Tuesday, January 31, 2023


 I just want to thank Zach Kron for sending me down this rabbit hole aka "Florence in Pumpkin land" Too many "in jokes" to explain here, but Florence was my favourite RPC person, back in the day when a low-res render meant tying Revit down for 15 minutes.

This was just over 11 years ago and so much has happened since then. My goal was to create a parametric Doric column with variable entasis. It came down to making a profile in point world.

Conceptual Massing mode in Revit was fairly new and I was a bit of a novice, but I stumbled on a way of placing points radially with alternating radii from the origin of a mass family. Join these up in threes to generate a series of curved model lines. Together they become a profile which can be used in Sweeps and Lofts.

Three of these profiles create a form which can flip between Doric shaft and Pumpkin... Just by fiddling with a few parameters. Penny drop moment for me. (I'm a bit too old for mic drops 🙄)

This is the picture I should have shared before for part one, along with the text that was meant for the other pic. What an idiot 🤣🤣🤣🤣

Part 2 of the "Doric Pumpkin Show"

Yesterday's post was a bit technical. This was eleven years ago and I was infatuated with Revit, and in particular how to squeeze some poetry out of a tool that everyone took to be a way to bash out documentation faster.

I had built a version of one of the Doric Temples at Paestum in Southern Italy. This partially inspired by a Vincent Scully book. He was very good at finding poetry in old piles of stone. In particular he found meaning in the different "bulge factors" of Doric columns. Some temples strained vigorously to hold up the roof, others just seemed to float effortlessly.

I found a trick or two in Revit to express these variable curves and even flip them inside out to look like pumpkins. This opened a door to further flights of fancy and unexpected connections.

Scalability and "wall by face" allowed me to tackle Adolf Loos's entry for the Chicago Tribune competition... which would have put Nelson's column to shame. Not sure about the windows though.

2011 and I had created this scalloped profile in Revit and used it to create the shaft of a Doric column, complete with entasis. Actually there weren't enough flutes for proper Greek Doric so I built a new variant.

This made me realise that swapping out different profiles was a powerful way to generate variations on a theme. Also there are various ways to invert forms, to flip between concave and convex.

Interesting challenges around deciding which parameters to expose at the top level, and giving them names that promote intuitive tweaking of shapes.

Needless to say I was having a lot of fun. Call it a "flow state" if you like. 

At some point in my first batch of pumpkin explorations I got the idea of blogging "live" about my evolving competition entry. I realised that I was in the middle of an open ended exploration and that the process was at least as important
as the product.

So I was messing around at the edges of what Revit can do, waxing poetical about the wacky connections that were sparking off in my brain, and sharing my work in real time.

Conceptual Massing was conceived as a tool for designing whole buildings, and gradually fleshing them out with floors and walls. Early stage design with a bias towards organic form.

I always had a soft spot for Adolf Loos, an odd-ball architect on the fringe of early modernism. "Ornament and Crime" etc. He seems to have adopted the Doric Column as a form which transcends historicism with its geometric purity. Cue the Chicago Tribune competition entry. 

I must have been about 13 when I did this. Pages from an exercise book, illicitly extracted. This was a joint venture with my buddy Rushforth. We moved around from class to class and sat together, working on the "comic strip" in moments of boredom. He supplied some ideas. I did all the drawing.

It's based on a book by Julius Caesar that we were struggling through in Latin class. Some of the characters are from the Telegoons which was on the BBC around that time. We lapped it up avidly.

The drawings are all in fountain pen on poor quality paper. Quite astounded that I was able to achieve what I did.

A fascinating period of history also. A global super power from the Mediterranean infiltrating "third world" Britannia with a blend of trade and military force.

Oh to be young again 🤣🤣🤣



Monday, January 30, 2023

Sketching the Way We Build

 Continuing my little foray into the world of reticulated finishes. This was my own attempt to invent a pattern in that idiom.

It's drawn freehand on my phone. I may try taking this into Revit and adapting it to some practical situations. Perhaps a door surround.

Something for 2023 I guess.

In 1986 I was working in the curriculum development unit in Zimbabwe and preparing for a fourth book in a series of five. The series was called Let's Build Zimbabwe and it was targeted at secondary schools.

The fourth book was never completed, but during the pandemic I decided to recreate some of the sketches using digital methods, mostly SketchBook Pro which used to belong to Autodesk and is still my favourite drawing app for the Samsung Note.

This is a common sill detail in Zimbabwe. Solid walls, steel window frames, brick-on-edge sill over a bituminous felt dpc. Overhanging eaves are good to offer some protection from heavy rain. But not easy to provide on low-cost housing where the roof structure is simple wood beams spanning between cross walls.

More sketches from 1986 when I was a curriculum developer in Zimbabwe. I had decided that perspective views were easier to understand than isometrics, orthographics and other "technical" projections. We intended to introduce students to technical drawing conventions but to mix them in with more "natural" perspective viewpoints.

This is long before digital models became an option.

These sketches combine visualisation of pressed steel door frames as used almost everywhere in Zimbabwe at the time. How they are built into brickwork as it proceeds. Plus the options available for bonding a T junction in stretcher bond. There is something wierd about the bonding of the lower view. Not sure what I was going for there. Work in progress I guess.

The drawings have been colourised and enhanced digitally especially for this post.

This is digital recreation based on an old pencil sketch. I was building up a library of such sketches in preparation for the last two books of the Let's Build Zimbabwe series.

Basic plumbing concepts were to form part of the final book. The idea here was to help students visualise a manhole, to see how a pipe junction is exposed for cleaning purposes, and to support a discussion of topics like benching.

I did a bit of benching in my twenties, but would never claim to be an expert.

The drawing was created during Covid Lockdown, an opportunity to revisit several unfinished projects from my varied past.

This little tongue-in-cheek story was my attempt to convey the concept of using a gauge rod when raising brickwork corners. I tried to inject some life and humour into the topic by inventing two characters with different characters.

In my short career as a bricklayer we mostly used a tape measure and multiples of 75mm which we could easily calculate in our heads. But in Zimbabwe, brick sizes were not so well standardised, so the classic square timber with saw cuts was commonly used. Easily knocked up on site.

Is the romance going out of our world? Would anyone tell stories like this to explain 3d printing, or robotic assembly? Does it even matter?

Personally, I am very grateful to have experienced the satisfaction of learning a trade and building with my bare hands using processes that were developed over hundreds of years. I never climbed very high up that ladder, but the view was spectacular all the same.

Sunday, January 29, 2023


 One of the challenges that was thrown my way during the pandemic. How to represent these tent structures using Revit.

It's great to see the final product getting some coverage now. Looks like an amazing location if you want an exclusive desert experience.

Hats off to the French design team, and to our Revit guys who put together the construction package. Seems like the contractors did a pretty good job also.

Never a dull moment at GAJ.

Further to my previous post. Here are some screenshots from my fumbling attempts to interpret the third hand instructions I received.

Thanks for the comments from Gavin Crump and others suggesting clever ways of doing tension structures in Revit. Unfortunately I don't have access to Rhino and never got fluent with Dynamo. Vanilla Revit is my hammer, and everything looks like a nail to me 😁

The tent poles are fairly straightforward Revit families. Then connecting between these are Adaptive components with variable curves. Instance parameters.

Inevitably on these projects there are multiple cooks stirring the pot, false starts and late changes. But we got there in the end and by all accounts it's a stunning resort.

There were some decorative screens and mud brick walls that I was asked to help with also. Just to keep me on my toes.

Rusticated, Reticulated, vermiculated. Various overlapping terms. Commonly used on the lower stories of classical buildings to anchor them to the ground (metaphorically)

A few images from my ARChive folder (a label I came up with many years ago for my private digital database of architectural history)

How to represent this kind of treatment in Revit? I had a go some years ago while working on Project Soane, but it was a bit of a cheat, just a surface veneer, and very labour intensive.

Why is it so effective? Rough hewn stone blocks evoke a feeling of extra weight at a subconscious level perhaps. This seems to carry through, even when the treatment is abstracted into a more abstract pattern, carved out with great care.

A Web search for "Reticulated Masonry" yielded a variety of images. All useful references in their different ways.

I recently read a book about the evolutionary psychology of comedy which used the acronym JITSA (just in time spreading activation) to describe how our brains work.

This seems to capture the way that all these images relate to the search term. But on a more literal level it also serves as a description of the white on black network that could be veins on a leaf, or perhaps streets and alleyways in some old town.

Memory is not a series of boxes in an ordered array. I think it's more like JITSA. Flickering webs of connections. Nothing makes sense on its own. Concepts arise as dense webs of interconnection, constantly on the move.

Went up the Burj Khalifa today with my grandsons. View from the top looking down at Dubai Fountain. Makes me realise I should get out of my apartment more often 🤣🤣🤣