Tuesday, December 18, 2018


We're going to walk around the edges of the Bank towards the North & the West: a series of narrow triangular spaces just behind the screen wall that need to be tidied up, elevated, re-assessed.

We looked at the Reduced Annuities (upper and lower) in the last post but one.  I'm not happy with the narrow passage between the battlements and the Reduced Annuities Upper.  Was it really like that?  Could it be made wider by supporting the upper wall on the joist ends below?  Flitch beams perhaps to support the load of masonry offset from the wall below?  If the walkway was blocked here, how did the guards get around to the battlements along Threadneedle Street?  Hmmm.  Note the parapet and stair behind the barracks that I am trying to keep apart.  Lots of questions, but we are definitely moving forward.  Oh yes, those windows in the tower above the Rustic Lobby, groups of three in each side, but I guess the ones facing back into the upper storey were blind recesses.  Something else to get around to.

Moving North again to the Doric Vestibule, what I like to think of as the VIP entrance.  Off to the sides there were two semi-circular stairs.  What were these for?  The levels are difficult to reconcile again.  There are small adjacent rooms to access, and the upper floor of the Printing Court, but what about the screen wall battlements?  I'm starting to think that the two stairs have different functions: one is connecting to the Printing Court, the other takes you up to a flat roof and from there to the wall.  More work is needed to figure that one out, or at least to arrive at a plausible solution.

Once again I am trying to resolve alignments, anomalies, overlaps etc as it becomes clearer how the spaces fit together.  We may never really know exactly what was built, but my goal is to make it believable, and to be consistent with work Soane did elsewhere.  Sometimes it's just a matter of splitting walls in different places or making slight setbacks to resolve 3-way junctions in a cleaner manner.  Ultimately I want to be able to tell an interesting story about the history of the Bank and its architects.  That's not going to be possible as long as the model remains awkward and incomplete as soon as you stray away from the major spaces that are well documented.

The walkway around the top of the screen wall has been modelled with parapet walls on both sides.  That is correct in some cases, and I based it on drawings from the archive.  But other drawings show it as open to the inside.  In fact it seems to be a stone slab cantilevered out over those narrow internal yards.  I know they didn't have health & safety regulations in those days, but this seems unduly reckless.  My guest is that there was a basic iron railing, which is not showing up on those sketches.  That's the interpretation I'm going for anyway, adding railings and supporting the cantilever with a bit of corbelling below.

When we get to Tivoli Corner I have decided to create a flat terrace behind the "attic sentry box"  I think that's the only solution that makes any sense.  The area is too small and oddly shaped to accommodate a small piece of pitched roof.  There are a number of small rooms in the space below that need to be looked at, but for the moment I am cleaning up the exterior.  Let's move on.

So next we come up to the Soldier's Gate and the yard behind which gave access to Soane's New Barracks Block.  Based on my current levels we need a few steps down from the street into the yard, so that's what I'm showing.  No corroborating evidence for these but the alternative would be to drop Lothbury down much lower.  Maybe I will take a look at that possibility later on, but for the moment we are having steps down into the yard.

The elevation of the new Barracks was a mess.  All I have to go on here is the floor plan but I think the solution shown below is a big improvement.  So once again I am taking an educated guess and moving on.  Maybe some additional evidence will catch my eye. now I know what I'm looking for.

So on we go, heading East down Lothbury we come to another triangle.  This is where Princes Street used to terminate before the NW (green) Extension was built.  That's the reason for the curved corner.  That was the outer edge of the screen wall when Soane first enclosed the properties that were acquired for his NE (orange) Extension.  I think that portion probably remained blank after it was incorporated into the site.  But the Printing works was new, and needed to get light and air from both sides.  It's quite scary when you look inside parts of the model that have lain neglected for a year or more.

The central decorative feature of the Lothbury screen wall clearly backs into an attic bedroom in the residence court. but has been modelled as if it was open to the world on all four sides.  Then there are walls that stop half way up an upper room.  I also spent some time adding placeholder fireplaces to these spaces and converting rectangular openings into "real" doors.

At the far end of Lothbury we come to the Consols Library, a structure that was rebuilt as a copy of Taylor's original: four storeys of brick vaulted storage around a central light shaft.  This is a linked file, built originally as a study one weekend.  One corner was sticking out int the apse at the end of Lothbury Court and another overlapped with Russell's C.T.O (Consols Transfer Office) which is also a link.

I've learnt a lot since Russell built this.  Photos and survey drawings show that some of the drawings he used were early design schemes, so there are some small adjustments to be made.  I made a start on this, modifying the niches for example. For the moment I'm just doing what is needed to clean things up at the junctions with the main model. Will come back later to give this space a more thorough review.

The toothed stonework shown on some of the window surrounds was taken from site progress sketches.  Photos show that the final treatment was much simpler.  Once again there are triangular light courts to elevate and stairs to resolve.  Lots of residual spaces to review.  You see a semi-circular lobby in plan and place the wall, then a couple of years later think about the ceiling above.  Perhaps it should be hemispherical.  What about a lantern?  Not sure about that though.  Half a lantern?  Would he do that?

Russell had a lunette at the West End of the CTO.  I think that's based on a Soane archive sketch, but photos show a wide window with a segmental head and 5 divisions.  Now that we can see everything in context it becomes clear that a staircase clips the lunette.  I guess there's a reason for everything.

That staircase is giving access to Sampson's rear courtyard block which had three floor above ground (plus cellars) This is at the corner where the original Bullion Passage came in from the East.  It's fascinating to know my way around this jigsaw puzzle of a building so well, considering it was demolished almost a century ago, and that the passage I just mentioned was moved more than a century before that.  I really do feel that this is an immensely powerful way of studying the past, ( i.e. getting inside the spirit of a period by way of a BIM authoring package)  and something that more people should be doing.

The last post featured hand sketches attempting to analyse Soane's design development process in framing the façade around the Bullion Passage.  Future posts will deal with the passage itself and with further development of Residence Court.  After that, who knows?

Thursday, December 13, 2018


Soane explored a wide range of different treatments for Lothbury Court before arriving at the Triumphal Arch motif that was eventually built.

I have a whole folder full of drawings downloaded from the online archive of the Sir John Soane Museum in London.  I've looked through these many times, but there are so many, and which ones are different views of the same scheme?  What order were they created in?  Maybe some of them were developed in parallel by different pupils.  I ought to read the notes and check for dates on the drawings, but that's so academic.

A faster way to get to grips with these questions might be to make some quick sketches: engage actively with hands, eyes & brain.  So I scanned through the images for noticeably different versions and ultimately came up with four different sketches.

I'm using the Android version of Sketchbook Pro on my phone.  I have it on iPad also, but somehow the urge to sketch often comes to me when lying in bed, or maybe that's when I have the time, when I let go of all the other imperatives. There's a jpeg on the first layer, then a layer of flat colour set with a slight transparency to give for that "yellow tracing" effect. Then a layer for the linework, and another one or two for colour fills.  Finally I will use a soft brush to rough in some shadows, give it some depth.

The first scheme is a 3 storey facade, divided into three bays by columns.  It could be an urban house with a coach entrance.  I'm taking this as the first in the series because that just makes sense to me.  It allows me to tell a story.  Soane is trying to create a ceremonial space for the entry of gold. He wants to represent the people of England rallying to the cause in times of war.  Gold for paper.  So an town-house is not really going to cut it.

Sketch two.  Brings the end columns in and pairs them up, pushing the windows of the side bays outwards to make room for the resulting features which are crowned with his favourite double-scroll motif.  Stand back and look at this scheme.  It's definitely much better, but does it really hang together?  Isn't it just five different bits side by side, with a centre bay that's a little weak?

So we come to the third of my sketches.  You can see that I'm faster and looser in the way that I sketch as I try to hunt down this puzzle. This time he has taken the "columns in antis" motif from the screen wall that he very recently erected along Lothbury, and reproduced it on this parallel internal wall.  Now we have a triumphal arch, (which is great) but is it a good idea to echo the treatment of the external fortifications in this internal "celebratory" space?  And isn't the whole thing rather squeezed into the courtyard with no room to breathe?  (more importantly perhaps no room for the grand flight of stairs he would need to introduce on either side of the processional route)

The fourth sketch brings us most of the way towards the final solution.  He has introduced the four statues, but they are high up above the attic.  Eventually he would drop them down to the cornice level and raise the parapet slightly on the centre bay.  If you look back at the first image, I think you will agree with me that the final solution achieves a unity that eludes the earlier attempts, while focusing attention on the centre bay.

It will be interesting to read the notes and date the drawings now that I've come to grips with the issues.  Maybe I am altogether wrong, but at least I've started to highlight some of the potential issues, to create some scaffolding for a deeper understanding.  But I'll come back to that.  Time to start developing the tunnel itself.

There is a section through the tunnel.  At first sight this is very exciting, but when you start to model, it doesn't quite work. It must have been drawn before he decided to form an apse at the transition to Bullion Court.  This shortens the central portion.  The plan which I have placed next to this section is the same mix of "AHA!" and "WTF?" Service stairs in the leftover trapezoidal spaces on either side: that makes sense.  But why is he showing those long flights of steps around the edge of the courtyard.  They were certainly never built.  Because ... photographs.

This work has been like that all along.  One minute you are full of excitement as another piece falls into place, then you realise that something else just doesn't work, and no single set of drawings or photographs gives a definitive view of the building as it was in 1830.  The photographs of the  tunnel are very dark and grainy, but I have a feeling that it was kept rather plain and simple.  All the same I am trying out a modified version of that coloured section.  Sometimes I prefer the spirit of Soane's intent to the dry letter of inconclusive "evidence".

I think it's worth putting all this elevational development into a planning context.  The North East extension (orange) filled out the site to its irregular rear boundaries, as they were at the time.  Lothbury to the North East, and the dogleg of Princes Street to the North West.  Sampson's double courtyard is in red.  Taylor's extension on either side in pink, with his library tucked around the back.  Soane wanted to create another double courtyard, this time separated by just a thin screen.  But to make room for this he needed to move the library into the top corner of the site.

My final diagram shows how carefully calculated his geometric tricks needed to be.  Obviously I haven't quite got the setting out right because the axis doesn't sit properly down the centre of Lothbury Court.  I think he was remarkably lucky in being able to double up the Lothbury screen wall and maintain symmetry.  But there was skill in pulling it off also.  Lots of awkward junctions to be finessed.


Friday, December 7, 2018


Time for another progress report on Project Soane.

I've been trying to flesh out the neglected regions, the blank, undeveloped rooms and spaces that still exist in the model.  Two months ago I decided to tackle the Reduced Annuities Office. This is part of an L shaped wing, built by Taylor towards the end of his life.

There were two rooms: a square one in the corner, lit from above by a large circular lantern, and a rectangular one forming the western boundary of Garden Court and lit by three large Palladian windows, overlooking the court.

Soane built an upper room above this second space, as shown in a previous post. https://grevity.blogspot.com/2018/10/going-up.html    At the same time he connected the two lower rooms, replacing the dividing wall with a triple archway which maintains its structural function, supporting the wall above.  There are perspective sketches of this feature, made by Soane's pupils during construction.  I found it difficult to reconcile all the heights, but made significant progress.  It's starting to look like a real space.

A number of anomalies remain to be resolved.  The long side walls of the upper room are set back from the parapets of the walls below.  Just how was this achieved, structurally? I would like to think that the walkway around the battlements overlooking Princes Street was maintained along this section.  But how would you achieve sufficient width?  The thickness of the screen wall itself doesn't seem to be enough.

These are questions for the future.   Meanwhile I started to look at the first floor rooms above the Old Barracks Block. This was one of the first structures built by Soane and was unusual in having an upper storey.  I think this was originally the location of the printing works where bank notes were produced. Much later, when Waiting Room Court was built it became part of "T" shaped suite of rooms.  Soane didn't leave us any floor plans for these upper levels, so how were they accessed?  There is a staircase close to the corner of Garden Court, which presumably also gave access to the room above the Reduced Annuities office.  But there are lots of problems as I discovered when I tried to model it.

I have to believe that the stair was set back from the parapet around Garden Court so as not to disturb its continuity.  I came up with a somewhat implausible arrangement where the stairs wind around and finally reach the upper room via a couple of short flights and a section of open flat roof.  I couldn't see a better way to connect the various levels and half-levels together.  The grand spaces around Garden Court have rather high ceilings compared to the much humbler rooms of the Old Barracks block, which was tucked away in a rear yard.  Once again I have opted for putting a solution in place and continuing to reflect, gather information, keep an open mind.

The Old Barracks was the next item on Taylor's list when he died.  It's not clear whether Soane designed it from scratch or modified a plan left by Taylor, but there are a couple of elevations in the Soane archive.  I used these to inform my work.  There is a symbolic "cannon ball" feature still to add and the cornice is not quite right.  It's interesting that he took such care over an elevation that faces into what is essentially a narrow light well, possibly containing privies for lower level staff.

The levels shown in this yard are speculative, and moving north we come to the complexities of the corridors and stairs on either side of the Doric Vestibule.  It's typical Soane, with lots of stepped levels allowing for side light to enter the building in unexpected ways.  As usual the various drawings in the archive don't quite match up.

I made a lot of progress.  All these areas were developed in an ad-hoc manner.  Walls have been split and adjusted in height repeatedly.  I'm using face-brick for these "back-of-house" zones, partly based on drawings, partly because that's what he usually did.  Some of the walls need to be split to allow for narrower parapets above roof level.  It's nice to be getting to that level of detail, and to see these marginal zones starting to hang together as believable parts of a Soane building.

Coming to the Doric Vestibule, I started to adjust the walls and vaults below the half-level of the entrance lobby.  Grids were not showing up in some of the working sections, a sure sign that the section plane is slightly skew.  This whole area is set at 5 degrees to Project North and it's very easy for inaccuracies to creep in.  I set up a view and used colour over-rides to turn sections green once I had verified that they were aligned correctly.  It's such a complex structure, you really need dozens of sections to pick up all the subtleties.  Quite a lot of time went into regularising angles and dimensions.  Tedious, but it will pay off down the road.

A good long session developing the cellars was long overdue.  I have a couple of parametric families for the vaults and arches which were enhanced to include a "flatness" parameter that maintains a proportional "rise" value as you vary the span.  It's becoming clear that there is a progression from some of Taylor's work which was built without cellars, through the majority of the site which has grid of walls supporting brick groin vaults, and ending at the lower end along Lothbury where the basement is effectively at ground level.  It seems that there are no vaults here, but rather timber floors like those on the upper levels.

Let's conclude with a couple of Enscape images of that RAL space.  Enscape is great for giving a sense of the quality of light in this space.  When you look back from the side-light space, the portion below Taylor's lantern really glows with an ethereal light.  But when looking back the other way, the effect is somewhat different.  Is there something about the way that Soane's treatment of daylighting animates the process of moving through a sequence of spaces?

The final collage deals with the three windows.  Actually the bank had Soane erect a partition, dividing two of these windows off into a separate room, but I couldn't bring myself to do this.  What was it like to be a clerk in one of these offices, I wonder?  To be a cog in the wheels of finance at the moment when the Industrial Revolution is unfolding.  When the longstanding tussle between England & France is about to tip in England's direction, partly because of the financial stability underpinned by the very institution you are working in.  Difficult to grasp that the work of filling out ledgers by hand, was the equivalent of today's cutting edge cloud database.  The accuracy of the Bank of England's record keeping was legendary.  Would you feel a sense of wonder at the pace of change, knowing that the trees outside had only recently belonged to a churchyard established in medieval times?