Wednesday, November 20, 2019

AU 2019. 01

I flew in to Tampa, via London & Miami. 24 hours from take off to landing. Still managed a quality weekend with my daughter Wendy. We met up with Alfredo at a great little Colombian restaurant and later on Wendy and Michael tried out the VR experience of Notre Dame via the Enscape3d executable, and the Oculus Rift S. The cathedral is a 19th century neogothic design in the city where the restaurant owners come from. Manizales, look it up on wikipedia like I did.

Five hour direct flight on a budget ticket. Despite some turbulence i was able to do some sketching on my Samsung Note 8 with Sketchbook Pro. It’s basically a trace over, but I’m letting decisions float up from my subconscious about how loose or precise to be in different areas. Ultimately its an opportunity to engage with the form in a different way and see what thoughts drift across my brain in the process. 

Vegas is not my favourite city in the world but it’s an interesting place to see at least once. Like Dubai it has a penchant for taking wonderful historic places and blowing them out of all proportion in the copying process. But it’s a fantasy world so no need to get all pedantic. 

There is a message from Francois saying he has done some work on the “triangular” windows that bring some light into the triforium galleries that overlook the nave. I got an error message and the glass disappeared, so I loaded it again, this time overwriting the parameters with the ones in the family. That fixed it so I was able to refresh the Enscape3d executable in time for my afternoon presentation. It’s so cool that we can access the model over a conference WiFi, make a few changes and synchronise

The night shot from Enscape was an accident really, not sure why it is illuminated like that, but it really looks cool.  Big old buildings are always really atmospheric at night time, spooky perhaps.

Meanwhile Alfredo was adding a small rose window modelled by his friend Marc. That’s up in the transept gable and must bring light into the roof void. Things are moving forward nicely. 

And so to the keynote. Thousands of people sitting in a rock concert atmosphere with big screens and coloured light beams. Several impressive case studies. Airbus factory layouts optimised using algorithms to cycle through thousands of options. High Rise hotel using factory built modular rooms. Probably the stand out for me was Build Change using Revit and Dynamo to speed up the design of retrofitted strengthening of homes in earthquake prone areas. 

Possibly the most amusing was Autodesk and VW teaming up to reinvent the wheel. It’s for the new “electric combi” not sure about the clean ability of those orange spiders webs, but they are supposed to be  strength to weight optimised. Time will tell. 

Before I knew it 4.30 came around and I had to stop obsessing about the first few sentences and just blunder into my presentation. The audience was fantastic. Very few empty seats, and lots of enthusiasm afterwards. But I was tired.

I woke in the early hours of this morning and started organising images for this blog post. I had fallen asleep quite early and missed out on the evening party BIM track had invited me to. Not as young as I used to be. Lying in a hotel bed using PIXLR on my phone to create some atmospheric images of those triangular windows. 

Monday, November 18, 2019


Lever House first crossed my radar screen as a teenager studying history of architecture as part of A level art. Like many famous buildings we tend to know one photograph very well without much understanding of the underlying logic of the design. This post was a serious attempt to pursue my vision of “the way we build”… using BIM to undertake “deep dive”explorations of selected buildings, vernacular traditions and technologies. How do they function? How can we understand them as processes or sequences in time? What about the social context? Or geography and climate? I discovered a connection between Larkin Building and Lever House : both built for soap companies.


Down to earth with a bump. The next post is a parking family I developed for my day job with an instance check box to display a car in plan and 3d.


The next one is an early foray into Point World, although I hadn’t yet coined that term. This parametric version of a candela style shell vault is fun, but I didn’t have a way to control the origin so it always sits on the ground.


The second Hypar post includes a render, back in the day when Mental Ray was still an exciting feature. I remember being disappointed at how similar these all looked in a perspective view, despite varying the parameters quite dramatically.  Perhaps the message here is that parametric controls are wonderful as long as you know when to use them. Sometimes they can be an expensive item with no real purpose.  Judgement and common sense trump pyrotechnics any day of the week.


My youngest son was a student in London and whenever I visited him I took long walks to reacquaint myself with this marvellous city that hosted my transition to manhood. I had walked around the outside of the Gherkin and taken photos. I was attracted to the idea that it would showcase my Doric Pumpkin methods while supplying an interesting contrast to Lever House. How long did this first exploration take?  The final image was a source of great pride. For the most part, a simple Revit render, but with just enough photoshop trickery to confound the sceptics.




In the next post I discovered the impressive steel framing. Tubular legs braced into an A frame with variable width and inclination to the vertical. Figuring out how the floor plate rotates on each successive floor to create spiral voids was another exciting experience. What a terrific demonstration of the power of BIM as a research tool for the student of architecture or building technology.



Back to Lever House and more conventional curtain walling. This glass box hides considerable design complexity within its transparent skin. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of massing diagrams with apparently finished renders of an “as-built” model.




Back to the day job and images from four different projects that we were working on at that time. The master planning study never went anywhere, but the other three proceeded to site. Three different design architects, briefs and site contexts. Sometimes I wish I could have devoted more time to this blog, but I wouldn’t want to have missed the challenges I have encountered in my day job plus the social interaction with people from all over the world.




Ronchamp. Was this my first attempt to model a church? Did it really spin off from attempts to model a more conventional church using Conceptual Massing? I had forgotten that. Once again I am stunned by how far I got in a short space of time. All the same the photoshop work betrays my impatience to deliver some usable images from an incomplete model. Quite a lot of cheating going on here. But is it really cheating when you are learning so much in the process?




I can hardly believe how productive this period was. Bolstered by the achievements with Corbs little church, I decided to tackle the ultimate challenge, my hero for so many years, and a project I visited in my late 20s when I was still a bricklayer. The wiggly seats had been a topic for analysis when I returned to university as a 40 year old. I wished to portray Gaudi as the ultimate functionalist, and a strong case can be made. The way the seats host conversational groups, support the back, shed the rain, afford views of the distant sea… More smoke and mirrors here, but also some mind blowing learning and skill development.




The second Parc Guell post exploits the extraction of topo from Google earth and fairly successful attempts to map an image to the surface. Once again I was learning on multiple fronts at a hectic pace. The forest of doric columns supports a rainwater storage tank by the way. It’s staggering that Gaudi has been treated as a willful stylist who refused to bend to practical needs. I think that’s fallen away to some extent now, but he is still mostly portrayed as a sculptor of fantasies.




And to conclude… my fascination with language. I had been reading a book by Guy Deutsch which conveys the infinite malleability of Language and its penchant for repetition. Enter the BIM pedants, with almost no grasp of linguistics but an utterly reprehensible wish to defend their position as “experts”. You can’t say “BIM model”, its bad English. Do me a favour. Language is never bad if it helps people to communicate effectively. Idioms constantly evolve and words frequently reverse their meaning, depending on context. Grow up. And more importantly desist from practices that deliver put-downs to people on the edges of BIM.

We need to be welcoming and responsive. If BIM can’t bring everyone in the industry inside its circle, it will surely fail.




Sunday, November 10, 2019


 Picking up from the previous Notre Dame post.

During the week I had assisted one of our architects with a tricky stair detail. The only way I could get the curved glass balustrade to reflect the design intent moderately well was to create multiple in-place swept blends. A bit of a hack, like the photoshop-compiled image shown here, but I quite enjoyed doing it. 

It brought back memories of the spiral stair family that I developed in 2012, and I decided to try using this for the spiral stone stairs that occur in several places at Notre Dame. I guess these are the equivalent of the modern service lift. 

The upgrade from 2012 to 2020 went smoothly enough, but it is a bit sluggish to respond to changes in parameters. Not all that surprising given that the treads are generic models nested into curtain panels on a divided spiral surface. 

At the sides of the Bell Towers, I think I have the levels of the landings more or less right now. Had to drop the upper vault down so that you can squeeze a door in under the little sloping roofs.

But the 4 stairs at the outer corners of the Transepts are much more challenging in figure out. There are doors leading off in different directions at various intermediate levels, and they don’t all connect to the triforium gallery. I had to make do with a placeholder spiral from top to bottom and a few indicative doors. 

A screenshot from the Revizto model we exported for BiLT EU. 

I’ve been watching videos on YouTube about different French cathedrals. At some point it brought back the idea of doing comparative studies of different apse geometries. Clearly many different solutions have been tried.  Here are 4 variations on apse geometry. Different numbers of half-round chapels clustered around the curve, two cases where the central one is different.

I created two more visuals from my wooden block model. One breaks down the inner core, so it comes before the other six I created, building up the aisles, buttresses and chapels around this core.

The lower portion is an RCP view, showing the distribution of 4, 6 & 8 part vaults. (Red C means Chapel.)  Around the edges, photos of various vault types.   The more I study ribbed vault technology, the more impressed I am.  800 years ago takes us about halfway back to the fall of Rome.  Was that collapse the “reset button” that paved the way for modernity?  Medieval Europe, emerging nation states, the “freedoms” of city life, the stirrings of technological innovation?

Ribbed vaults are vey different from the plain vaults that preceded them. They allow complex and highly varied geometries to be built, but at any stage in the process you only need to support one row of voussoirs with a wooden form shaped to a simple radius.  You can start with a four part groin vault, then subdivide one side into two vaults, or choose any of the outer arches and raise it higher or drop it lower.  It’s a very impressive technology: structurally, aesthetically, methodologically.

It’s interesting to compare the current model with the one I produced in that first weekend 7 months ago. Certainly, we have come a long way in that time. And what a journey, each team member finding a different area that catches their interest and pursuing it with passion. 

The other cathedral in that image is, of course, Winchester. The one-day massing study that kicked this whole thing off. 

I have been telling myself since I got back from UK that it would be useful to do a comparison of the 4 cathedral towns that I visited: Winchester, Salisbury, York and Chichester. So far, I have managed one town map, drawn with the stylus of my Samsung Note 8, using Autodesk SketchBook Pro, and tweaked a bit using PIXLR. 


Classic Roman town layout, rotated slightly to be parallel to the river. North/South axis is displaced from the centre by the cathedral, which occupies most of one quadrant, as cathedrals often do.  The main street is East/West, perhaps reflecting the fact that London is to the East and Salisbury to the West (roughly speaking)

We have two grotesques in the model now, thanks to Ryan. The "Edge-Hiding" trick is doing good service (using MAX), and of course, the CAD mesh needs to be “bylayer” so as to pick up the material assignment under object styles (Imports in Families)  CAD layers become subcategories which can be renamed within family editor.  I'm using the subcategory "Statue" for this purpose, the same one used for the row of kings, lower down on the West Front.

I  adjusted heights based on the TruView coordinates tool. You have to adjust the zero which is derived from the scanner position at the first survey point, tripod height above the triforium gallery. Generally everything was stretched up a bit vertically. Maybe it would be better if we were just slavishly following a point cloud. Or maybe it’s good to be forced to look carefully and to practice judging proportions by eye. 

I generally take the role of impetuous pioneer, rushing ahead and clearing the undergrowth. After dropping the clerestory windows I had to adjust roof slopes in the dropped section along the nave.  Lots of little adjustments actually, and zipping around the model with my new VR setup.

The zig-zag vaults on the upper level were missing and I had been thinking about my pumpkin adventures. I decided to revive my box rig and have a go. This is Alfredos territory really, but he’s  not going to get around to it until after AU. Maybe it will be interesting to approach things from a slightly different angle. 

The box provides a framework for reference lines and points which define geometry. Vary the XYZ of the box and everything adjusts accordingly. So this is my version of a triangular vault, made from three surfaces. Each surface is lofted from 3 arcs. That’s my interpretation. 

There are offsets to vary the skew. Mid triangles in a group of 3 are symmetrical. The two sides are skewed. 

The sexapartite vaults were pretty crap at the sides.  These are skewed triangles, but just two surfaces. So I developed a box rig for these also and exported SAT surfaces to nest into the family, replacing the ones I had before.

The vault next to the organ has unequal side arches. It’s as if one is squashed to make way for the heavy ribbed columns that flank the organ loft.

Jumping around now trying to fix the more obvious shortcomings of the model.  The steps leading up from the triforium galleries to the bell ringing chambers start out as wood, but the last few risers are in stone, formed within the thickness of the wall. So I roughed these out.  Then I switched to the choir area and fleshed this out some.  I had forgotten who made the altar.  Turns out it was John Wehmer, back in August.  Thanks John, finally brought it into the main model.

Behind the high altar is a pieta.  I placed a plinth and a crucifix, we can add some statuary later.  There are statues of kings at the sides.  I used cut-down versions of one of the figures from the west front.  Somebody could adopt this area and develop it further.  I’ve just done the minimum to give some ambience.  Not happy with the floor materials though.  There are raised floors in the whole of the east end with extra height around the altars.  I hadn’t really taken note of this before.  I made a start on representing these changes in level.  I have to say the space still looks a bit empty.  The railings are far too plain at present, and the gates are not indicated, either in plan or 3d

The sheet set is a bit spruced up now.  I cleaned up my sheets and added a few annotations.  Alfredo added three splendid sheets to the set. 

I think that's it for today.  I wish I understood the middle ages better.  So many fascinating questions.