Friday, June 9, 2023



More Revit - fueled analysis of International city where I live. Using the map I started a few weekends back to organise my research efforts. Some walking around, but mostly Street View.

As it turns out, the three clusters closest to me have the same basic structure with 5 different building types. One gets 8 repeats and the others four each. Heights are 3, 4 & 5 storeys, highest in the middle of each cluster.

I had a vague idea of this based on living here for 16 years, but it's quite satisfying to reverse engineer it all with my BIM pencil.



I aim to integrate my work into the embodied learning experience which is life. Sitting on my balcony should connect me to the world, geographically, artistically, historically, socially.

The grouping of "countries" at International City is a little strange, but no more so than the facade styles. This is not high architecture, but it's where I live and I've always been suspicious of architectural snobbery. Part of the reason for abandoning the profession for fifteen years in my twenties and thirties.

This analysis is a work in progress, but I want to express my own gut feelings for these designs, some of which work much better than others. Many architects would just dismiss the whole miserable lot as shoddily built pastiche.

But this is home to 50 thousand souls plus me. So why not ponder how it might have been improved, without changing the concept or spending more money, just basic design skills.

5 countries/styles x 5 plan layouts x front & back views. Street view snapshots organised on a Revit sheet based on the understanding gained from the massing model.



Almost ten years ago I was trying to persuade the partners that BIM was the future. We had a short series of weekly sessions where they experienced the basics of Revit in a hands-on way.

I chose Villa Savoye as a building they would enjoy architecturally, that was fairly small, and contained such Revit elements as ramps, railings and curtain walls.

For me it was a great experience but it didn't break through as fully as I had hoped. There remains to this day a "class divide" between concept designers who love the CAD /Sketchup combo, and production teams who are expected to "BIM it up"

All the same I love this old model which I will be dusting off for some revived training sessions with more junior staff.



The first two pages of a concept design booklet for Villa Savoye. It uses a GAJ title block because I was using this Revit model for training sessions in the company. (long, long ago)

Everything here is native Revit except for one small jpeg of the site taken from Google Earth.

I have always thought that the Desktop Publishing capabilities of Revit are underplayed and underdeveloped. I understand why the concept design team use a sophisticated DTP package with the ability to track right and left hand pages, vary text spacing, apply background images or gradient fills to a page...

But for some projects concept brochures would be more efficiently delivered direct from Revit, with the ability to update almost instantly with design changes, if only some of these DTP capabilities had been incrementally added over the last ten years.

I get it. The factory conceded the "concept design space" long ago and accepted the industry conclusion that Revit is "documentation software" with a strong presence in the BIM world, with its bureaucratic management bias.

But it's a terrible shame that concept designers and delivery teams continue to live in different worlds, with some brave exceptions.

The seamless flow from client briefing to handover and facilities management remains elusive, despite the hype.

So it seems to me.



Saturday, June 3, 2023


Shots of the power station from my morning walk. You can see the pylon giants beginning their stroll across the desert. Ten league boots personified. In fact I can't help wishing their personalities were enhanced in subtle ways to bring a smile to our lips.

We tend to demonise large scale infrastructure these days, especially if it's connected to fossil fuels, even though it has dragged so many people out of absolute poverty and enabled standards of health and hygiene that were unthinkable two hundred years ago.

Of course we are going through another important energy transition now and I've supported that for 50 years now in my own little way. But history tells us that these things take time and forcing change through, based on ideology, is unwise.

But I'm getting off topic. I was just thinking about how we can give a human face to heavy engineering. The Victorians were quite good at it I think, and it spilled over to the modern era in structures like the Battersea power station. Maybe a slightly less mechanistic and rule-bound mindset would help.

Just a thought.



Bing Maps gives a nice clear footprint for all the buildings. Scaling up screenshots to match the Cadmapper file I inserted at the beginning helps me to fine tune the parameters on my apartment block families and set the relative positions.

I have three copies of the same group for Spain Italy and Russia. How to colour them differently? I created a project parameter, text, instance, varies by group. Type the names of the countries into the individual blocks. Set up view filters for each country and choose colours.

Wikipedia tells me that International City was planned for 60 thousand residents. That's a scary number. People coming here to work, often supporting families back home. That was me for the first 10 or 12 years. Now it's just my home, so this is one way to understand it better.



Sketching on my phone this morning, out on the balcony. Even at 7am it's quite sweaty out here. Kind of like a gentle sauna so not unpleasant.

To understand is to "stand inside". That's the etymology. Drawing, painting, sculpting, (even in their digital form) are ways of engaging physically with a subject: mingling your body with ideas and structures outside ourselves.

Literal representation is a red herring,or can be. I take it as a starting point for an exploration that blends conscious and subconscious abilities of my mind and body. Remain alert for the unexpected. Follow your instincts. 



The subject is the large power station close to where I live, and the pylons that emerge from it like new-born giants, striding across the desert. But the medium is also the message. A Samsung note phone that is super-glued to my existence, taking photos on demand, cutting out interesting portions and sending them to SketchBook Pro, one of those packages that Autodesk bought, failed to monetize, offered for free for a while, then sold on.

It's drawing, on layers, with various bells and whistles. I focus on what I know well, becoming fluent and intuitive. Trying to blend decades of predigital drawing experience with this extended toolset.

Cumulative embodied learning. Finding meaning in the daily experience of the place where I live.




Sunday, May 28, 2023


In 1972 I completed my first degree in architecture and walked away from the profession. 20 years later I completed the second degree after a long detour, and joined a new practice.

1993 was a turbulent year in many ways, just keeping my head above water, both at home and at work. Being project architect for this office building in Harare felt like a pretty big deal at the time.

Looking back now I'm amazed how few drawings we needed to get it built. But that's the way things were back then, in Zimbabwe at least. I'm grateful to have experienced those simpler times.

I felt like such a hotshot because I was customising Autocad menu files. Setting up the CAD standards for a firm with three computers. 🤣🤣🤣

What larks pip, what larks.



Pigeons. Love them or hate them, maybe both. Rock doves were domesticated perhaps as long as 5000 years ago for their homing abilities. In my youth, it was common for coal miners to be pigeon fanciers, holding competitions and finding meaning and purpose beyond the physical demands of going "down (t) pit"

The pigeons of International City are domesticates gone feral. The ten story buildings in the centre where I live are ideal, both in height and in often having projecting bands at floor level. That's not a huge problem, but we also have balconies.

Creative bird proofing is always interesting to me. Humanization of architecture. You can see bits of my solution in the fuzzy foreground.

During the pandemic a pair of birds began to nest under a low table that I had moved outside to contain some of my excess junk. I thought I had chased them out before blocking off the holes into the dark interior.

Apparently not. Spring cleaning a year later I found a skeleton. Poignant beauty in its own right.



At the weekend I managed one day working on my Dubai map In Revit.

Focused now on International City. I set out a regularised grid for the clusters to the East of my flat in the CBD. Spain, Italy, England etc. The styles are quite comical to a student of architectural history, but it is what it is: a dormitory suburb at the lower end of the market.

We'll get back to that. For now I'm working up the massing of the buildings close to my balcony view. Ending with a camera shot. Not quite perfect yet, but in the right ballpark.

It looks like I underestimated the size of the pylons significantly. Truly giants striding across the landscape😳. Always something new to learn when you engage the brain in drawing or modelling from life.



1994 and I was settling into life as an architect at Clinton & Evans in Harare. Mike Clinton entrusted two of us (soon dubbed "the two Andys") with drawing up a new terminal building for Harare Airport, under the supervision of French specialists ADP.

I remember successfully arguing for a Ram upgrade to 8mb so that we could keep the entire floor plan in a single file and use viewports to split it into several sheets, 🤣🤣🤣

I had also instigated systematic use of blocks instead of simply copying repeated elements around. As I remember there was an elevation drawing for Miekles Hotel that was refusing to fit onto a floppy disk.

Using blocks I managed to reduce the file size ten fold. Basic stuff but it was greeted with some amazement at the time.

By the way the airport terminal wasn't built to our drawings even though we were paid for a completed tender package. Our dear leader RGM decided to step in and award the contract elsewhere.

Colorization of these drawings done on my Samsung phone as I sit and watch the sunset with sweat beads trickling down my back. Definitely moving into the hot weather now.




A bit of a hybrid day today. Officially it's the weekend, but I will go in for a while this afternoon to support Sabu demonstrating his Dynamo scripts.

So I tackled a quick family this morning for my Dubai map explorations. Two sweeps, one hosted on a reference line so I can control the angle. These are the apartment blocks in the "country-themed" clusters. Both legs are the same height but the length might be different.

I learnt last night that the overall layout is inspired by Persian carpets. No wonder it's so confusing finding your way around 🤣🤣🤣

But this model is definitely helping me to find regularities in the structure. Later on I will add a representation of the entrance features that join the two legs and help to define the national style for each cluster.

Also reminded myself that Bing Maps is sometimes a better resource than Google for this kind of work.