Sunday, May 30, 2021



In 2017 I spent 3 days in Zurich on the way back from a conference in Denmark. This was my first time to visit Switzerland. On the third day I took the train to Lucerne which made for interesting comparisons.

I have been struggling this weekend to recover from overwork and decided to embark on a second ‘acrylic on canvas ‘ painting. I bought a second canvas at the local supermarket, and while this is convenient, there are issues. I would like to work at a larger size, and I would be willing to pay 2 or 3 times as much to get something made elsewhere.

I went through a fairly elaborate process to select a view from the 500 or so shots I took that day in 2017. From a shortlist of 15 I assembled a collage and processed that to mute the colours, suppress the detail and enhance the pattern of light and shade.

Two of my favourites were set aside as being similar to my first painting ie views through archways in a courtyard setting. The two where stairs were the primary subject seemed a little too abstract for my current needs. 3 or 4 were not quite interesting enough as tonal compositions.


I asked myself what my motivations are. Partly it’s therapeutic, tipping the balance away from the digital realm slightly. But it also needs to integrate with my digital work. It should fit into my Way We Build framework. So the architecture should have some intrinsic value. Also I wanted some point of focus and human presence.

My selection has the dynamism of looking downhill, with a cyclist at the bottom about to turn right. There is an interesting framing with trees on the right and fairly bland buildings on the left. The church of St Leodegar with its twin spires provides the architectural and historical interest.

There are other elements that enrich the scene. A pedestrian crossing, a street lamp bracketed from the buildings on the left, a sparse metal Railing that directs the eye towards an archway, a back door to the monastic church.




I used a 4x4 grid again, drawn in a, Revit drafting view, saved to jpg and loaded into my ipad. This facilitated a quick pencil sketch that captured the proportions well enough. Then straight into the broad brush blocking out.

Lucerne is associated with the William Tell myth.  I had to look up the TV show I watched as a young boy, probably one of the first shows I can remember after we finally made the huge leap of buying a weird little TV.  Culture shock squared.  Dear reader: can you remember the transition from Radio to TV as a specific moment in your life? 

Turns out this British production was filmed in Wales (Snowdonia) with a specially written theme song to the tune of Rossini’s overture. “Come away, come away with William Tell…what a day, what a day when the apple fell”  Turns out that the myth is shared by several European cultures, possibly originating in Denmark with the tale of Palna Toki who also shot an apple from his son’s head. 

It’s interesting to reflect on the independent, democratic tradition of Switzerland, the struggle to break away from Habsburg rule, the decentralised governance and distancing from Europe.  Such rich histories to the various nation states of Europe.  Is the EU the modern equivalent of Habsburg Tyranny?  Can we continue to function as cohesive societies as the myths fade via TV soaps into Netflix specials and internet memes? Can our polarised political landscape learn from the religious divisions of the past?  Lucern is a majority Catholic city that formed a confederacy with neighbouring Calvinist cantons.  Do we need a common enemy and if so, who is our Landburgher Gessler?




The church of St Leodegar began as a monastery.  Its Romanesque towers survived a fire in 1633 and now offer distinctive framing to a baroque nave which is less spatially adventurous than the Jesuit church lower down on the far bank of the river Reuss.  I harboured ambitions of doing a quick massing model of St L with Revit, but given my general exhaustion and the primary focus on creating a painting, that wasn’t going to happen in time for this post.

What I’m aiming for, I think, is a multi-faceted integration of Digital and Physical “models” or “twins” if you like.  Reflections on a place that I visited, a cultural context with its own history that can give me pause in my own journey.  There are infinite aspects of Lucerne, Switzerland, Europe, the Baroque etc that I could delve into.  My approach is to create quick sketches, to use the broad brush, to improvise and select intuitively where to focus my attention.  

What does the process of painting bring to the table? 

Certainly it brings back thoughts and feelings lodged deep in my subconscious memory.  This was me 55 years ago as a teenager obsessed with the act of painting.  Compared to a Revit model it integrates the biological inhabitants of a city into my thoughts in a more direct and fluid manner.  The trees and the cyclist are not just supporting props in the way that Enscape3d assets might be used within a BIM model.




How did I do.  I’m pleased with the composition and the process was good.  My technique … not quite up to expectations yet, but it’s early days and some of the brushwork is getting close.  Keep trying 😊

As for the integrated approach, let’s see where this goes.  I would like to spend another weekend or so thinking about that day in Lucerne and weaving some stories as I pore over the pictures that I took on that brief random walk.




Sunday, May 16, 2021


Sometimes coincidences can guide is into doing things we probably should have got around to long ago.


A few days ago I was at the supermarket buying some reflective tape to scare away pigeons from my balcony and I came across some acrylic paints and a small stretched canvas.  I have been thinking about ordering these online for a while now, so I bought them.

Yesterday as I was setting off on my morning walk I stumbled across this strange wooden frame discarded on the waste ground right next to my building.  Couldn’t understand what it was but the timber looked reusable.  So this morning I took some screwdrivers with me and took it apart.  Took two trips to carry everything up onto my balcony.  I was still intrigued by what it could be, so I decided to put it back together.  Gradually the penny dropped … it must be an easel, as used by oil painters.


The fact that I had just bought the stuff I needed to use this wonderful object for the purpose intended was too much for me.  So what should I paint.  I decided to do a street scene.  So looking through photos I took in Volterra, Tuscany in 2018. I came across a view looking into a courtyard that I liked.  Nice pattern of light and shade.  Pulls your eye into the picture and hints at some mystery around the corner.  Good enough.

So I brought the photo into a Revit drafting view and squared it up.  Red lines dividing it up into a 4 by 4 grid.  This should be enough for me to get the proportions of my outline sketch roughly right. 

So I did the same on the canvas and sketched out the picture in pencil.  Loaded the picture on my ipad, and ready to go


Turns out I had room on the easel to place the ipad right next to the canvas.  My portable workbench serves nicely as a table to hold the paints, palette and brushes. Magic.  But why has it taken so long for me to get back to this.  I did some watercolour work in the early days of lock down almost a year ago, and since then, the nearest thing has been apple pencil or Samsung stylus or photoshop mouse.


Anyway, I had a good session and I’m happy with this for a first roughing out.  Not sure what direction it will go from here.  Hoping to use the paint texture a bit, maybe leave part of the canvas a bit sketchy, probably towards the edges.

So why am I doing this, and what does it have to do with BIM, digital construction, all the other stuff I do on this blog, at work, etc.

Well in my mind it’s all of a piece.  Drawing and modelling are essentially the same.  You take an aspect of the physical world and abstract it, re-present it, explore it’s structure for some reason or purpose, whether because it has emotional meaning for you or because a client has asked you to do it, or … 

It could be physical or digital, precise and painstaking or rapid and sketchy.  I’m a big fan of the “single source of truth” approach to analysing buildings.  But I also recognize that distributed networks and cloud connectivity have a role to play. You can’t embed all the technical specifications of every component into a Revit model, nor would we wish to embed the quantity surveyor’s entire cost database.  “Open BIM” surely means accepting that many different disciplines and approaches contribute to the design, construction and maintenance of buildings.


Variety is the spice of life.  I strive for balance between the digital and the physical.  The activity of creating a painting taps into subconscious and emotional aspects of my cognition.  It’s a different way of thinking about a built space that I walked into three years ago.  Why are those spaces so much more satisfying for me than almost any modern equivalent?  Am I just an old stick-in-the-mud? Showing my age perhaps? 

The easel itself has something of that magic.  Maybe it’s only a decade or so old, difficult to say, but it does have the feel of a “relic of times past”  It does evoke for me, reflections on the way the world has changed over the past 70 years since I was born.  It stimulates my hunger for understanding of the generations that preceded mine, going back to John Soane, Nicholas Hawksmoor, the craftsman who built Our Lady of Paris.

I had no conscious memory of this style of Easel.  I could only think of the tripod versions of which there are a couple of sub-categories.  So I looked for images on the web.  Matisse is using a tripod type, Norman Rockwell one more similar to mine.  And there are so many other variations that workers in wood have conjured up.  Fascinating.


Day two and I woke early, took my customary walk, then shifted the equipment out onto the balcony to take advantage of the morning shade.  I felt like Picasso, sitting there, bare-chested working away at my painting.  Trying hard to bring out something of the quality of the paint and the brush strokes at the same time as representing the “reality” of the scene.

 I worked from memory and imagination this time, no need to refer to the photograph.  It’s more important from here on in to explore my own ideas and feelings about an urban space of this kind, to enhance the composition, the textures and colours.

Stand back and reflect.  Let ideas come into my head.  Towards the end of the session I suddenly got the age to apply a lemon yellow wash to one face of the archway in the foreground.  Then, when it came to it I continued to the edge of the canvas.  Partly an aesthetic decision, partly an attempt to invoke the multi-material patchwork of walls in Volterra: stone and brick interwoven.

Not finished, but probably on pause for a while.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021


 Bricks are modular.  Bricks are subject to natural variations in size.

Some designers work to brick sizes, using rules like “15 brick lengths plus one joint” or 7 brick lengths minus one joint.”  That can be a topic for another time.  Sometimes there are other factors at play, and designers will just round off their dimensions, or choose lengths that deliver their target areas. 

Modular sizing is especially relevant to facework.  Where the wall is to be plastered, and/or the bricks are highly irregular in size, the modular approach is less relevant.


Bricklayers achieve irregular lengths by introducing “Broken Bond.”  This involves cut bricks, and/or header bricks in stretcher courses, to achieve the desired length.  On long walls it may be possible to simply tighten up the mortar joints, or perhaps widen them slightly.  But variable joint sizes should be used sparingly and within strict limits.  They can look very unsightly and lead to weakness.

I am using the BIM authoring platform “Revit” to represent brickwork bonding patterns.  My aim is to represent the full variety of possibilities, available to bricklayers. I think that the explanatory power and collaborative potential of the “BIM pencil” can help to open up this world to a wider audience.

I have stopped ends and corners, running-in and racking-back, four different bonds, various wall thicknesses.  So what about broken bond?  We need vertical stacks of cut bricks, placed in the middle of a run of walling.

Let’s start with English Bond. 




Where a full brick will not fit, we can use a cut.. There are three cases to model: three-quarter bat, half-bat or quarter-bat.  English Bond comprises alternating courses of headers and stretchers with quarter lap.  Inserting a quarter bat or Queen closer in the middle of the wall would destroy the quarter lap and create straight joints. So we use a half plus a three-quarter instead of one plus a quarter.

The other two cases are more straightforward.  The column of 3/4 bats is plain to see when I colour it green, but in real life it’s much harder for the uninitiated to spot.  A header, placed in the middle of a stretcher course stands out more obviously, but as long as the broken bond is maintained as a vertical column the effect is quite regular and pleasing to the eye.

The cardinal sin for a trained bricklayer, is to let the broken bond wander around from course to course.  Our eyes much more easily catch this irregularity.  


I should mention that I am creating these patterns from memory and by reference to basic principles.  There may be alternative versions in some cases and I am interested to receive comments from anyone with a different view. 

My own approach to bonding has always been to absorb the principles and to tackle problems afresh when I come across them.  Memorising rote solutions has never held much appeal.  I’m much good at doing things that way, and as I get older my memory weakens but problem-solving still holds my interest.

I should mention that Broken Bond can sometimes by pushed to the end of a wall.  This could be in a short panel between openings for example.  In the example below, the alternate version of a stopped end is used on the left.  This is a simpler solution than introducing broken bond in the middle of the panel.  In the case of a panel between windows, the solution chosen will usually be dictated by following the bond below. This will normally mean placing any broken bond next to the window frame, as shown here.



So far I have been using elevation views, which might as well have been drawn using a 2d CAD application, but of course Revit gives us other capabilities, including axonometric views and rules-based view filters.  These allow the same objects to be coloured differently in different views.

In the final image I have used more subtle colours in the hope of allowing the underlying logic of English Garden Wall bond to shine through, while still identifying the cut bricks.  I am colouring the bricks according to their shape rather than picking out the broken bond as a vertical column.

I will close this account with an observation.  I find bonding patterns endlessly fascinating and a great source of challenges to sharpen my intellect.  Bricklaying is a craft that challenges both mind and body.  It has taught me, by experience, that mind and body are two sides of the same coin, and I have never regretted devoting a large portion of my twenties to pursuing that trade.