Wednesday, July 20, 2016


The Doric Vestibule is an interesting space with quite a complex set of requirements.  It sets out to provide a "VIP entrance", a back door well away from the hustle and bustle of the public banking halls that offers an alternative route to the court suite, and the governor's office.  The entrance is slightly off-centre along the newly straightened Princes Street, which causes 2 immediate problems.  There is a change of angle, and a change of level.  The angle change is slight (5 degrees) and fairly easily handled by sleight of hand.  The level change is considerable and dealt with by splitting into three parts, three short flights of steps.

The vestibule itself is a cube beneath a dome, sitting at an intermediate level.  On all 4 sides there are lobbies characterised by sturdy Doric columns.  To my knowledge, these are the only Doric columns used in the bank.  It's a special space. 

The shallow lobby that houses the outer door serves to disguise the change of angle and forms a landing between the first two flights of steps.  The side lobbies with their doubled up columns, give the impression of a major cross-axis, boosting the grandeur of the vestibule, but in practice only lead to service stairs and back-of-house areas.  The major focus is forward, via an impressive coffered barrel vault and the same motif of a half-moon arch above paired columns towards a long, long side-lit vista.  This is the corridor of power, leading ultimately to the Governor's office.

For the moment I am using the Doric Column family I made some years ago, whose shortcomings prompted my first Parametric Pumpkin Entry.  The entasis is fudged by using two blends: two straight lines instead of a curve.  That makes for a lightweight family, easy to build and easy to modify. I originally made it for a reconstruction of the Temple of Hera (or Poseidon) at Paestum. For the bank I had to adjust the proportions, reducing the capital in proportion to the shaft.  Once again I am struck by the variety that is possible within the classical idiom.

The dome was easy because I had just overhauled my pendentive family for the Chief Cashier.  I haven't shown a lantern at present because the drawings suggest otherwise, but since then I've stumbled on a photo that clearly shows that there was one.

As usual I just started building, stumbled across puzzles, studied many drawings and a single photo, and ad-libed my way to a solution.  The whole thing is quite a complex assemblage of small rectangular blocks of different heights, light wells and clerestory lighting: typical Soane.  Many of the drawings in the archive didn't make much sense to me until I was into the thick of the puzzle.  Then one by one the provided answers to the questions I had about the relative heights of the different spaces, where the walls needed to be punched by windows, which of these were semi-circular, and which tall, thin arches in twos and threes.  I really love these kinds of puzzles although they can be quite frustrating at times.

I've broken the back of the problem now, and will leave it to settle in my mind before coming back to refine and elaborate at some later date. 

Next item on my list was to look at the cellars.  I had begun these under the banking halls on the east side, working out the basic system of groin vaults between segmental arches.  I have a parametric family for the groin vaults, and there are some good plan drawings of the entire basement.  So it's just a matter of working your way methodically through, checking that you are lining up with the walls above and resolving discrepancies.

As you move towards the North and West, the basement becomes a ground story, pretty much level with the courtyards and eventually with the street itself as you approach Tivoli Corner.  You can only really work on this for a couple of hours at a stretch before it becomes tedious.  So I switched over to the entrance court for a while, which brought me to another interesting realisation.  If you look very carefully at the photos you can see that there are stairs in the corners leading down into lightwells the serve the basement cellars.

I also had a go at elevating the Bullion Court.  There isn't a lot to go on here: part of a photo and an old survey drawing which seem to contradict each other.  But I can't just leave the walls blank, so I put in some placeholder windows to move things along.  There are also steps around one side of the courtyard, leading down from the corridor next to the court suite.  But that's for another day.

I've mapped out the cellars fairly well now: where they exist and where they don't, placed groin vaults in several areas, and added most of the archways that connect it all together.  Some of the narrow and triangular courts to the north and east contained privies.  You can see them clearly on the basement plans.  I'm not sure whether they had cesspits or a night soil system (carry it away in buckets) but I am guessing that those courtyards were quite smelly places.  Hence their location well away from the public.  Perhaps the governor himself had a water closet.  That's another interesting research question perhaps. 

Actually there is an area that could be construed as VIP rest rooms.  I've marked it on this embryonic ceiling plan.

I have set up section box views that allow you to imagine walking around from room to room.  And I'm beginning to get my head around the whole building as a sequence of working spaces.  These rooms need to develop individual characters, and there are drawings for some of them.  It's a daunting task though.  Initially I have used rectangular openings in place of doors.  That's the way that Soane represented them for the most part, which is interesting in itself. 

When did architects decide to start showing door swings on their plans?  Presumably such issues had always been resolved on site directly with the carpenters themselves.  Maybe the change came when architects no longer dealt directly with tradesmen.  So I set myself to develop a set of doors based on the sparse evidence available, and have started to place these as best I can.  But that will have to be another post.

For the moment let's just review the new VIP entrance route that played a key role in Soane's planning of the North West extension.  It begins with the Doric Vestible discreetly positioned along the newly straightened Princes Street, proceeds down a long passage with the Waiting Room Court to the right, meets up with an existing corridor that runs along the West side of the Bullion Court, turns right for a while, then right again to give access to the lobbies and waiting rooms of the Court Room Suite: the domain of the Governor of the Bank of England

And finally, let me finish with a rendered view, looking through the Doric Vestibule, and towards the long passage which is brightly illuminated by the open side of the Waiting Room Court.

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I've been getting a lot of spam so had to tighten up comments permissions. Sorry for any inconvenience. I do like to hear from real people