesting challenge.  We had a route in mind by now, but what would the slopes be and how gently could we tread in terms of cut and fill ?  This was easiest done with sloping pads.  The result was a bit diagrammatic but it was exactly what we needed to inform a design team discussion. 

Having achieved a tentative "maybe" from the engineers, the next step was to convey the arrival experience so as to really convince the client body that this is the way to go.  Which is where my previous methodology came into its own.  Fitting a smoothly curving road over the pads was easy with the in-place massing family I had already developed.  By changing the shape of the profile I could also simulate a fill slope where the road comes out of the ground by a metre or so.  I felt it was OK to leave the cut slopes vertical for present purposes.

I tried taking this whole thing into Showcase (via FBX) to make an interactive presentation.  It worked OK but I was struggling a bit with the interface.  The jury is still out on Showcase to be honest.  I see that other people have noticed that it eats RAM.  Really struggled when I first tried it out with a fairly large detailed model.  On the positive side, the graphics are certainly much better than Design Review.

But then I went back into Revit to make some adjustments and thought, "what about a walkthrough".
 Believe it or not, I haven't used the walkthrough tool in Revit for years.  Turns out that this was the ideal situation to reacquaint myself.  You just place a series of cameras in a plan view, go into 3d, switch to a side view with the view cube, pull the cameras up and down to follow the elevation of the road and you're done.  At the time I couldn't work out how to readjust the camera heights later on, but today I realised you just have to go to the options bar drop-down and choose path

The result was a fairly crude, low-res grainy video clip, ... all I needed at this stage to convey the arrival experience. 

So Civil 3D may be wonderful, but for the moment I am happy that my Revit hacks are doing the job for us and keeping the design process tight and integrated.  Comments welcome,

PS it's getting late and I've got the flu so I'm off home.  Maybe I'll get a chance to post the video clip tomorrow