Sunday, February 27, 2022



 I bought another book on Kindle.  I’ve been spending time on Greek and Roman temples.  Could do a lot more and probably will, but I think it’s OK for a first pass. So let’s take a look at the emergence of churches in the late Roman empire, the division into East and West, “collapse” of the Western Empire, transition to Byzantine culture and the various flavours of “Orthodox Christianity”.


I’m going to use quotes from the book again, and let the visuals speak for themselves for the most part.

The study of historical architecture is full of challenges, not the least of which is learning it from a textbook. Buildings are three-dimensional entities, whereas our systems of representing them are two dimensional.

Buildings often constitute our primary surviving evidence for reconstructing or re-imagining the culture that produced them.



The aim here is to sketch a broad outline of the history of religious buildings, a "God's eye view" if you will forgive the pun.  Something we can hold in our imagination while we ruminate on the relevance of this history to our lives today.  Life is a search for meaning, an exploration of patterns in time.

How does a building reflect the concerns of the society that produced it, symbolically or ideologically? How does it reflect the social or economic situation of its day?

Historians of material culture, however, tend to shy away from “high” art and architecture that reek of elitism or religiosity.

Religious buildings represent the concerns that were most important to the society that built them. They have survived for a reason.


 A sense of time implies movement: our bodies move through space, out music moves through time, our eyes wander restlessly in search of meaning.  I am looking for patterns, archetypal shapes that can be arranged in different combinations to represent real buildings at a certain level of abstraction.  It's a kind of game, spinning the wheel of fate.

It seems that everything is in ecstatic motion, and the church itself is circling round. For the spectator, through his whirling about in all directions and being constantly astir, which he is forced to experience by the variegated spectacle on all sides, imagines that his personal condition is transferred to the object.

Most buildings have long histories, replete with additions, modifications, changes in function, or changes in demographics. Buildings are forever in the process of becoming.



So what made Christianity different from the paganism of Greece and Rome that it displaced?  It was on of several “mystery cults” circulating around that time.

These religions promised salvation in the next world to a select few who followed strict guidelines in their daily lives, professed their faith, and had undergone initiation rites; they offered comfort and reassurance to those living in difficult times;

Formally, the basilica also stood in sharp contrast to the pagan temple, at which worship was conducted out of doors. The church basilica was essentially a meeting house, not a sacred structure; the people, not the building, comprised the ecclesia— although the two gradually became conflated.

Why was the basilica selected as a building type? Perhaps most importantly because it was not a temple and could never be mistaken for one.

Some interesting thoughts about the religious buildings of history, the value of engaging them experientially in 3D, and their ability to offer insights into past societies.  More to come.


Sunday, February 20, 2022


 Apples and Oranges, Chalk and Cheese.  Vincent Scully and Bannister Fletcher had very different approaches to History of Architecture, but both made huge contributions. 

I have known Sir Bannister’s door-stopper of a book since I was a teenager and it immediately appealed to the young drawing addict that I was (still am).  Vincent entered my life later, stumbling across a copy of his “The Natural and the Man Made” in a second hand bookshop in Harare, Zimbabwe about 20 years ago.   


THE GREEK TEMPLE WAS an image of victory. It embodied the Greek conquest of the Aegean … expressive of human qualities and challenging the divinity who was embodied in the landscape's shapes. The old imitation of the forms of the earth was given up ... out of that confrontation between nature's fact and human desire, the luminous structure of Greek Classic thought took form … Architecture itself was never to be the same again. It developed a new language, strictly structured, supple, and intense



Does …

the belief in a single jealous male god of uncertain temper represent a “higher” spiritual state than the belief in many gods male and female alike, each an embodiment of some aspect of human life as it can be empirically known and experienced …

Seems like an open question to me. Greek gods don’t promise eternal paradise to humanity, but they do

aid human beings who pursue their ways with spirit. Any modern man who says he does not know them does not know his own mind, because if he has tried to deal with the reality of things as they are, the appropriate Greek gods have been there with him, cloaking him in their power. Aphrodite in love, Apollo in clear reasoning, Dionysos in ecstatic passion, Zeus in justice, Athena in right action and divine effrontery, Ares, the big-kneed in the loutish skills of war.


Bannister Fletcher provided images for me to embed in my families to guide the modelling process, but Scully is more valuable in trying to place myself within the emotional bodies of their builders and to search for meaning that may cast a distant light upon our present predicament.

This is written in a weekend where Fidel Trudeau is waging war against the perceived bigotry and intransigence of the sweaty mob of common people who had the temerity to challenge his supreme will.  This is Greek Tragedy of the highest order perhaps. 


The majority of Greek Temples follow the Doric Order.  There are a few Ionic examples and some use of the Corinthian.  Romans added the Tuscan which is not to be confused with Doric, in my view, but easily is because there is such a thing as “Roman Doric” which appears to be a hybrid of Greek Doric and Roman Tuscan.  It seems that they were determined to confuse modernity yet further because they also added the Composite order, another hybrid combining Ionic scrolls with Corinthian acanthus leaves below.

We tend to remember the 5 orders by their capitals, but they also have different approaches to the entablatures (decorative treatment of the lintels that span the columns)  Doric is known by its triglyphs, simple rectangular motifs, divided into three vertical strips.  (The metopes are the gaps ... god of the gaps anyone? ... often hosting a kind of 3D strip cartoon: heroic tales in bas relief)

I have incorporated a simplified version of these into my modular, scalable “Pediment” family.  Type in the number of elements you require along front and side.  Typically they double up the rhythm of the columns and are said to be derived from the beam ends of wooden temples that preceded the stone versions. 




From 1620s as “native or inhabitant of Doris.” Dorian was the name the ancient Greeks gave to one of their four great divisions (the others being the Aeolians, Ionians, and Achaeans). In addition to architecture and music, The Dorians had their own calendar and dialect (see Doric) and the Dorian states included Sparta, Argos, Megara, and the island of Rhodes.

On looking up Doric on Etymonline, I discovered (realised?) that the name “Doris” is a reference to the Greek region/culture/style/musical scale.  I grew up thinking of it as an old woman’s name like Gertrude and Mabel. 


One of the first movies I saw when I moved to Zimbabwe was the premier of “The Grass is Singing” by Doris Lessing.  Those were the days when we thought Robert Mugabe was the best thing since sliced bread.  She was an interesting character, rebellious, penetrating, fiercely independent of thought.  I neve met her, though I did bump into Michael Raeburn, the young director of that film.

Here is a quote from Doris on modern-day Religion.  It seems she anticipated the views of people like John McWorter on “the woke elect”

What the feminists want of me is something they haven't examined because it comes from religion. They want me to bear witness. What they would really like me to say is, 'Ha, sisters, I stand with you side by side in your struggle toward the golden dawn where all those beastly men are no more.' Do they really want people to make oversimplified statements about men and women? In fact, they do. I've come with great regret to this conclusion.

— Doris Lessing, The New York Times, 25 July 1982






Friday, February 11, 2022


“Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring” and so we fall into the Temple of Vesta as the flames grow higher in this quest for a comparative architecture by the BIM method.

Two temples to the Goddess whose sacred fire burned in the hearts of Romans in pre-Christian times.  They are both circular, to be more specific a Tholos: a cylinder surrounded by a ring of columns.  Vesta was rarely represented in human form, instead she was the fire itself, kept burning in the centre of the temple by the vestal virgins.


These two can be found in Bannister Fletcher and they are relatively close to each other in Rome and Tivoli.  The one at Tivoli uses a distinctive variant of the Corinthian capital which was John Soane’s favourite.  Not much use of parameters here.  I did form the columns as a dynamic array.  Sources disagree on the original roof structures which collapsed long ago.  I have chosen to show one as a dome with a central oculus for the smoke, and the other as a shallow cone in timber and tile.  The smoke can escape through the gaps in the tiles.

Once again, I have set up a sheet to condense model views and reference images into a “single sauce of truth”. The Tivoli location is full of drama, overlooking a waterfall.  The small plaster model was commissioned by Soane himself. Some liberties taken perhaps. 😊 I think we will forgive him.

The remains of the version in Rome itself, on the edge of the Forum, are a pale shadow.  The entire entablature is lost, and a tiled roof sits directly on top of the columns.  Also missing is the plinth, submerged no doubt in centuries of accumulating rubble.


I really must make a little family to represent the central fire.  That will be fun, scope for some imaginative design, two different versions perhaps.  And how to represent the fire / smoke.  Can this be animated in Enscape perhaps?  Volunteers?

It’s a commonplace observation these days that, having outgrown Christianity, western liberal atheists (like me) have invented simulacra to fill the void.   We have heresies and excommunication (cancel culture) end of days scenarios (climate crisis) taboo words, purity rituals, the works.  I like to think that I find my sense of the sacred in artistic pursuits: painting, music, the kind of studies presented here.


But is this enough?  Can society hold together without sacred places and rituals of some kind.  Opportunities to gather together and feel part of a greater whole.  We have football matches and rock concerts, but do they unify, ultimately? Of course the church was always subject to commercialization also, but found ways to purge itself periodically perhaps.  


Difficult for us imagine the world of 2000 years ago when these temples were part of daily life.  Perhaps the daily rituals of the Hindu world are closer in spirit than modern Christianity or Islam.  What do I know?  But it's interesting to think about these things, to put our lives in the context of thousands of years of human history.

I’m pretty sure that there is something deeply embedded in the human condition that wealth and reason cannot fully satisfy.  Something that sacred spaces and communal rituals used to nourish, still do for many perhaps. I think we have much to learn by studying the past, but I doubt that we can simply turn the clock back. 

Sunday, February 6, 2022


 Roman, romantic, Romanesque.  Words have a history. Meanings twist and turn, perform backflips even. A romance was a story written in Latin rather than Frankish.  It reflects the tension between Mediterranean Europe and the Germanic lands, across the Alps to the North-East.

But we have forgotten these old meanings and in art, romanticism is thought to be the opposite rationalism: swirling curves v pure geometric shapes (circle, square & triangle). Roman law, architecture & engineering have greatly influenced the modern world.  They are thought of as being on the rational, pragmatic side of that imaginary divide, as opposed to the emotional, romantic impulse.

But what of Roman religion?  Surely paganism is full of superstition, shady archetypes of the Jungian subconscious?  Maybe so, maybe not.  In some ways it may be more rational to think of the gods as emotional creatures, falling in love, becoming jealous.  Humanity writ large, the good and the bad.


In the last post I took a peek at the influence of the Roman Temple archetype on the early architecture of the American Republic.  Now I am digging a little deeper into the source code.  What remnants do we have from 2000 years ago?  I have modelled three of the best preserved, now located in three countries on the norther shores of the Med.

“Square House” in Nimes is the biggest.  Pretty much a scaled-up copy of Fortuna Virilis” Corinthian with half-round columns “engaged” with the walls of the Cella.  Initially I have been using a simple cylinder for my columns.  I am trying to “Keep It Simple Stupid” in order to focus in essentials and to compare many different variants on a theme, as opposed to the “deep dives” I have done before. (Project Soane et al)



So Maison Carree is larger.  We need a sense of human scale.  I decided to take an Enscape Asset and customised it.  I like the way it renders in Enscape3d, of course, but not so much the triangulated placeholder as it shows up in Revit hidden line or shaded views.  There, I prefer my “flat people” approach, simple outlines that mimic the way-we-used-to-do-it by hand.  I traced the front outline and the side silhouette as thin extrusions with a material parameter.  Then I untick “Visibility” in the view where the extrusion is “end on”.  I have made the mesh object hidden in all views, but I guess you could opt to show this at fine scale only, or just in 3d perhaps. Finally, I don’t want people in the “planting” category, change it to Entourage. 



I set up a sheet for the 3 temples.  I saw a post on LinkedIn recently promoting the idea that drawing sheets should fall away so we can go “full BIM”.  I’m all for simplifying documentation, “lean and mean” approaches to life in general.  But annotated orthographic views are a wonderful invention with a very deep history.  They communicate information in a highly compressed form that if wonderfully complementary to the activity of wandering around in 3 dimensional space.


We understand the world by creating simplified, abstract models inside our brains. Foolish to think that we can dispense with that and just “copy reality”.  So I like drawing sheets and I have brought together multiple views of my three temples, together with annotations, and images from books or the internet.  This is fairly close to the “BIM version of Bannister Fletcher” that I have fantasised about for many years.

The great thing about doing all this in BIM (Revit combined with other tools used in a way that emphasises a holistic understanding of how buildings work) … the great thing is that it evolves over time.  You can start with simple placeholders (cylinder columns) and progress through a series of iterations as comprehension deepens. 


So I have started to develop a medium scale representation of the classical orders.  This will allow the Ionic Order to differentiate Fortuna Virilis from Maison Carree.  (I said before that these 2 were the same form at different scales, but they do also us a different classical order)


The Croatian example is also Corinthian, but more like the Virginia State Capital in that it uses square pilasters around the walls of the Cella.  In fact these pilasters are only visible at the corners.  Perhaps they once existed along the sides, but perhaps not.  The stucco has all gone.  We could talk about fluted shafts and smooth shafts, but “too much information”.

Just a little insight into my Family Editor scheme for converting Full columns to Half columns. Corner or not (Yes/No parameter)  Will also work for Pilasters which are Square families with “shallow” types.  I can also have “deep” types which I tend to call “3qtr”.  This would usually be a round column which is only submerged a small way into the wall.  It’s a compromise between the free standing colonnade and the half-columns of Maison Carree or Fortuna Virilis.  It casts more of a shadow on the wall, giving a much richer, deeply modelled effect.

The classical idiom is one of those “gifts that keeps on giving”.  The ultimate public nuance.