Sunday, November 12, 2017


Walworth is in London, south of the river.  I'm still getting to know St Peter (my favourite of Soane's three London churches) by means of a BIM model.  This is where I got to last weekend.  Three major areas of progress: Planning, Interior & Context

I received a link to a floor plan from Kamran Subhan, an old friend and long-time Revit user.  He had come across a nice little cache of information about the church on the Survey of London website.  Based on this plan, I re-adjusted the spacing of the windows, pulling the central row of 5 closer together and confirming various aspects of the general planning.  Ultimately I realised that this plan is not quite accurate either, based on photographic evidence and my own visit a couple of years ago.  As usual, with Soane's work, the drawings are very interesting, but none of them necessarily represents the definitive version of what was actually built.

I came to realise during this process that all three of his churches follow a common planning structure.  I'll describe St Peter, but the other two are variations on the same theme.  There are square volumes at each corner which carry the vertical circulation.  Connecting these in pairs is a lobby or loggia comprising a procession of arches.  I was aware of this structure in the one at the back, because it is open to the elements, but I hadn't realised that the entrance lobby was a variation on the same theme. 

This idea of progressing through a sequence of round arches is one of Soane's favoured devices.  You see it in the long passage at the Bank of England and in the main corridor of the Board of Trade.  At the heart of the plan is the nave of course, where the congregation sits, but between these and the linked stair towers are buffer zones. one for the organ, one for the altar.  The inner corners at the ends of the aisles puzzled me at first, until I realised that they contained box-pews where prominent families could sit together with a degree of privacy. 

I created a diagram in a drafting view to clarify my understanding of this basic planning concept.

The planning phase progressed quite naturally into more detailed development of the interior.  I built out the organ gallery with a rough massing for the organ itself and enhanced the arch families that separate the side aisles from the nave.  These are reminiscent of the arches he used in his last two transfer halls at the Bank, with splayed edges running smoothly down into octagonal columns, which are really quite slender.  I did quite a lot of family editor work in the end: a line-based array for the wooden balustrading, and a fascinating support beam for the tiered galleries above the aisles (shallow arched soffit with a bracket where it meets the wall.)

There has to be a bell-ringing chamber above the arched lobby at the main entrance and I decided this was accessed via the tiered seating at the sides of the organ, then going behind the organ to access a door via a few more steps.  I don't know if the bells still work, but I did find out that the church was damaged in the second world war and restored afterwards.  It seems to me that both the organ and the altar piece are original Soane designs.

As you can see, I am making regular use of Enscape images now. The interior comes across nicely with a hint of black line edges and some fog to bring out the sunlight through the arched windows.  Shame these don't have coloured glass in them yet.  Soane loved the effect of light through coloured glass.  You can see the box pews though and the shallow coffers in the ceiling with typical Soane rosettes.

Soane was not a big fan of organised religion and his church designs represent the culmination of the "rational classical" phase of Anglican Church Architecture.  Soon after his death, the fashion would swing back towards a more "high-church" Gothic Revival approach.  I don't think he would have approved, but he did quite enjoy bringing something of the Gothic strutural expression into his taught and spare classical designs.  You can see it here in the "crossing" with its pierced roundels.

So, almost three weekends into this "BIM pencil" research project, I have quite a good feel for the overall planning and the detailing is also shaping up quite well.  He's working to a tight budget, and he himself is a Deist at best (This project predates Darwin's voyage on HMS Beagle by a decade) so the stripped-down version of his classical style is on display here.

The third phase of activity last weekend involved adding trees and site context to give some background to the external views.  Spent my last half hour moving around in Enscape and grabbing a whole bunch of views to record the current state of the model.  Here's a high-level view from the rear.

All three of his churches feature axial approaches, although this has been obscured for the other two by later road and rail developments.  At Walworth the original approach is intact and made quite an impression on me two years ago on my first tour of Soane projects.  The image below is a little misleading because the entrance gates and railings are missing.

Those railings enclose a calm green space in a quiet residential square, just a stone's throw from a busy cosmopolitan high street.  It's rich in history too.  At one time there were live monkeys in the garden to the north where the graveyard was.  Today the gravestones are stacked up against the wall and there's been some creative landscaping plus a ramp down to a community centre in the vaults of the converted crypt.  Sadly this was closed when I visited, but I plan to go and have a coffee in the cafe down there next time I'm in London.

Hands-on modelling using Revit has pulled me in to the life and history of this Church which remains a dynamic part of the community of Walworth to this day, almost 200 years after Soane designed it.  I'd love to meet some of the people who continue to bring it to life in the 21st century.  This weekend I discovered that there is a bell-ringing society who include it in their rounds (a lighter set of bells was installed after the post-war restoration)

I have always thought that Soane's work is a bit of an acquired taste.  I took to the exterior of this church almost immediately, but when I found photos of the interior I was a bit disappointed.  It seemed rather dull, to be honest.  But during the course of modelling it though, my opinion has changed.  It's a very carefully constructed space, eminently practical and fairly plain, but with just enough of his signature classical detailing to soften the effect.

Thanks to Enscape3d I have an embarrassment of rich imagery to share.  Lots to talk about too, but running out of time to write it down so here's a little collection to wet your appetite.

The way he handles the various arches, which are structural of course, hints at the expressiveness of gothic, while remaining within the classical idiom.  I'm on my third weekends now, and so far this has been a perfect demonstration of the value of Revit as a research tool.  I've been in problem-solving mode throughout, and built up an understanding of the design and construction of this church that would have been impossible by any other method.

This weekend, I intended to progress the modelling further (the crypt, louvres and clock on the tower, curved internal corners of the stairs, better representation of the stairs and railings ... lots still to do.  But instead I found that the modelling had posed questions that I needed to answer by collecting more data.  Analysis of that data will have to wait another week, but I can hint that it involved comparisons of all three church designs.  Here is a quick massing model that I built along the way.

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