Friday, November 30, 2018


I've been sketching on my phone at odd moments, often while trying to drift off to sleep in my bed.  I think I am gradually adapting to a digital toolkit.  Ultimately it has to become a kind of "muscle memory" thing, so to some extent you just have to put the time in and see what happens.  Focus your conscious attention on higher level questions, and let your subconscious self develop its skills in the background.  At times I just scribble out the first thing that comes into my head.

Recently I have been doing a series of pilaster capitals.  It's a way of gaining a deeper understanding of the enormously rich variety that is possible within the rigid discipline of "the 5 orders"  I've been modelling these things in Revit, but sketching them by hand gives a completely different set of insights.  I've done four in the past few days: mostly composite. but one of them is probably more Ionic.  Sketchbook Pro has layers, so I usually save out a line drawing, then do some fill and brushwork, save again and process the result in an app to soften it a bit, or adjust the colour balance.

The resulting folder full of images gets synced to my One Drive cloud so I can also apply a bit of trickery in photoshop (or similar) In this case I wanted to harmonise the images so that they are more similar in treatment.  We want to compare four column  capitals, not four drawing styles.  Basically I have taken two versions, put them on separate layers, duplicated one of them, used blending modes, transparency and masks.  The result is a more consistent colour balance. Some subtle variation between greens and browns, deeper shadows (especially towards the centre) and some white (or at least very pale yellow)

Let's start with a fairly straightforward "Composite".  Why is this not Corinthian?  Well the scrolls are a bit bigger, more compact, and connected by a row of "egg and dart" running ornament.  That's typical Ionic, subtly different from the volutes you would see in Corinthian.  But Ionic would not have the broad band of acanthus leaves.  In this case you have a row of "baby leaves" with three full size ones above and behind. Often the lower row would also be full size leaves, two leaves aligned with the gaps.

Next we have a rather elaborate and esoteric interpretation of the composite, with both a winged cherub and a festoon inserted in place of the upper row of leaves.  The festoon is a kind of garland, as if the decorations hung on a building during festivals had fossilised and become a permanent part of the building.  Soane used festoons quite a lot, often with ribbons flying out, curling and folding to fill our the spaces on a rectangular background.  How are you going to model them in Revit?  It's an interesting challenge.  I've made some progress but not really get their yet.

Third up, I'm going to call this Ionic, because it lacks the rows of acanthus leaves.  The rosette, or fleuron has been dropped down from its usual position on the top moulding (Abacus) to the egg and dart row which is almost obscured.  These are all capitals to shallow pilasters, shallow projections dividing up the wall surface rather than having a structural purpose.  In this case the shaft itself is treated as a panel with a rectangular recess, as if it were a board, held in place by a moulded bead.

And finally there is this strange beast, which I think is from the V&A, a splendid museum that I visited when last I was in London.  I guess it's composite, but both the leaves and the volutes are rather unusual and abstracted.  Once again the shaft is treated as a panel.  These S shaped scrolls interest me.  I've seen quite a few different versions, in one case interpreted as Dolphins.  Somehow classical architecture seems to be very comfortable with sliding between realism and abstraction in a quite unselfconscious manner.  Leaves, animals, faces: rectangles, circles, spirals; it's an endless game of exploring the border between order and chaos.

The leaves in the last example suddenly reminded me of fingers, and the volutes seem to be eyebrows, so I was motivated to make another rather playful sketch.  Can we invent new capitals in this day and age?  Of course we CAN ... but the meaning may be different in a world where the classical language is no longer the default mode of building.  It becomes a rather self-conscious, tongue in cheek gesture.

But let's keep our feet on the ground.  I am learning to become more fluent with my digital pencil: getting the hand-eye-brain loop moving again at a subconscious level.  And I am continuing to probe the classical orders and associated motifs, reprocessing images that I have collected over the past decade or so in various cities: exploring the variety, the rules, the pitfalls even.  Some of this will surely feed back into Revit and my "Heritage BIM" studies.

Sunday, November 25, 2018


A couple of posts back I put caryatids as placeholders for the four statues that stood guard over Soane's triumphal arch on the south side of Lothbury Court.  Soon afterwards I got a message from Russell Fuller Hill who did such a fantastic job of modelling the Consols Transfer Office, way back in the early days of Project Soane.  He was the original source of these caryatids, and offered to come up with a few more examples.

Sure enough, a week or so later he sent me a link to half a dozen "Greek statues" gleaned from the web.  They aren't close matches to the figures that Soane used, but at least we can have some variety.  In any case, a placeholder is not meant to be a faithful representation.  We just want to say, "here are four different statues in a classical style".  So I have taken Russell's statues and a couple that I found myself, and turned them into a little collection... to be enlarged upon as time allows.

Russell's approach to mesh geometry is to give the "spiders web" a pale colour so that it fades into the background.  It's a simple solution, but I'm not happy with the orthographic, hidden line views that result.  I want to see a black outline and a little bit of detail, so that the statues a represented in the same general way as all the other geometry.  This is achieved by processing the image with 3dsMAX.  Now I'm a complete novice in Max, but I stumble my way through a hack that I picked up on the web by groping around the interface.

It involves exporting to DXF, which requires a maximum of roughly 30k faces in the model ... so you have to "optimise" (sometimes called decimate)

My first attempts to do this were abject failures.  It was simply deleting faces, leaving gaps everywhere.  Did I forget something?  Is there something different about these meshes?  Who knows?  But I fixed it by fiddling with the options.

I'm using the "ProOptimiser" function (Modifiers/Mesh Editing/ProOptimiser) and the key variable seems to be the "Merge Vertices" tick-box.  Check that and play around with the percentage figure until the faces/after number gets down to 30k.  Then export to 2004DXF.  For some reason that will remember the edge hiding that you do in the next step.

Delete everything, then re-import the DXF.  Forgive me if I am being stupid here, but this is the process that works for me.  I had problems hiding edges with a modifier in the stack.  Kept reverting to the larger number of faces.  So exporting and reimporting was a simple/crude way of getting around that.  It works.  You go to edge selection mode (a little wireframe triangle)  Select everything. Scroll down and click on "invisible".  The edges change from solid to dashed, or if you change from "Clay" mode (my favourite) to wireframe, everything disappears.  You have hidden the edges

Export to 2004DXF again and you have a CAD mesh that imports into a Revit family, looking the way I like it to look.  For some models that's all you need to do.  For the statue of Hera (I'm pretty sure that's who she is, goddess of motherhood) The simplified mesh is OK-ish but a bit crude when you zoom in.  So I included two versions in the family, with an instance visibility switch.  So when you are generating renders in Enscape3d, you get the nice smooth look.

In my collection, I've made these as Site category (maybe I want to host some statues on Topography) but inside there are double-nested planting families, so the whole thing scales to whatever you type into the Height parameter.  But I'll leave all that to another post.

Saturday, November 17, 2018


Project Soane started in mid 2015. It would be interesting to do a graphic of the burst of activity and pauses. My guess is that there have been 4 or 5 extended sessions (maybe 6 months each) , separated by gaps of 2 or 3 months when I switched to something else.

At the end of the Triumphal Arch post, I updated the model to BIM360  This process exports mesh geometry with attached data, plus 2D sheets and views , making the project available to non-Revit users through a web browser.

It’s called "publishing" the model, borrowing language from the UK standards with their four stage sequence (WIP to Shared to Published to Archived.)  WIP and Shared are essentially the same thing if your model is in the cloud.  But if consultants are modelling in their own silos you will need to "Share" on a regular basis.  "Publishing" is a bit more formal.  Usually it means a formal issue of deliverables to the client.  Archiving is automated in BIM 360 in the form of versioning. You can retrieve any previously published version from a drop-down list.

Haven't done much work on the sheets for ages and ages, but of course the model itself has moved on, so it was interesting to see what they are looking like now.

Will I ever achieve the mythical goal of a set of crisp record drawings and visuals for Soane's bank, as if he had designed it on Revit just a few weeks ago?  We live in hope.  However that may be, I am certainly learning an unbelievable amount about a great variety of topics along the way.  About BIM, about drawing, about history, about John Soane, about the Bank of England ... not least the history of its evolution.

The model is quite heavy now, and typically I work with most of the links unloaded. But sometimes it's nice to load everything up and save out some images.

I took screen shots of the model from various angles, firstly in Revit, then from the A360 viewer itself.  Revit gives you more visual options: cast shadows and ambient occlusion for example.  But the web viewer is accessible to more people on more devices.

The size and complexity of the model presents quite a challenge to the A360 viewer but it holds up remarkably well. Like most viewers it seems to convert Revit solids to a surface mesh. I'm intrigued by the “finger joints” that are sometimes visible, splicing surfaces together like carpentry.

I have been reading a book called the master and his emissary which suggests that the two halves of our brain deal with different kinds of attention. One is focused on the task at hand while the other stands back and reflects. The idea is that this split dates back to animals and birds which needed to perform precise behaviours while keeping an eye out for predators.

I think this duality is always present when I work on the Bank, dealing with modelling challenges while reflecting on the historical context, or Soane’s design rationale. But a more formal distancing is also helpful: publishing the model, writing up a blog post. My fallow periods perform a similar reflective function but spread out in time.

Coexisting dual perspectives are characteristic of Soane's work.  He was a classicist with an strong attraction to "the picturesque".  How do you balance order and chaos?  Quite a topical question I think.

I have a strong memory from the initial modelling phase of puzzling over the screen wall. Long hours were spent comparing the various conflicting sources of information, trying to understand the development sequence and striving for a consistent level of simplification and abstraction in the modelling. Why did he design it like that? What were the early decisions that tied his hands later on? How did he gradually crank up the architectural grandeur without creating any obvious break in style?

I've said before that Soane's Bank is like a medieval walled city with it's irregular maze of circulation routes. Evolution over time has been one of the major themes. It strikes me now that the gates facing North South East and West are another city like feature.

It's been a lonely effort at times, puzzling over the history of this fascinating building, but I'm very conscious of the many contributors and collaborators who have participated along the way.

The initial modelling and rendering stages focused on the transfer halls of the SE quadrant, plus the screen wall in its final state. Heartfelt thanks to the many sponsors, judges and competitors who kick started this whole process.  From the beginning I was obsessed with understanding how the Bank evolved over time: how Soane's work related to that of his predecessors.  Meanwhile, Russell & Alberto in particular did a fantastic job of setting a standard to aim for, in two specific areas that had been identified by the founders of the competition.

For almost three years now, we have been fleshing out the labyrinth of spaces that comprise the rest of Soane's Bank. Here the levels are much more complex and the information more patchy. Given how hard it has been to figure out this 3d jigsaw puzzle, imagine the titanic effort involved in design development.

The first floor rooms were quite extensive, but the highest cut plane intersects just three isolated areas.

Firstly there is the upper room at the West End of Garden Court.  Then there is the top floor of Sampson's rear courtyard (curved North wall be Soane) and finally the attic floor of Residence Court (servants' quarters?)  I'm pretty chuffed with the section through the Accountant's Office, extending through to the Residence Court.  Feels like we are really getting there.

If I can get the site upgraded to 2019 we will be able to access recently added new BIM360 features. These are not really designed for the kind of work we are doing on Project Soane, but I am curious to see how they can enhance our efforts.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018


Despite my best intentions, writing up my Project Soane exertions is still lagging behind the work itself, and this past week I've done a few digital sketches in the evenings on my phone, while lying in bed.  I don't wish to claim there is anything special about these.  It's just me, trying to re-ignite the intuitive, "sketching" side of my makeup, and reflecting on the outcome.

The first two were done fairly quickly in a flat, graphic mode with no post-processing.  The subjects are my son & youngest grandson, and my daughter (looking cool in silver wig and shades).  We live on separate continents  (typical "WhatsApp" families) &  I've been sharing these sketches as part of our regular chit-chat.

The drawing style is fairly crude, but choice of colour  balance and deciding how far to simplify, make these personal images.  There is an element of creativity, and at times (Joe's necklace for example) I am rediscovering the vitality that my linework had in my younger days.

The second pair benefit from "time spent practising" (John again, and his older brother Jack dressing up in WW1 uniform at the local museum).  I am relaxing a bit and becoming more ambitious.  Perhaps because of this, I felt motivated to add some digital trickery that results in altogether more impressive images.  Is this a good thing?  Does slicker imagery beat honest error?  I don't have any simple answers to these kinds of questions.

The processing is not just "pushing a button" There are subtle choices going on, mostly at a subconscious, "intuitive" level, to arrive at a colour balance and unity of texture that feels "right".  Once again, these are "my images" despite the assistance of two or three different "apps"  So I'm not really concerned about the "honesty" argument.  As long as I'm letting my emotions blend with my conscious thought processes while practising hand-eye coordination ... it has to be beneficial.

Now I just have to integrate this into Project Soane :)