Friday, December 29, 2023


 I've spent at least 50 years looking at buildings and asking "Why?" Maybe 60 if you include my earliest dabblings in drawing house plans and enjoying the dark mystery of neglected Victorian hulks around me as a teenager in Barnsley.

It's a kind of reverse engineering I suppose. And here I am on an island paradise off the coast of Thailand, enjoying precious time with my family, but inevitably ruminating on what makes the buildings tick.

Steel frame makes sense when you have to ship everything across from the mainland. But it's interesting that they have emphasised grey cement colours... Thin cladding sheets and some acoustic issues. The styling is crisp and minimalist, but tempered by judicious use of wood. Don't compete with nature. Understated buildings bowing to the unspoilt beauty of site.



Until you get to the public areas of course. Here are flowing curves and a homage to indigenous roofing. Infinity edges give a sharp transition to a beach with rocky outcrops.

The detailing isn't exactly crude, but it's not super slick either. I'm guessing that wasn't a deliberate choice, more the nature of the situation. But I like it. Seems appropriate somehow. Perhaps buildings are like food. Super-refined may tittilate the taste buds, but it's not conducive to health in the long term.


Clockwise from top left. Precise detailing of balustrades in public areas. Looser fit with more traditional materials for the rooms. (I would assume that components are produced in quantity with limited types rather than made to measure for each instance.) Finally, a genuine design problem. Seems to be wood cladding used in external planters. May be some kind of synthetic wood but it is still vulnerable to decay in these conditions.

Easy to be wise in hindsight of course, and not very hard to fix. It's been a great few days here and I don't want to sound critical of the design team, or the developers and operators of this magical place. Perfection is not possible, perhaps not desirable. Certainly, pushing to hard in search of it can be disastrous.

I haven't managed to find this product online yet. "Composite Wood" probably, but the profile is more complex than anything I've seen so far. If you are thinking of using something like it, I would say go ahead, but probably don't use it too clad planters, or anywhere low down where it might be exposed to daily sprinklers.

At first sight I gave the stair handrails a bit of a frown, but on reflection it's a perfectly rational approach for an island resort. Ease of installation on site trumps carefully crafted junctions at least for the higher volume, repetitive items.


 The other end of the Thai experience spectrum. This is Chiang Mai: inland & north... a heritage hotel this time. Echoes of the shophouse typology that I have come to know and love in Singapore and Penang. But lacking the five-foot ways here.

Lightweight, open construction with internal courtyards to maximise air movement. I love the black and white theme plus the exaggerated height of the glazed doors. Style meets function in that effortless way that builders used to dash off, with or without an architect, or am I romanticising too much?


Either way, this is a delightful building from the colonial era, repurposed to create a boutique hotel of real character. And it's being run really well. Attention to detail in operations to match attention to detail in design. Lots of complementary vouchers to make you feel welcome. Foot massage available on the loungers by the pool.

The flow of space through the ground floor spaces of these old buildings is just magical. You're never quite sure if you are indoors or outdoors, and it doesn't really matter.




It's a hard life... 🤣🤣🤣 Digital nomad office (Chiang Mai Branch)

I'm just squeezing a few timesheet hours in while the younger generation go off doing more energetic stuff like playing with elephants.

It would have been great to benefit from this lifestyle while I was younger I suppose. Acutely aware that it's a privilege of the few however, and I am glad to have done my time on the tools in my twenties, in the classroom in my thirties, and on the drawing board either side of 40.

All the same it's great to catch a bit of "laptop luxury lifestyle" in my 70s. (aka LaLuLi) This one is dedicated to all those working with hands and muscles around the world to make my current life possible.

Quick shout out to the Microsoft Surface and hotel WiFi



Monday, December 25, 2023



Two concepts from 1995. Believe it or not, they are both based on fairly crude 3d geometry using Autocad. Probably Autocad 11. Certainly a DOS version.

I don't remember the exact process, but one was an attempt to pass through a digital pipeline. We had a "rendering" package, called AutoVision, but perhaps that came later. This appears to be a flat, shaded view. Also I had some kind of an image processing package, not as advanced as photoshop, but it's what I had. The name escapes.

The other method was to just set up the basic perspective and then sketch over that by hand. This results in a much nicer image, certainly more appropriate to the type of project. Two concepts from 1995. Believe it or not, they are both based on fairly crude 3d geometry using Autocad. Probably Autocad 11. Certainly a DOS version.

I don't remember the exact process, but one was an attempt to pass through a digital pipeline. We had a "rendering" package, called AutoVision, but perhaps that came later. This appears to be a flat, shaded view. Also I had some kind of an image processing package, not as advanced as photoshop, but it's what I had. The name escapes.

The other method was to just set up the basic perspective and then sketch over that by hand. This results in a much nicer image, certainly more appropriate to the type of project.



Last night I had dinner again with Karam Baki. It's always rewarding to have an online contact turn into a valued friendship. It so happens that I am older than his father, and our approaches to BIM are substantially different. However there are huge areas of overlap and most importantly we enjoy each other's company.

The venue was my local Syrian restaurant, Dyar Al Sham in International City: excellent food, great service and superb atmosphere. As we were leaving I spotted an enlarged image of a Roman theatre. One of the waiters confirmed that this was Bosra.

If only I was still young and adventurous, I would love to visit this place. But this morning it struck me that the images of Bosra, and Karam's article about his Dynamo exploits, (helping to solve the geometric challenges of Dubai's futuristic architecture) together symbolise the enormous scope and spread of BIM.

We share a passion despite differences of age, culture and skill-set. This passion allows us to dig deep into the meaning, construction and performance of buildings, ancient and modern. What a privilege to share this age of wonder and despair.



1997. This was probably the peak of my architectural career in Zimbabwe. Whatever you may think about the design, and I have my own reservations, it was by far the biggest project I handled as lead designer.

I was also responsible for maybe two thirds of the drawing set, and I carried it right through to completion on site. The visuals I produced look pretty flaky by today's standards, but at the time I was super proud.

It was a period where we installed our first office network. Coaxial cable and lots of drilling through walls. Sadly it was also a time when the Zim dollar began its precipitous slide. The company responsible for the external skin of flush glazing held on to a cash advance for too long and went bankrupt.

But I have fond memories of the way we all worked together. There was no backstabbing. We owned up to our mistakes and delivered the project on time and budget for the client. Soon after completion the work started to dry up. Inflation soared. I travelled to Malawi, Botswana and Mozambique in search of work. Things got pretty tough.

But for a brief period it felt like everything was working out, and my computer skills were an integral part of that optimism.


In 1998 I was dabbling with Archicad (top left). It was clear to me that the single-model approach was the future, but at the time the software wasn’t quite there yet. You had plans and 3d, “live” in the model, but for Elevations and Sections of construction-drawings quality you had to flatten everything out. Most people reverted to Autocad at this stage.

I ended up going with the Sketchup /Autocad combo for a while. Far from ideal, but it bridged a gap. My office tower was moving into fit-out stage. People were building gated communities as the currency continued to slide. I was effectively a single parent to three teenagers and just hoping this was a temporary blip and the country would sort itself out.

So my digital journey meandered through wordprocessing and desk top publishing as an educator, then I returned to architecture as CAD was taking off. Many a happy weekend getting the screwdrivers out to upgrade my desktop box. All this built on top of early experiences of print layout by hand and a lifelong love of drawing and painting.

And so I stood on the brink of BIM, just as Zimbabwe was going to the dogs. Something had to give.



Memories of a previous visit to Singapore, at the height of my enthusiasm for conferences. I was staying with my son before and after the event, but opted for a couple of nights at the Marina Bay Sands during the event. Breakfast with my feet over the infinity pool was epic.

I always thought that the best part of any conference was hanging with friends, old and new. Zach Kron is a unique figure in the Revit world. His Buildz blog inspired so many people to push the boundaries of conceptual massing, then he and Matt Jezyk became the dynamic duo of Dynamo.

I crashed the party via Zach’s Parametric Pumpkin competition, which became something of an obsession for me, four years in a row. Seems so long ago.


And now I’m back in Singapore for a family Christmas. My granddaughter is a joy to behold and my grandsons cracked me up with signature socks. Life is good 😍

I’ve worked on quite a few luxury resort projects over the years. Makes a change to actually stay in one. Short boat ride from Phuket to this little piece of paradise. With family as wide spread as ours, Xmas tends to be in a different place every year. This promises to be quite a special one.

I would say the room layout has prioritised drama over common sense in a couple of ways. I don’t mind the open hanging rail, but the room safe is far too low down for an old codger like me to use with comfort. And maybe they think anyone visiting their island wouldn’t possibly need a desk, but I’m on “part leave, part remote work”. Let’s hope I can manage out on the balcony.

A lot of talk about EVs but spare a thought for the humble buggy. Has anyone made a driverless version of these and coupled them up to an app yet? Not suitable for every climate and a bit slow compared to a taxi, but maybe they could be the vehicle that takes people from metro station to apartment, or does short haul movement in car-free city centres. (buggy bot?)

Probably just the tropical vibes going to my head. 





Tuesday, December 19, 2023



Back at architecture school, 18 years on. Wits (University of the Witwatersrand) was a grand neoclassical campus, cascading down a hillside. I was 39, almost twice the age of my classmates who were mostly rich young white kids. Or so I thought of them at the time.

South Africa was in transition. I found lodgings in a "grey area" where the Group Areas Act was not enforced. The place felt quite surreal to me, coming from nine years living in an independent black African country which at that time seemed to be a shining example

There was a computer room. I learned the basics of Autocad, but still the main use in practice was the formatting of text. Copy-paste and undo were such powerful tools to someone who had quite recently written university assignments out by hand.

I was still leaving spaces for the illustrations and drawing these directly in place, or pasting in photocopies with the slight reduction that made them look so much crisper. I had almost forgotten how important the "reduce" feature on photocopiers was to me. Something I haven't used for years, now that we scan drawings and do our layouts inside a software package.



I would prepare text leaving space for the drawings. Create these separately, several to an A4 sheet. Copy - Reduce to say 80%, cut the sheet up and paste the drawings in with cow gum, clean off the excess with a ball of dried up glue, maybe a bit off tippex here and there to disguise the edges. Then photocopy from this master original for a nice clean submission



When I got back from Joburg having completed fifth and sixth year architecture. I found myself jobless. I won't go into the story. I felt betrayed at the time, but it worked out for the best eventually.

I did two interviews and thought it over during the Xmas break. Opted to stay in Harare and work for Mike Clinton. This was one of my first projects, drawn with Autocad (for DOS) and taken through to completion. It's offices for a major supermarket chain, located in a light industry area, next to the warehouse. According to googlurth it's still there.

Image search brings up the nostalgia of the "side menu" interface. You had to click through three "pages" to draw a line, as I remember. Fortunately I picked up a "menu" file which I further customised. Right click on the mouse initiated the line command which was what you needed 90% of the time.

I did also use lots of keyboard shortcuts, and most of my layer names were one or two characters. Seems like a completely different universe. I did quite a lot of 3d massing, and came up with a pale grey screen which felt more like daylight to me.

You had to type in the full path name to open a file. The guys had files all over the place. I introduced two innovations. Substitute drives gave me J: for jobs, and K: for blocks (standard) This allowed menu files to work on machines where the paths were different, and /or quite long. The other breakthrough was XTree which looks really clunky now, but at the time made file management far more intuitive than the DOS command line

So many baby steps along the road from 1993 to 2023.




During my third and last year at the Bartlett school of architecture I saw myself as an arch rebel, although not in an aggressive way. I guess it was more of an inner rebellion. But I did abandon my career with no clear idea of where I was heading. Just a passionate belief that the world was changing.

During that year I interacted with two guest tutors who shared a flat together. Andy Mackillop was an early advocate of environmentalism, limits to growth, alternative technology etc. I sat in on a couple of his sessions, solar power, wind power, passive heating /cooling, composting toilets ... I soaked it all up avidly.

Yann Weymouth was an energetic young American architect who ran my last design project. It was for a creche building that could be dismantled and moved around, opened or closed according to the seasons.

Later on, Yann tried to persuade me not to abandon architecture. I went to their flat for dinner and we all consumed too much of this and that. Maybe I missed the last tube, or maybe they just wanted to see me home safely. Andy volunteered to take me back on Yann's motorbike. Long story short we had a minor spill. Just a few scratches, but I think they suddenly realised it could have gone badly. For my part it was all an adventure.

Fast forward 45 years and my daughter was living in St Petersburg Florida. We visited the Dali museum a couple of times before I realised that it was designed by Yann. I've tried to contact him online without success. Maybe he doesn't remember me.

Randomly intersecting lives... memories are made of this.