Friday, February 24, 2023



A snapshot from my pocket notebook from a time when I was struggling with the physical demands of manual labour on building sites, but determined to reject the world of corporate architecture that I had glimpsed as an undergraduate.

Difficult to convey that journey of early manhood. Growing our hair long was such a big deal in the late 60s. Political awareness seemed so black and white. Testosterone perhaps 🙄

Thankfully I was lured into a world of practical skills, learning to respect the capabilities of those who had done less well than me at school but learned to handle harsh physical realities.

I'm so glad that I didn't just follow the tram lines that would have kept me in architect's offices for the rest of my life. No disrespect for those who took that route, but I wasn't ready for it.

Had to pursue my "hero's journey" first, and it was a blast for sure.



The year was 1988. We had moved into a new house, with a guest wing that would allow my mum and dad to come on extended visits and there was a swimming pool in the front garden.

My mum had always been a strong swimmer. Wonderful pic of her in the pool with Joe.

I had moved from curriculum development to the University. Challenging times. I had to design a course to upgrade teachers to degree level and accept the first intake of students, all within three weeks.

The section details of steel frames were deduced from studying the building where I gave my lectures. Desperately developing material to use in class and working late into the night. I've no idea how I pulled through that period.

The house plans were requested by a colleague and I just didn't know how to say no. At this stage I really had no intention of resuming my architecture career. But in retrospect these were the first baby steps back in that direction.




Revit work from almost 14 years ago. I was still trying to convince the firm that we could use BIM from an early design stage. Eventually I decided that there were better uses for my energy. The concept design team is used to a certain way of working, and to some extent I get it, although the burden dumped on the BIM team is glossed over, and it hurts our bottom line for sure.

But this was a great project. A huge piece of topography and multiple linked models. It was very demanding on the hardware we had at the time, but we did use the capabilities of Revit to resolve difficult site planning problems on rugged terrain and convince our engineers to rethink some of their solutions.

Big thanks to Simon and Nandish for comradeship throughout and for trusting me to deliver on my side of the bargain. Props to Hrishi and Mani who were footsoldiers on that team and have since progressed to BIM leadership roles in the practice.



These sketches must be from 1970. First year at University College and I had befriended Peter Jeffree. He helped to introduce me to Blues and Jazz, and we had quite wide-ranging shared interests.

This sheet is a set of ideas for paintings. Various themes running through here. Not sure if I ever showed this to Pete, but we must have talked about art and the potential for mundane items like soil stacks to inspire moody, semi-abstract compositions.

Lots of architectural ideas here and the hint of something lurking just around the corner. I'm starting to think that I'm just about ready to follow through on these ideas, more than 50 years later.



Letraset, rotring stencil and a small freehand sketch. Photocopy as required.

I guess this is from 1978. Hand crafted letterhead for my quotes, such as they were. Plus a photograph of demolition stage on an attic conversion job. Take out the skylight, build a dormer, box in the top of the stair for sound and fire reasons.

Even at the time, I was dubious about those flat roofed dormers. It was a quick face-lift, improving headroom and lighting, but how long did they last? Roofing felt on chipboard at a nominal slope.

Happy memories though. Better than spending my twenties in an office. Can't beat getting your hands dirty on a building site at that age.




In 1975 I did a 6 month course in Bricklaying at the government retraining Centre in Handsworth, Sheffield. I used to cycle there every day across the lower deck of the Tinsley Viaduct which carried the M1 motorway across the Don Valley with its belt of steelworks.

Mr Cox was a softly spoken man in a white coat, with a long career behind him. A patient teacher who gave us a sound grounding in the trade. The lads were varied and full of mischief. I knew a few women who were starting to venture into the building trades but they weren't from a working class background. Those societal changes were yet to come.

A sketch from my pocket notebook captures the grip that the world of bricks took on my imagination. That world of building sites and masculine banter dominated the seventies for me. It helped to toughen me up and prepare me for the move to Africa that took me by surprise at the beginning of the 80s



This is a map I am working up in Revit. Hampshire churches. Churches within reach of Basingstoke where my grandsons live. I've visited quite a few of them. Saxons churches with wooden spires/belfries and flint walling.

I like mapping things in Revit, embedding data in little generic objects. It's the process that counts and how it helps you to get your head around a set of buildings in a particular landscape. Looking up information online. Gradually adding more instances, more layers of information.

The Meonwara was a tribe of Saxons who settled in the Meon valley. Mentioned by the Venerable Bede in the 8th Century. How do you transport yourself back to that world?

My chosen approach (called "the way we build") is a blend of hands-on research techniques. Modelling in Revit, drawing and painting, collecting and organising information from books and Internet searches, wherever possible, group collaborations to tap into a broader set of ideas and approaches.

I have visited some of these churches. My grandsons live in Basingstoke. Actual visits to old buildings are a vital part of the method, always asking questions. How was that actually built? What purpose does it serve? How does it fit into a sequence of technological change and stylistic development?



Model progress on the first of the Meon churches, in Hampshire that are at the core of my current #bimpencil study.

Corhampton was the second in a group of three Saxon churches that I visited with my family in the summer of 2019. Sunny weather, all three of my children, both grandsons and one daughter in law. Fond memories for sure.

The church in the photo is Exton. Similar language and scale but different in detail. The window and door families present an interesting challenge. Just going for a simplified approximation at the moment.



Weekend draws to a close and I'm quite happy with the progress on Corhampton Church in the Meon valley of Hampshire.

I'm doing this based on a couple of dozen photos taken in 2019 plus information from the Internet. There was a framed floor plan in the church that I snapped, and of course Google earth gives a rough guide to size, but for the most part all the dimensions in my model are estimated by eye.

I love to do it that way. Forces me to think hard about the way a building is put together and to take decisions about the level of abstraction that I should use. I suppose the day will come when others will just tell "the machine"... "take this source material and convert it into a BIM model of a Saxon church."

But why? The whole point of this exercise is to stimulate my brain into thinking more deeply about what these old churches mean to me. It's the process that matters, not the end product.

Call me old fashioned 🤣🤣🤣



In 1976 I was working as a bricklayer on sites in and around Sheffield. It was a brilliant summer and we had our shirts off for weeks on end. Oh to be young again. 🤣🤣🤣

I had a little pocket notebook where I would write diary notes when the mood struck me, and sketch little doodles like these hod carriers. Fortunately I digitised those pages before coming to Dubai, so I have this amazing resource for peeking into my past in a very intimate way.

Around this time I discovered Dr Feelgood and a new faith in the blues roots of my guitar playing. Vivid memories of going to a concert at the City Hall, probably with Pete Donoghue, a local lad who was giving up on bricklaying just as I was going in to it.

Such is life.



In 1989 I resumed an architecture career that had been put on hold for 17 years. That's not quite accurate. I had decided to abandon architecture at least a year before completing my first degree, and I really had no intention of resuming that vocation until a few months before these drawings were done.

It was a real struggle at first. 8 years as a bricklayer, then another 8 teaching in Zimbabwe, then starting again at the bottom of the ladder.

I just caught the tail end of "drawing by hand" but wouldn't have missed it for the world. It allowed me to experience the transition to CAD and later the transition to BIM, feeling like a pioneer in both cases.


Can't believe it's almost a decade since I started working on this hotel project. The BIM team gets brought in when concept design is approved. That's how it works at GAJ. I understand why, but doesn't mean I think it's the best way.

All the same I enjoy picking up a fairly well resolved concept and setting it up in Revit for further development. Sometimes I'm involved all the way through to contract documents but more often I will move on to a new project around the end of Schematic.

A year ago I had to pass through Muscat to get a stamp on my brand new British passport, having been forced to abandon Zimbabwean citizenship after more than 30 years. So I got a chance to visit the finished building for the first time.

These images are from the Revit model, but I will do another post with photos from 2022



Mysk Al Mouj, a hotel in Muscat by GAJ, the firm I've been with since I came to Dubai, 19 years ago, fleeing a collapsed economy in Zimbabwe.

I know the building quite well, having started the Revit model and worked on it for many months. But I had seen the built object until just over a year ago. Credit to Jason and the concept team for a great design, to Nandish for taking on the project architect role and protecting me from exposure to endless tedious meetings. 😜

So these are photos taken in January 2022. Very proud to have been involved in this project. Looks great, even on an overcast day with scattered showers.



Not sure what to say about this sketch, which I think I captured with my first digital camera when I was preparing to move to Dubai. I didn't manage to capture everything I had filed away in five decades, but I did what I could in the knowledge that there was a strict limit to what I could take with me.

I think the original dates from the transition from schoolboy in Barnsley to architecture student in London. Quite how it came into my head to choose this subject matter and this style, I don't really know.

It has a kind of Nordic saga feel and I really like it, but beyond that...? There is some pencil work, some red fibre-tip pen, are the waves water colour? I have an idea that the mountains are red ink, applied with a brush obviously, but when did I get that ink, and did I ever do anything else with it?

Lost in the sands of time.



In 1990, I applied to enter the fifth year architecture class at Wits. (a grand old University in Joburg) Joining at that stage was somewhat unconventional, but I got an interview and made myself an illustrated CV.

I think the text was done on a computer, the drawings are clearly done by hand, maybe reduced a bit on the photocopier, then physically pasted onto the page. Carefully white out the edges (there was a thing called process white, but I probably used Typp-Ex.) Then make a couple of clean copies of the whole thing. Did we use spiral binding?

This is a double page spread from that document. Two of the projects that I worked on during my two years as an architectural assistant at Jackson Moore, a period when I was testing out the idea of picking up the threads of an abandoned career after a 16 year hiatus.

Seems so long ago.