Tuesday, October 27, 2015


OK, so the plan this weekend was to do a serious upgrade on the Lothbury facade.  It's
taken me a while to really get to grips with all the source material and understand
how the building works, but by now it feels like an old friend so it's a good time to
start filling in the detail.

I started on Thursday night by turning the various sections of the facade into links. 
There are pros and cons to this of course by I decided to bite the bullet. One of the
benefits is that different people can check out different portions for a couple of
days and work them up.  On the down side it means that internal walls will not join to
the perimeter.  It's not a problem when junctions are square, but in our case there
are lots of odd angles at work.  I came up with a solution that I had never thought of
before.  Probably it's old hat, but I was quite chuffed with it at the time.

Basically I created a new wall type, very thin, maybe half an inch, formed a join at
the right angle, then pulled my thin wall right back to the internal angle.  You get a
sharp point one side and a little splay in the internal corner.  I guess in some
circumstances you could use a different material and make it look like an isolation

So when I started on Project Soane, I had no idea about the "secret passage" around
the top of the screen wall and the troop of 30 soldiers who would turn up every night
to patrol the battlements.  Now it is all falling into place, and what seemed to be
rather eccentric parapet embellishments turn out to be sentry boxes, placed at
convenient intervals to give the guys a bit of shelter on a rainy night.  Not that
I've read about this anywhere, but it's perfectly obvious once you model things in
detail and pore over the drawings in the online archive.

My first challenge was the tradesmen's entrance, which is where the guardsmen would
enter the premises each evening.  This was built as part of the NW extension somewhere
around 1805 and opened into a courtyard where Soane built a new barracks to replace
the one he had built more than a decade earlier when the Bank's backyard was much
further south.  This is an almost identical copy of the bullion gateway he had
designed for the NE extension.  Flanking the gate are two Antae (columned recesses)
Above each of these is a sentry box with an elaborately scrolled roof, and between
these a high wall at the back.  This is necessary in the bullion gate to hide the
upper storey of the Porter's lodge, but in the tradesmen's entrance it's just there
for the sake of symmetry.

So I've set all this up, and you can see the route where the soldiers patrol, but it's
all a bit crudely modelled.  No point in getting into detail until you understand
what's going on.  For example, it's only this weekend that I understood that the
scrolls were extended back over the full width of the walkway to form roofs over
sentry boxes, and that there were archways passing through, all the way along.  You
can actually see these arched openings in a couple of Soane's sections, but I didn't
grasp the significance at first.

The corners of the sentry boxes have pilasters and there is a detail showing the
moulding profile.  So I scaled up this image and traced over the profile.  Notice the
undercut below the overhang to get the rainwater to drip clear of the wall face.  You
can see Soane's trademark abstraction of classical form in the parallel ribs and

The scrolls themselves were donated by Sheikh Uduman some time ago and have done
excellent service, but I've made some adjustments to the curves based on a more
careful reading of the source images.  And of course they project back much further
and I've added some ribs in the depth of the section.  I only have the grainiest of
photos to go on for this so it's pretty schematic.

Either side of each sentry box is an antefix.  These are normally placed on the eaves
as if to stop tiles from sliding off.  Previously I had just placed another of Soane's
"telephone box" items that march around the parapet at intervals, usually aligned
above a column or a blind window.  The antefix is a bit similar but more pointy, and
directional.  Also the plinth it stands on is more elaborate.

One family that was really fun to make is a recess with a moulding around the edge,
sort of like a picture frame.  This is used many times: sometimes projected sometimes
flush, once as part of a pilaster.  It's a simple, parametric, face-based family, that
works a treat; very satisfying economy of effort.

So we move on to the gateway itself.  I did the fanlight first.  Wrought iron, quite
delicate looking but simple enough.  To me it reflects Soane's debt to the Adam
brothers whose work he admired.  Here of course, Revit's dynamic radial arrays come
into play.  They really helped me to fine tune the setting out without having to keep
drawing thing again from scratch.

The doors are typical Soane.  Multiple panels, almost flush with lots of domed studs. 
I came across lots of variations on this design during my short tour of his London
works.  The current gate is very different (also in a different position by the way)
Baker lacked Soane's restraint, very fluent designer and prolific, but a classicist in
a different age, when modernism was already in full flower on the continent.  I

This whole feature projects forward slightly.  I managed to capture this fairly well
in Revit.  You can also see the archway into the Sentry Box here.  Gives a sense of
scale.  Baker recreated these Antae fairly accurately and subsequent restoration of
the stone has been pretty faithful over the years. 

See how the pilasters wrap around the corners.  I've captured this now, but not the
detail on the capitals.  I think the recesses are shallower on Baker's wall.  Probably
the whole wall is thinner.  No longer needs to support a walkway around the perimeter.
 So there isn't space for the base moulding at the back, which you can just see
peeping through in one of the old photos.

The other major feature I worked on is at the centre of Lothbury.  This is placed at
what used to be the Junction of Princes Street and Lothbury.  It's the hinge point
where Soane had to duplicate his facade, doubling the length to take hime to Tivoli
Corner.  There are many surviving studies where Soane struggled over how to do this. 
Some of them show a slight change of angle.  In the end the solution is quite simple
and he managed to persuade his client to keep the whole frontage straight.  A few
square metres lost, but ultimately a much more satisfactory layout.

There is a drawing in the archive of a moulding that is described as "The working
drawing is for the base of a column, probably that of the blind portico on Princes
Street." going on to suggest that the note on the drawing itself must be wrong.  It
wasn't till this weekend that the penny dropped.  This is the moulding for the base of
the centre feature on Lothbury, drawn at the time when the street junction was here,
not where it moved to AFTER the wall was built.  So I'm rather confident that the title on
the drawing is quite correct. "Base & Surbase to the Pedestals at the end of Princes
Street & Lothbury."  It matches up perfectly, which becomes obvious once you model it
in Revit.

It's not always possible to draw something in one context in Revit and copy paste it
straight into another.  To trace over this image in the project where I was modelling
and get it into a a profile family I had to use a masking region as an intermediary. 
Not sure why we have to use these obscure work-arounds.  Can be off-putting for the

One side effect of turning the screen wall into a series of links was that whenever I
did an "open and unload" it revealed unexected views of the interior.  Here is a
glimpse of his last two Transfer Halls from an unusual angle.  I love this project. 
It's a never ending series of revelations and challenges.  I'm rather fond of the "Dolls House" effect of this particular image.  Open the façade and look inside, see what all the imaginary people are doing.

So this hinge point has the one Sentry Box on top, starting out as a simple box with 4
walls and the archways passing through.  Then you add pilasters at the corners.  These
are the ones with my recess family embedded.  Also more recesses placed on the walls. 
Add in a furter variation on the acroterion theme, and a few moulding profiles ...

To polish off the weekend, I had a quick go at the Bartholomew Way facade.  Once more
the battlements and sentry boxes suddenly fell into place.  Mystery became common
sense and I had time to add my recess family in groups of 3. 

By now, Paul Aubin had uploaded his new-improved Corinthian column.  Quite a
heavyweight piece of stuff, created in the wonderful world of reference points.  It's
based on the Generic Model Adaptive template, but changed to Column category, so
(mirabilis dictu) it just swaps out with my very simple placeholder using the type
selector.  Flip of a switch.  Magic.  So in a few minutes I was able to update all the
links with detailed columns.

One of the drawbacks of point world geometry is that it is "adaptive" (also a great
strength of course)  so it doesn't have a fixed location.  In short, the new column is
not level-aware.  It won't report what level it's on.  Strange really, because the
moment you swap it back to my placeholder it remembers again.  Another quirk is that
it gets very confused when mirrored and tends to stand on its head.  So take your time
and copy things sideways instead of mirroring them. 

That's about it.  Couple more people working on bits and pieces for the exterior
facade.  Thankyou guys, and you will be featured in an upcoming post.  Crowd sauce is
beginning to spice things up a bit, I'm thrilled to announce.  You can view the
current state of things by logging in to Project Soane.  And of course there's lots of
room for more volunteers to contribute.  If you're not sure where to start, just let
me know and I'll point you in the right direction.

We will prevail.


Thursday, October 22, 2015


Soane's father was a bricklayer and died while John was still quite young.  Like many self-made men he had high hope for his own sons, too high perhaps.  He seems not to have know how to accept them on their own merits.  The older son, John, was plagued by ill health and died young.  George was a rebel, gambled, ran around with the ladies and spent some time in debtors prison.  Has father refused to bail him out and the two never reconciled.  It's a sad and very human tale, brought to mind by my work on the cellars at the bank.

There are several drawings that show these and they were quite extensive, storing items as diverse as gold and coal as well as forming a firm foundation for the structures above.  I was inspired by Alberto's splendid model of the Stock Office substructure to make my own attempt.

What I had not realised at first was that there are very substantial walls running north-south.  Behind these run a series of square compartments, seven on each side.  In the middle are 4 much larger rectangles.  All these spaces are covered with groin vaults.

It was easy enough to make the arched openings. Note that these have arches both top and bottom so as to be  fully braced and stable.  The bottom arches are eventually covered over with backfill and the paving of the cellar.  There is a very nice drawing made by one of Soane's pupils showing these lower bracing arches during the construction process.  Perhaps we should go back to the practice of having young architects sketch site activity by hand.  It's a wonderful way to learn and understand.

I decided to make a parametric groin vault.  My maths proved too rusty to derive the formula for the radius and I had to look it up.  There are two radii of course, both derived from the same rise.  It's a fairly successful family, but not quite perfectly stable.  There are variable extensions on all sides and it breaks when these get too small.  If someone wants to pick it up and improve on my efforts I would be very happy.

It would be nice if the extensions could go right down to zero.  Sometimes you need arched extensions at the sides, sometimes the groin buts right up to the wall.  Actually when I think of it, there are normally extensions on two sides, but not in the other direction.  Probably we don't need the bottom extension either. 

The compartments at the side effectively form long corridors accessed from the central space by doors in the corners.  Sometimes there are archways leading into adjacent spaces.

For me this was time very usefully spent.  I now have a much more detailed understanding of the foundation systems being used in Soane's day.  I haven't yet attempted to model the voids in the floor that formed part of a Roman-style heating system.  Don't fully understand this to be honest. 

Also, I am showing the whole floor as stone flags, whereas it appears that the sides where the clerks worked behind the desks had timber decking, installed over the brick vaults.  I assume this was seen as a friendlier surface for the staff who were in there day in and day out, whereas the stone flooring in the centre would cope better with public traffic: people coming in and out all day with wet and dirty feet perhaps.

One find day I will extend this treatment to the other banking halls and beyond, but it's not the most urgent task on my list.  One thing is puzzling me though.  At present the stock office floor is 3 steps higher than the vestibule.  This shows up very clearly in my photographs.  But was it like that in Soane's day ?  I am starting to think maybe not.  Perhaps there was some technical reason why they needed to do this when they reconstructed the Stock Office. 

As far as I can tell, Soane's drawings show all the banking halls interconnecting on the same level.  I'm going to throw in one last screenshot of those dungeons.  I have to say that they are much more exciting than the foundations we build today.  Something very satisfying about the close packing of the bays, almost like plant cells or even soap bubbles.

Drawing to a close now, I managed to push the Dividend office a little further.  No glass in the windows yet, and there are supposed to be paired caryatids up in the lantern, but you get quite a feel for the space, and the free-flowing curves that he managed to achieve in the last two banking halls.

And here's a cutaway of the Colonial Office, showing how it relates to Taylor's entrance vestibule and to the screen wall.  It has the same flowing arches, but the semi-circular windows are treated differently and we have Ionic columns instead of caryatids up on high.

This was all done a couple of weeks back.  I uploaded the file recently.  The plan is to focus on the perimeter next, try to bring it up to much higher level of detail.  But you never know what will happen once my BIM pencil starts wandering.

Monday, October 19, 2015


It's in the nature of an exploration to ask probing questions, propose hypotheses and reflect on the outcomes.  Upon reflection, I have decided to harmonise my numbering system with that used on the Project Soane website. 

It was interesting to explore my own approach to classifying the phases of the Bank's development. but ultimately I aim to be part of a crowd-sourced effort.  Get with the program.  Democracy rules.  All that stuff.   So I have updated my Revit file and the diagrams now look something like this.
I am not going to modify my previous post (too much effort)  Let it remain as a record of my thinking processes.
Further to the above, I think my broad brush overview hat has served its purpose for the moment and I will probably get down to some hardcore modelling next weekend, hammer the screen wall into shape.  Still looking for people to help out with families though, so for those who have already volunteered and those who are still "thinking about it" ... now is the time to stop dithering (goes for me too) 
I think we know enough to now model the external façade in more detail.  Let's get to it.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


I spent most of the weekend creating a series of diagrams that explore & explain the extraordinary 45 year journey that John Soane undertook in his quest to transform the Bank of England from an ad-hoc collection of disparate parts into a coherent whole.

This was my 3 day journey, taking an assorted collection of source material and organising in to make it more useful and accessible to myself and to others via Project Soane.  In the process I once again deepened my understanding of Soane's achievements at the Bank.

He inherited the work of 2 previous architects.  George Sampson had built the central block some 50 years earlier and Soane respected its simple Palladian style.  It had inhabited a deep, narrow site in the middle of a city block. 

A 3 storey gatehouse led into a courtyard revealing a single large rectangular Pay Hall at the far side: a triple volume space with 3 stories of subsidiary offices behind. Behind this were outhouses and cellars where gold was kept.  Deliveries to this messy backyard area came down a narrow winding lane from the East.

Then came Robert Taylor, a stone-mason & sculptor turned architect whose death created the opening for Soane.  It seems that Soane was not impressed with Taylor's contributions.  First of all the bank bought out the rest of Threadneedle Street to the East and thereby secured exclusive rights to the deliveries lane.  Taylor built a high screen wall to close of the two exposed sides of this roughly square block of land, a somewhat stiff and pompous affair with lots of columns & pediments but no windows. 

Behind the screen he jammed in a solid mass of banking halls, 4 of them arranged around a central rotunda whose interior space was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome.  These rectangular halls were top lit with elaborate timber roofs and multiple domed rooflights.  It's difficult to see how the waterproofing could have worked, and apparently it didn't.  Soane took over a collection of rotting timber roofs supported on a forest of columns.

The bank expanded rapidly and soon took over the rest of the street to the West.  Taylor enclosed this with a matching screen wall, but behind this the treatment was rather different.  Here he built banking halls on two sides, creating a pleasant open courtyard.  Closing this off on the Northern side was the Court Room Suite, essentially the corporate board rooms where the Directors would meet to discuss serious business.

Behind all this was a triangular yard, another back-of-house space for left-over bits and pieces, including the privies.  Right at the back of the original plot Taylor jammed in a couple of extra structures including a 3 storey library, presumably lined with shelves full of ledgers, records of a century of doing business, and a chief cashier's office. 

The bank was in the business of borrowing money from anyone with cash to spare and passing it on to the government who spent it on warfare.  Their core expertise was to manage funds responsibly, pay dividends on time and earn the trust of lenders and borrowers alike.  England was clawing its way to the top of the pile and the bank's contribution was essential.  Clearly they were very good at what they did.

Soane's first 2 or 3 years were spend tinkering and learning, building mutual respect, formulating strategies.  The directors had a new man, perhaps more like themselves than Taylor had been: self-made, hard-working, meticulous; but also bold and imaginative, not afraid to chart a new course.
Apart from minor repairs and alterations he built some new structures in the triangular yard behind the Court Suite and a screen wall along its outside edge in a far simpler style than Taylor had used.

These were modest efforts which were to be swept away over the next 20 years or so as the Bank continued to expand, but for me they seem to be crucial testing grounds for his ideas.  Here we see the first tentative statement of 2 major themes that informed his later work.  Firstly the screen wall, classically inspired, but simple and understated: horizontal in emphasis, with liberal use of parallel incised lines.  Secondly a rectangular hall, top lit with a central circular lantern carried on pendentives; plains surfaces, sparsely decorated.

I am calling everything before Soane "phase 1" and these first tentative steps "phase 2".  Phase 3 is where John Soane hit his stride.  Between 1792 and 1795 he rebuilt 2 of Taylor's banking halls and refurbished the Rotunda, as well as surveying the remaining properties at the rear of the Bank.

The Bank Stock Office is seen by many as his crowning glory, or at least the quintessential Soane interior.  Would he agree ?  It was heavily criticised at the time and later on his work became more conventionally classical and more richly ornamented.  Was this a loss of nerve?  Perhaps, but I think it had more to do with the budget available and the type of space being designed.
Just as the Bank was able to tailor its instruments to all comers, from wealthy investors to the man in the street, Soane could design anything from a stable block to a palace and adapt his style to suit.  Nevertheless the Stock Office is a remarkable achievement, more so being the first in a series and fortuitously the one that could be recreated in situ.  Luckily its name is also straightforward, as is that of the Rotunda.  The third space in phase 3 is harder to label.  The words "old" and "new", combined with 3 & 4 percent, are applied to the remaining 3 banking halls in different ways at different times, along with optional terms like "dividend" or "reduced annuity", leaving me completely baffled.

Frank Yerbury, who took photos in the 1920s just before the bank was demolished used more distinctive labels.  I have adopted these so as not to go mad.  Therefore the third space is the "Shutting Room" and it seems a little nondescript: basically a copy of the Stock Office but with some of the more distinctive features removed. 

Gone are the lunette windows in the 4 corners and the insistent ruled parallel lines.  Loss of nerve?  Tight budget?  Deliberate downplaying of a secondary space?  I know not but they are interesting questions.

Phases 4, 5 & 6 represent the bulk of Soane's journey at the Bank: 40 out of 45 years.  By the time he had finished there was little left of Taylor's work and Soane had left his imprint on almost every part of the Bank, both inside and out.  I had not initially realised how much of the 1833 Bank belonged to Soane, nor how fascinating the story behind his Odyssey would become.

Are we only interested in the well-known spaces: the photogenic banking halls?  Are we here to showcase our skills as architectural modellers?  Do we aim to dazzle with detail?  Not me.  I am an architect first, and a modeller/draftsman second.  I am doing this to better understand the design principles informing Soane's work, to unlock a narrative deep within.  It's a whole, made of many parts, with intricate cross-connections in time and space.

One weekend has helped me to put this into perspective and to organise the available reference material as you might order a century of banking records on numbered shelves in a Consolidated Library.

There is a PDF for those without Revit 2016.  Some of the images will not be very clear but it gives a good overview.

Why did I use Revit to create a container for jpegs?  And why are my diagrams all 2D drafting?  Well it's an experiment, a work in progress, a brdige towards future modelling, a shortcut ...   Assembling images on a drafting view in Revit facilitates simple dimensioning studies.  There are always discrepancies and some of the dimensions are difficult to read, but that's part of the fun.  It makes me think, ponder, puzzle, interpret, learn.

Ultimately, placing all these images in a Revit container is much more powerful for me than just keeping them in folders.  I can zoom, pan, annotate, overlay, rearrange ... and at any point in time I can launch myself into 3d at a moment's notice.

So I hope this will make the resources more accessible to us all and I hope some of you will be inspired to create more stuff and upload it.  Most of the images come from the Soane Museum online archive, which is a wonderful resource.  I hope I haven't broken too many rules by incorporating them into my own compilation.  The copyright is theirs of course.  Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou Soane Museum for being there and for continuing the work that he started.

There is so much to model on this project.  I do hope the work can continue for much, much longer and that we can persuade some schools of Architecture to get involved.  I really feel that we have barely scratched the surface so far, but for me at least the experience has been mind blowing.
Without BIM I never, never, ever would have come so far in just a few weekends.  So thankyou also to Autodesk, to HP, Nvidia, Case, cgarchitect, RAMSA & of course the museum. 

Whatever happens going forwards, you have enriched my life.