Monday, October 31, 2022


 Linked In posts for Early October 2022.  Playing guitar on my balcony, starting a painting project, looking back at my one and only visit to Portugal, and the “ancient past” of life in Zimbabwe.

There is a certain severity in the architecture of Porto. Partly the nature of the local stone, partly the maritime climate blowing up river from the Atlantic. But this is tempered by a somewhat idiomatic sense of the baroque.

What does that word mean? Like all words it means what thousands of people have coopted it to mean in a variety of contexts. Meanings morph continuously. It implies a bending of the rules of classicism, a bending of surfaces also, perhaps a bending of space-time 😜

Spiral columns, broken pediments, complex curves at every turn. Some snippets sifted from my visit in 2016.


I'm embarking on a little painting project. It's one of those things that just kind of happened. Can't remember why I started taking closeups on my balcony. Just a whim I guess.

The habit of combining photos in fours is just part of housekeeping my image gallery, but a couple of days later I realised it might be interesting to buy four cheap canvases at the local supermarket and mount a set of semi-abstract compositions close together on the wall.

Early days yet. Just roughed out the first two. Will get all four up to this stage and hang them together. Then I can keep looking at them. Bursts of activity as the spirit moves me. Layers of shading and texture oozing up from the subconscious mud.

Is anything ever finished? There will come a point when I'm more interested in starting something else.



Glazed wall tiles as an external finish are common in Porto. Sometimes they are flat and smooth, sometimes embossed. Blue and yellow are common with a white ground.

They form a marvellous contrast with the coarse grey stone. Splashes of colour and a surface that can be scrubbed down before the maritime life forms take too firm a hold.




Just messing about on my balcony after a productive day of Revit work for my day job.

Music is such a great way to divert the brain from its endless chatter.  Slide guitar instrumental in open G.



These are photos I took in Bulawayo 20 years ago. At that stage I never imagined I would move to Dubai barely 18 months later.

Are these relics of a disgusting racist past? That would be one interpretation. Actually I have no way of judging the humanity of the architects involved though it's certain they were all white.

I do see a rich historical record: four different attempts to capture the mood of the time and to project the identity of a rapidly growing city with government buildings, offices, banks and hotels.

I was on a visit to the school of architecture there to teach a group of students about setting out buildings in a hands-on way.

Special memories for me. I wonder where they all are now?



I have many pictures of metal railings in Mauritius, dating back to the early days of my exposure to digital cameras. I will have to fish them out. Indeed a little series of posts on Port Louis would be a pleasant diversion methinks.

But these ones are from Porto. Much the same vocabulary. Some of these are castings, some hand forged by muscular blacksmiths. Of course I prefer the latter for pure aesthetics, but it's hard to resist the economics of mass production.

Call it the William Morris dilemma. I guess it brought us the modern movement with all its benefits and pitfalls. Don't get me wrong, glass balustrades are great. But you gotta love these old railings. Weather-beaten and rusty, they still tug at the heart strings.


Sunday, October 30, 2022



I visited Porto in 2016 for a conference. This was about half way through an 8 year period of attending as many Revit/BIM events as I could, often as a speaker.

I was already moving towards small group events and meet-ups with a broader range of people involved in construction when the pandemic called a full stop.  Moving forward I hope to continue this trend and especially to visit new cities around the globe to think about “The Way We Build”

For sure I will be photographing doors, and pondering the different responses to climate, culture, security, and symbolism.


I recently posted four of these Porto doors on LinkedIn, suggesting that it would be interesting to build Revit families that capture their essential form.  When building a BIM model, we always have to think about the appropriate Level of Detail for the intended purpose.  We will always be simplifying and abstracting to some extent.  Hinges and locking mechanism are probably best captured by a specification code rather than attempting to duplicate screw threads in 3d.

I do have a modular system for assembling door families.  This aims to minimize effort and maximise reusable content.  Once I have created a style of door panel, it should be available to all current and future doors families with a minimum of effort, whether they are single or double, hinged, sliding, folding … whatever.

So I set about building these four doors, using an appropriate starter family from my collection.  I already have proven approaches to fanlights, double doors, curved heads etc.  These are fully parametric and interchangeable.

The system is based on nested components with a standardized naming of the nested elements and of the parameters used to vary proportions, materials etc. 


Attempting these four doors was a useful test for my system, which performed well for the most part.  Taking a panel with 4 vertical divisions and duplicating it to create one with 5 is straightforward enough.  I do have components that emulate traditional mouldings and raided/fielded panels.  The downside is that this increases the levels of nesting.  You have to make a judgement call.  Do you want to just refer to typical details, or do you need to use these families for close-up renderings?

In this case I am just using flat extrusions for both glazed and solid panels.  But the fanlights and security bars needed to be addressed, even if in simplified form.  My rule of thumb is that you can recognize the various door types in a project at a glance.  Anyone who knows the project will tend to fill in some of the details subconsciously, but only if there are no obvious discrepancies.

So the security bars on the blue door are incomplete (missing from the fanlight and highly simplified in the door panels)  And the fascinating design of the red fanlight doesn’t perform too well if you change the proportions to radically.  It’s quite challenging to make a design of this complexity parametric, but I enjoyed having a go.

I could spend more time on these four examples, but I have a feeling that tackling some doors from other city visits will prove more compelling, when I pick this up again.

For that matter, there are plenty of variations from my Porto visit to test other aspects of my system.  Folding doors, elliptical and pointed heads, for example. 

From past experience, waiting until I am deeply enmeshed in modeling a historic building to develop a new type of door is likely to result in a rushed family which breaks under pressure.  After all, I may only need one specific size for the task in hand so really robust parametric behaviour may be lower priority than progressing the main building model.

So exercises like this one can be useful to expand my system and make it more adaptable, especially to deal with traditional designs and older buildings.




Saturday, October 15, 2022


 I really don't understand this kind of "Toytown Classicism" If you are going to reference that most abundant tradition, at least show some grasp of the basic principles.

You can certainly abstract and simplify the orders, as many architects have demonstrated. You can also bend the rules to great effect, as the mannerists did with their broken pediments and stretched proportions.

Architects like Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor could be quite brutal in their approach to massing. But in my view, this is just sloppy and arbitrary.

Architraves should sit on top of columns, not cantilevered out into space some random, irregular distance. Arches should spring from somewhere. At least give a hint at some structural logic and maybe think twice about varying the radius in such a cavalier manner.

Apologies if you have some connection to this building. It's just my opinion, no offence intended. But really... the classical tradition is supremely flexible, if treated with some respect, even in Kelowna 🤣🤣🤣


Making a BIG statement on a triangulated site next to Granville Bridge. Could be an ode to Stretcher Bond with a nod towards dogtooth corbels, but I don't think bricklaying was foremost in the mind of the designer. Perhaps at a subconscious level?

I'm glad I took a ferry across to see this, on impulse really. Planning and preparation have a place in my life but there is no substitute for seizing moments of random opportunity.

Maybe that's what was on the designer's mind, rather than oblique references to the bricklayer's art.


Different uses of metal in the historic heart of Frankfurt. Does the wrought iron scroll have a purpose? Maybe you could tie your horse up here, back in the day?

Copper gutters and down-pipes. Is the holder bat hinged for quick release? Do the decorative flourishes have any functional justification? Would be great to talk to an artisan who does this kind of work.

I love that style of handrail forged from really chunky solid bar with tapering scrolls at the end. Are the brackets secured into holes with molten lead?

Fast forward to the early modern era and a pin joint to transfer the load from the Eisener Steg (Iron Footbridge) across the river Main. It's a cantilever bridge which has to mean a highly concentrated load on those pivot points.


Middle of the pandemic. Vaccines coming into play. Probably suffering from the illusion that sanity would soon prevail.

My grandsons were doing some baking while I was pining for seeing them in the flesh.

Somehow I picked up the nerve to tackle Victor Horta in Revit based on a handful of images from the Web.

The rare bit of random cartoon sketching on my phone reminded me of the wonderful books my son Joe produced in his early teens.

The faded pencil work loses much of its vitality when digitised but I have had a couple of attempts at enhancing them in Photoshop. So many unfinished projects... One day I will get back to this. 🤣🤣🤣



Bored banana seller in the Kampala traffic. Rural homestead in Kibale forest where chimpanzees roam and clamber. Lime green mini hotel behind motor bike taxis and my former girl. Modern haircuts in a packing crate salon.

All from my trip to Uganda in 2007

The memories are still so vivid. I am deeply worried about how Africa will fare this Winter. I know Europe will have a hard time with energy and supply chain issues, but the knock on effects for Africa could be really devastating.

Big piece of my heart in that continent where I spent the best years of my life and raised three wonderful children.



Flashback to Porto in 2016. I was speaking at a Revit conference there and fell in love with the city.

Great cliffs of buildings rising up on both sides of the river. The severity of grey granite with the exuberance of tile patterns. Glazed doors opening to balcony railings everywhere.

The stay was all too short but the memories linger.



everywhere in Porto you can see glazed double doors on the upper floors, opening onto vestigial balconies. It's a very attractive architectural habit.

Isn't that what the metaphor "doorway" has come to mean. It's a flexible interface between private and public, an opportunity to enter the world outside and the capacity to keep it at bay.
The doorway to my heart. Cruel fate, slamming shut in my face.

There are doors at ground level too of course, and some similarly of language. But less inviting for perfectly obvious reasons.

I think I will add these four door designs to my list of "fun things to do with Revit" one of these fine weekends.



Sunday, October 2, 2022



A vault is a leap of faith. Masonry bounding across the space below. This was once a common approach to the lowest storey of buildings, often a cellar or semi-basement.

The kind of vault I'm talking about here is a cross-vault, essentially the intersection of two barrel vaults. This post is a review of a family I developed for Project Soane, several years ago. The old Bank of England had a huge sprawling undercroft, divided up into rectangular bays, mostly covered by brick Cross vaults.

I developed a parametric vault capable of adapting to the many different sizes and shapes represented in this fascinating test case. The spaces beneath the large Banking Halls typically contain a small forest of brick pillars within blank perimeter walls. The pillars themselves could be square, but more often cruciform.


From a Revit point of view, or from a bricklayer's perspective, the space is divided up into cells by a grid of walls. But then it's opened up again by arches that span most of the way from only wall to the next.


Brick groin vaults (cross vaults) jump across between walls, a little way above the arches. In this case I'm using segmental arches throughout. They are built with parameters for "rise" and "width". Formulas use these parameters to define the radius and the position of the centre point.


The arches have been created as wall-hosted door families. The vaults are standalone Generic Models. Maybe I would put them into ceiling or floor categories if those were available for loadable families.


It takes a little imagination and patience to match the curves of arches and vaults if the spacing of the grid is irregular. Also you may notice that as the proportions of the bays approach long narrow rectangles, the diagonal groin lines twist into "S" shaped curves. If we wanted them to be straight lines on plan, at least one of the arches would need to be elliptical.

The floors above these vaulted cellars were typically paves with large slabs of York stone. Presumably the spaces above the curved brick spans was levelled out with rubble, either loose or stabilised with mortar. Grading down to finer material and topped off with a layer of sand bedding for the slabs of stone. 


In Revit terms I have a rectangular extrusion cut by void sweeps that cross at right angles. The top layers will be a system family. To make all the vaults finish at the same level despite having different spans, I have a parameter to control the thickness of material above the rise of the arch. If the rise drops for some reason I can compensate by increasing this "Xtra Top"

As the work on the Bank of England proceeded I realised that I often needed to extend the vaults on one side, typically around the perimeter, giving the effect of a series of recesses. In the end I had six "Xtra" parameters. To avoid the confusion of too many types I kept all these incremental Xtras as Instance parameters.


I will be going on to review other vault families that I developed in coming weeks. Hope you find this useful. There are shortcomings in this approach. Apart from the S shape in plan there is a problem with material representation. Clearly it would be better to have separate extrusions for the two directions of the intersecting geometry. Finally there could be cases where we don't want the rubble fill. We might want the crowns of the vaults to curve in parallel with the soffits.



To be continued.