Sunday, June 26, 2022


Last week I started building a Revit model of Barnsley, the town that I grew up in. Step one was Locke Park Tower, reincarnated as a Generic Model family. For context I downloaded a free square kilometre of Topography and Street outlines, added some sloping pads for roads and some more GM families to represent groups of terraced houses.

This morning I downloaded another 14 "CADmapper" files and used them to create toposurfaces. At some point I will merge these into a single surface but for now I'm taking a break to compile a couple of images and write this blog post.

The water body at the bottom is the dam at Worsbrough Bridge which was a significant landmark on the bus ride from Barnsley to Sheffield which featured heavily in my teenage years.

My two grandmas were important presences in my childhood.  They were both widows. I never knew my grandpas. I have very clear memories of the little house in Wombwell where my Nan Milburn lived. Outside toilet at the back in a block at the end of the row. Hard toilet paper, or even torn up newspaper at times.  Things that lodge in a young boy's memory.

My dad was an art teacher by then. He left school out of necessity. Worked as a pit head clerk, then joined the police force at the beginning of the war. After the war his army service in India entitled him to further education and he trained as a teacher. I have marked the school where he was Head of the art department in my teenage years, now demolished although it seemed very modern to me at the time.

I walked to school throughout. Agnes Road primary is long gone but the Grammar School survived up to about 10 years ago.  I'm afraid that Barnsley has a rather sad record of demolishing its history under the urge to "modernise".  But to some extent the notion of "Heritage" falls under the category of "Luxury Beliefs" which is to say that a 1960s coal miner might feel less fondly about the old buildings that  glow so brightly in the memory of a globalised architect like myself.

Growing up in Barnsley I longed to spread my wings and discover the world “out there.”  Four years in London, university, manhood, head full of radical ideas. I tried to return to my roots, South Yorkshire and the “working class.” Stupid right? Yes and no. Embarrassingly naïve, but aren’t we all in our youth?  By mistakes we learn.

So now I belong to lots of places: Barnsley, Sheffield, London, Zimbabwe, Dubai, the BIMosphere. And I’m using my BIM pencil to peer back into those first 18 years growing up on the South Yorkshire Coalfield in an era when coal mining was still a thing.  More to come.


Monday, June 20, 2022


 I grew up in these streets. Walked that route to junior school hundreds of times. More often than not I returned home for lunch. I was a very choosy eater. Sometimes, when I had to stay for school dinners, I would have mashed potato and gravy for first course, with a bowl of custard to follow, those being the only items on the menu that I was willing to eat.

Sadly I have struggled to find any images of Agnes Road Primary on the Web, which is a shame. But I do have one snapshot, taken in my late teens when we were starting to treat photography as an extension of the painting and drawing that had long been my greatest passion.

So I have decided to use my BIM pencil as a tool for exploring my schooldays. It started with the viewing tower in Locke Park. Joseph Locke was a Barnsley boy who made good as an engineer in the pioneering age of railways. His statue in the park named after him made a strong impression.

I played football and cricket in that park, took great pleasure the slide and swings in the play area (long since demolished on safety grounds) . There was a greenhouse we used to walk past with a banana tree inside. That seemed so exciting and exotic. I never imagined I would have bananas and mangoes in my own garden some decades later.

It's early days. Just putting in the hours building up the model. The big payback from a BIM model comes down the line, a cumulative benefit. But already the memory cells are sparking. I had forgotten the laundry building on the corner of Day Street. Some of the houses had outside toilets still but we were very proud to have a separate toilet and bathroom at the top of the stairs.

I can still remember the coal man, coming to deliver our only source of heating. Carrying hessian sacks on his back and tipping the contents deftly over his shoulder into the coal cellar under our front door. There was a cast iron cover in the path which could be secured from inside. Can I model these kinds of throwback details at some point? What about the clothes drying rack in the kitchen that could be raised to the ceiling on little pulley wheels?

Barnsley was a coal mining town. But later on, gas heating came into vogue, mostly to do with keeping the house clean. We hadn’t discovered carbon guilt yet.  It may have been coal gas still at that stage.  North Sea Gas was more of a 70s thing as I recall. I do remember the tiled mantelpieces being removed from the downstairs rooms, vaguely art deco, so perhaps not the original fireplace surrounds. I’m guessing that those streets were built around 1910?

I downloaded a square kilometre for free from Cadmapper. Perhaps there are better ways to get topography and street layouts, but this has worked for me several times now. I'm doing rapid sketching here. Broad sweeps of the BIM brush. Trying to distill the essence of this place and squeeze out a few drops of meaning from the world I lived in more than 50 years ago.

So I have a low res toposurface which I elevated to roughly the right height above sea level, using Google earth and Revit shared Coordinates. Street View is great for this exploration. No 3d buildings available for Barnsley. You may have ways to automate more of this but I actually want to build it myself. The whole point here is to revive memories and build insights into the physical environment of my childhood.

Where possible I will wind the clock back to 1965 and represent the world as it was then. I don't need to be super accurate or pick up the fine detail. Some features can be very generic.

I'm using pads to represent the streets, simplifying them in both plan and section. Cheating here and there to get past some of the anomalies I can't quite understand.

There was a bungalow behind us with a large garden. Not directly behind but visible from our back garden. Mr Ray? He had some kind of small business, a builder or a garage. Seemed like a rich man in my imagination. I'm guessing it was a gap in the street caused by a stray bomb from WW2. The bungalow was certainly post war style and completely at odds with all the other stone fronted terraces of the area.

The "backs" were a great place to play. Ours was an end terrace, with a brick gable wall facing the back road that climbed up from Park St to Spencer St. How many hours did I spend kicking or throwing a ball against that wall?

The houses are developed from the families I created for my nordic church studies. There are several levels of nesting, but no performance issues as yet. Hopefully I can represent half a dozen different house typologies eventually, from the all brick 2 up,2 down cottages with front doors straight off the pavement, to the larger, Gothic revival or classical villas that were mixed in here and there.

BIM is essentially an integrative activity.  Collect data from a wide variety of sources and connect them together in a way that makes the sum greater than the parts.  So I will continue to find old photos and drawings of my own, images from the web, hand sketches that I create “on the spot” and my Revit model of Barnsley to link it all together.

More to come.