Thursday, October 1, 2020


 Couple of weeks really.  Summarising progress and picking out some highlights for comment. 

I’m calling this a weekly bulletin as opposed to the “live stream” which is the more spontaneous posts that go out direct to LinkedIn and give a flavour of the work I am doing on that particular day.  First thing to mention is the site context, a linked file that has massing models for the locations around of all six of Hawksmoor’s London churches.  I did a bit of an update to this to clean things up and sort out some odd levels, plus extend a green surface down to the river.  I actually added a few building blocks in that area, dotted around so it doesn’t look so empty. 

I’m showing the canal (the Limehouse cut) but not the Limehouse Basin, because all those man-made docks were built much later. The wharfs and warehouses were directly on the river during the 18th century.  There is a small creek at Limehouse which would have been a handy docking location in Hawksmoor’s day.  That’s down past Narrow Street and a famous pub called “the grapes”.

Seems ages ago that I roughed out some timberwork in the roof.  I really don’t know what the roof structure was like when first built.  I think it’s been redone at least twice.  In particular, I am keen to understand what the four big columns are doing.  Are they providing a useful structural function?  If so, this implies that there are four main spans, all roughly equal and forming a rectangle around the circular centre piece of the plaster ceiling. 

The ceiling continues to impress me, the more I work on it.  I created a line-based family for the modillions: closely spaced, scroll-shaped brackets that emulate the ends of rafters.  I think that’s the origin of this as a decorative device: rafter ends carved shapes with scrolls and foliage.  I’m using a highly simplified abstraction of the archetypal form, but the overall effect is already quite rich.  I think there is a serious challenge here if we take the detail level any higher.  How to represent the richly decorated forms cleanly and convincingly at different scales (coarse, medium, fine)

Ryan has done a great job with the organ.  That’s his third (he did two for Notre Dame). I have roughed out the timber work of the galleries.  It’s not right, but it gives a good impression.  The pews are highly simplified and also not the right size and spacing.  We have new data so it’s on my list to give them a second pass.

Nick Fuller is a new volunteer on “the way we build”.  He’s started to tackle the windows, adding glazing bars and the triangular lay-lights that were added in modern times.  There was probably a more conventional opening section in this location before.  I guess the current design is a fire precaution, providing ventilation with a very simple self-closing mechanism in the case of fire to dampen down the air supply and give people time to escape.

While Nick is down to tackle most of the windows, I had to spend a little time improving the ones on the ground floor of the entrance elevation.  My first roughing out didn’t even have glass, and although there was a hint of a stone surround, with a semicircle over a smaller rectangle, I didn’t include a pediment.  So as reported to LinkedIn at the time I pushed this particular family up to the next level.  The timber sliding sashes I made for Project Soane came in handy for a bit of cannibalization.  These windows help to light double-storey stair-wells.  I made a first attempt at forming the south stair in wood.  The door to the spiral stair for the bell tower leads off the upper flight half-way up.  Started to think about how that works.

Every now and then I stop for half an hour or so and look around the model in the Enscape3d live window.  This is a great way of seeing your work with a fresh eye.  Also a good chance to take some screen shots.  You can slide the time of day around using the “U” & “I” keys.  I always keep a lookout for lighting effects that enhance the composition.  In this case a bit of a lens-flare/sun burst.  There are plaster ceilings below the timber of the galleries and the cross beams between columns and walls are boxed out in plaster also.  So we’ve got that happening in the model now.

It’s been an absolute pleasure having Rufus Frampton as a contact on the ground in Limehouse he has a long history with the church and to some extent with two more of Hawksmoor’s six.  He has provided very useful pictures of the stair halls.  Even better are the snapshots of plans drawn in the 1990s which give new insights into the spatial complexity of the spaces below the bell tower. 

I was able to bring jpegs into Revit views and scale them to match the model which is set to a blue-green wireframe representation.  These views were then arranged on a single sheet so it’s easy to jump between them and figure out what’s going on.  Some quite tricky half-levels and interconnections, solid sections of walling (the cores are modeled in place) and vaulted and domed spaces that interlock in section.  I had a great time figuring this out.


Rufus sent us some little video clips as a way to convey the narrow, curved spaces behind the organ that lead up short flights of stairs to an upper cross-passage that overlooks the circular entrance space (double height)  We don’t have those short stair flights yet, but the basic level changes are in the model now.  The overall size of this model is still a bit of a guesstimate, taken from Google Earth as shown in the previous post.  At some point, Rufus will give us some check dimensions.  To be honest I’m not in a big hurry to get these.  It will probably lead to a weekend of adjusting everything by a few percentage points. 

The North Stair was rebuilt after a fire around 1850 so it’s stone with cast iron balusters.  Instead of the door on to the spiral stair, there is an open archway and a stair up to the back of the organ.  Otherwise the layout is pretty much the same.

I hadn’t noticed before that the slot windows that show up on the outside of the bell tower reappear inside the stair lobby/ south porch.  Makes perfect sense of course, a bit of borrowed light definitely helps when climbing narrow stone stairs that seem to wind up endlessly.

I’m quite please with the way the two stair porches are shaping up in the model.  Much easier to understand their similarities and differences with a Revit model to hand.


We have no attempt to model the spiral stair treads yet.  I do have a family that we used on Notre Dame, just to give the impression without necessarily working out the exact runs and landing positions.  I would be intrigued to know if everything is built in stone, or if there is some brick fill in certain areas, maybe even rubble cores in the thicker portions.  The loft over the South Porch is entered via the spiral stair.  It seems that you go up a couple of treads on the stone stair, through a door onto a wooden landing, and down again to the loft floor level.  I have a vague memory of this, and it’s shown on one of the hand drawn plans.

The spiral seems to just keep going and the landings at doorways are placed outside the circle. Makes sense.


By coincidence one of my connections on LinkedIn shared some restoration work they have been doing which features classical columns.  There is a nice site photo of the brick core, as well as a shot of the in-situ silicone mould which they took in order to cast replacement capitals in the shop.  I guess these were done in two halves for fitting on site. 

This got me thinking again about the internal columns at St Anne’s which belong to the Composite Order and have plain shafts.  There are two basic types: round with entasis, and square pilasters which go straight up and down.



The shafts for the square pilasters are basic flat plastering jobs, but I’m intrigued to know how the round ones were done.  You can set up the profile in the workshop and “spin” a column casing in two halves.  But is there a way to spin a smooth shaft with entasis in-situ?  Seems like it would be quite cumbersome to set up, but what do I know?  I guess you would be able to tell by tapping the columns and listening for that “hollow” sound.  Can’t imagine that it would be possible to achieve a solid bedding throughout on such large castings.




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