Saturday, April 17, 2021


I have been using BIM to explore history for several years now and have shared many of these explorations on this blog.  Enscape3d became a trusted partner in this venture about 4 years ago while I was immersed in Project Soane and it has been hugely beneficial ever since.

Up until recently my images were illuminated by daylight only.  The motivation for starting to insert Lighting Fixture families began in my day-job. We have been using an Enscape3D network license to generate executables that can deliver VR experiences to our clients. That has been a cost-effective way of sharing the benefits of real-time rendering across multiple teams. One of these clients was asking if this technique could be extended to help them to grasp the specialist lighting design in a more visceral setting.

I am not the design architect for this project, so I decided to conduct my first trials using Nicholas Hawksmoor’s church of St Anne’s Limehouse, a gem of the late English Baroque, built around 1713.


This image is generated from Enscape, then processed in Photoshop.  Why do I do this?  The word “history” comes from the same root as “story”.  Part of my work is story-telling, evoking an atmosphere of the past, helping us to imagine ourselves inside the vastly different worlds of the past.

BIM tools and processes enable data-driven analyses ... of construction techniques, thermal performance, spatial relationships and so on.  But they can also tap into the subconscious emotions of the brain stem.  This is where the real-time rendering of Enscape excels.  It draws you into the experience. 

At times the clinical realism of a computer rendering can be less effective, emotionally than an artist’s sketch.  This is where image processing comes in.  I always work quickly and intuitively, for two reasons.  Number one, I may have to do it all again as the Revit file evolves.  Number two I don’t want to overthink what I’m doing.  Learn to go with your instincts.  Tap into the power of the subconscious.


Typically, I will keep a central area faithful to the original Enscape render. This establishes a focal point, in this case slightly to the right of centre, the location of the pulpit.  Towards the edges I will overlay a series of effects, partially overlapping.  This will include greying out, blurring, artistic filters, whatever comes into my head on the spur of the moment.  Layer masks with different styles of gradient fill control how the various effect blend into each other by applying degrees of transparency.

Sometimes the effects will be kept very light and subtle, at other times I decided to apply even heavier atmospherics. “Data-centric BIM nerds” may find this difficult to integrate into their workflow but I think it’s deeply sad that we have distanced ourselves from the artistic approach to building design and construction.  The split between architect and technician has existed for decades, but it’s not helping us to achieve the BIM goal of a seamless process, a smooth transition from concept design to technical documents.

So I will continue to explore the artistic potential of BIM.


I don’t have much experience with Revit lighting fixtures.  Many years ago, I tried to set up artificial lighting scenes using Revit’s native rendering capabilities. It’s quite painful trying to balance the levels when it takes half an hour to generate a grainy, draft render.  With Enscape you can get feedback almost in real time.  It might take a few seconds to pause and resume, but it's a remarkably smooth process.  You can cycle through many more iterations in search of a compelling visual.

I started with the chandeliers that feature in old photos of St Anne’s.  Obviously there was no electric lighting in Hawksmoor’s day.  Maybe these fixtures are based on an original fitting with multiple candles.  Or maybe they only date back to the nineteenth century.  Whatever the case I’m just going to go with the fittings shown in the old photos. 

There is a large central globe, surrounded by six smaller lamps.  This is adapted from a family I downloaded years ago. I used the built-in light source for the central globe, and added a nested light fixture (arrayed 6 times) for the smaller lamps.  The supporting structure is mostly constructed from sweeps.  The modeling is fairly crude to be honest, but I usually go for "good enough for current needs"

When seen in Enscape the glow of light on wall and ceiling surfaces was fine, but the luminance of the globes themselves was not so good.  I fixed this by using a material with an emissivity setting.  This is derived from a white LED material in the default library.  For all the luminance values in these fittings I am ignoring manufacturers data and using trial and error to achieve a convincing image.


For my last image I’m going to omit the processing and use a raw Enscape render.  This employs two different styles of wall lamp which bear no relation to anything in the actual church.  Once more they are just instinctive decisions, made on the fly and adjusted to compensate for perceived shortcomings in the resulting images. 

I also added a light source to the pulpit that Ryan modeled some time last year, and a hint of light in the entrance lobby behind the half-glazed doors at the back.  I think this image evokes a Hawksmoor church as it might have appeared on a dusky Sunday evening in late Victorian England.  

The pews were looking very blank, so I raided Enscape’s on-line assets to soften the effect a little with a vestigial congregation.  Probably there would have been more parishioners in those days, but I ran out of patience.  I rather like the spider-web shadows on the ceiling, cast by the suspension wires of the chandeliers. Happy accidents appeal to the subconscious mind.




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