Monday, July 31, 2023


 This is from 2002. Arguably at the peak of my powers as an all round architect and my last completed project in Africa. I really enjoyed this one along with the visits to Blantyre, staying at the Mount Soche hotel and sitting in with the resident jazz trio to sing and play a couple of blues numbers in the dining room.

Seems like several lifetimes ago in some ways. I was working in Autocad with a bit of Sketchup here and there. Those were the early days before Google bought it out. Not sure Revit had been released yet but I had played around with early versions of Archicad. Very interesting, but you still had to flatten everything out to produce working drawings. Proto BIM, I guess.

Malawi was fascinating. Desperately poor people, full of good humour. A thinner but less racially divided layer of elites, compared to Zimbabwe. They were enjoying the freedom of a post Banda era, just as we were descending into Mugabe's tyrannical phase. So bizarre to see the Zim dollar falling against the Kwacha.


More images from my Blantyre heyday. Probably my last visit before moving to Dubai. I never saw the building 100% complete.

I came to architecture late, having a second go after abandoning the profession in my hot-headed youth. It took time to find my feet, and just as I was getting there the Zimbabwe economy went into a nose dive. But I got by, supported my family, survived through difficult times.

There are many ways to be an architect Building is a team sport. This project and my first building in Dubai were essentially solo efforts, but since then I have gradually drifted away from "design" and towards BIM support and mentorship.

No regrets. It's been a fascinating journey with more to come.


Configurations of basic ground plan for low-cost housing during the industrial revolution. This is just a quick exercise from memory, drawn freehand on my phone.

Back-to-backs, two-up/two-downs with steep stairs. Coal fires, outside toilets. Gas lighting, later upgraded to electric. This world is quite vivid in my memory. It still forms the core of the housing stock in the UK, several makeovers later.

I will be visiting UK soon, so just starting to ponder relevant BIM pencil studies. I should also try some storytelling, maybe around the basic routines of daily life in a terraced house with one cold tap and coal for heating and cooking.



An interesting example from the Training Sessions I have been doing at work based on Villa Savoye by le Corbusier. Such a great project for illustrating the various tools and capabilities of Revit.

In this case there is a curtain with tightly spaced horizontal mullions. Using Edit Profile to fit this into the wedge-shaped spaces below the ramp, then embedding the CW in a plastered masonry upstand/balustrade wall.

Using Cut Geometry, you can adjust the size/shape of the glazing several times and the hole in the masonry wall will adjust automatically. It's a well known technique, but this is such a great example to illustrate it's power.

Incidentally, not a bad bit of design work in a building that's almost 100 years old. It leaked, and the thermal performance was dismal by today's standards, but you have to admire the way he manipulated space.

There is no better way to gain deeper insights into iconic buildings than to build a Revit model.


Friday, July 28, 2023



Sir Robert passed on. The old lady had the nerve to approach a quirky young man with fire in his belly. John Soan, inclined to add an "e"
to his name. Pretentious and prickly but determined to succeed, to rise from his humble beginnings and shine like gold. Like the gold in the vaults below the banking halls and offices.

Soane gave 45 years to the old lady. Guided her through a complete transformation, the mother of all makeovers perhaps. A strange combination of classical tradition, picturesque romanticism, and personal vision. What a romance. Sadly it was all undone, through war once again. Expansion sideways gave way to vertical growth.

But that's another story for another day.



Son of a bricklayer, noticed and nurtured by a wealthier sort. Soane took the grand tour to Italy and cavorted with Bishops. He developed a highly individual style, part Roman part Romantic.

He brought light into rooms from unexpected directions often filtered through yellow glass. Top lighting did double work at the bank: security and the ability to pack spaces tightly together. The old ladies parlours changed almost as quickly as the money passing through. Never enough seats for all her servants. Musical chairs the perennial game.



Soane craved a grand Palace project with freedom to express grand symmetry. But he really excelled at improv and packing drama into tight and awkward spaces. You can't always get what you want...

He didn't really want the bank but it became his masterwork. The bank didn't really want his architectural sophistry, but it became a lasting symbol of their achievement, adapting to changing conditions over three centuries. Helping to usher in the modern world. Steam and steel. Rail and cotton. Paper money. Stable currency.


Did I mention that the old lady took a fourth husband? (after a period of mourning Mr Soane's passing while allowing younger fellows to tinker around with his vision)

There were two great wars that changed the bank in profound ways. In between these, the old lady took up with a certain Mr Baker, a new sort of man. Head in the neoclassical clouds, feet on solid commercial ground.

Mr Baker tore everything down and started again, though with some pretence at retaining the ghost of Mr Soane. He built a stiff and pompous tribute to the modern world, frozen classicism of great skill but not much soul, a mish-mash of Soane and Wren, it seems to me. Appropriate to its time no doubt.

Much more could be said I'm sure but let's hang this washing out on the line and see how it looks in the sunshine. Momentous times in the history of England seen through the prism of a building that just grew and grew, shaped itself to circumstance, sits there now like a hollow shell.

Through the magic of the BIM pencil, I have been able to peer into the old lady's complex history. If stones could speak, what a story they might tell.


Photos courtesy of my son. Reflecting on transition. Giles G Scott was the "external architect" for this coal-fired power station which has transitioned into an up-market, mixed-use iconic mega-structure.

Scott himself lived through transition from a third generation Gothic revivalist to a proto-modern with his stripped down aesthetic of dramatic multi-ribbed brickwork, strangely reminiscent of Klint's Copenhagen churches.

And now we are agonising our way through an energy transition. I'm certainly not going to see how it plays out. I do hope that cooler heads prevail, that the frantic finger pointing gives way to sensible long term strategy.

This building is not just a cultural icon. It provided electricity to several generations of Londoners transitioning into the modern world of radio, television, indoor plumbing, washing machines... A transition very familiar from my childhood years, when a man with a horse and cart would hump a sack of coal on his shoulder and heavy it down into the coal cellar below the path to our front door.

We've come a long way. These things take time.


Sunday, July 23, 2023


 In the beginning, Good King Billy won the hearts and minds of the ordinary English people. They feared the spectre of another catholic king, partly because they themselves were Protestants, partly because their lords and masters were split down the middle on religious lines. Nobody wanted another civil war. They were happy with half the nobility following the rites and rituals of the village church, while the rest kept their beliefs to themselves and their private chapels.

But Billy, the orange prince, also brought in new ideas with the power to unite the merchant class and landed gentry under the common cause of war and profit. It had worked back home in Holland, which had surged ahead with commerce and trade, while fighting a bloody war with Catholic Spain and the dreaded Habsburg dynasty, to secure its independence.


Amsterdam had a new kind of bank, funded by public subscription, managed by shareholders, funding the war with Spain. They offered a win-win proposition. Help your city fight the dragon by lending money at a guaranteed interest and low risk. "Because the books are kept by the very merchants who built the prosperity you now see all around."

This Dutch connection spawned the Bank of England, founded soon after Billy's arrival as independent managers of the National debt. Merchants now had a stake in warfare with rival France and rose to the challenge. Their money funded War production on a massive scale.


The blacksmiths and carpenters of England were proud artisans. With the coming of the printing press, they had learned to read. They could sing their hymns together in English, from printed sheets.

Some of them were drawn into the growing towns, and to the workshops of the naval dockyards. Building a new navy on a grand scale was a project that tapped into their native talents and raw energy. Out of the cauldron of iron smelting came new ideas. Mass production of nails, the churning out of wooden blocks for ships rigging.



Sailors needed uniforms and cottage weavers rose to the challenge. The race was on. Sharp minds stumbled upon little tricks to speed the work. Tap the flying shuttle sharply with a stick. If only one person could run two spinning wheels at once.🤔 These were the birth pangs of the Industrial Revolution with the old lady of Threadneedle Street cast in the role of midwife.


You can read history from buildings. They tell stories like the one about King Billy and a new kind of bank. The old lady lived three lives, or perhaps she had three husbands. Mrs Sampson, Mrs Taylor, Mrs Soane. What a roller-coaster ride for the old lady, aka the Bank of England


Time came for the old lady to move onward and upward. Business was good. More space, more prestige, gimme, gimme.

Enter stage right Sir Robert a man of style and taste, an artist, sculptor, with a wig. He knew how to make a big splash. He took Mr Sampsons centrepiece and expanded it into a Palace. It was a bit shoddy. More stage-set than solid long-term investment.

But it met the mood of the moment. Someone else could deal with the consequences.


Sunday, July 2, 2023



Zimbabwe beat West Indies in the cricket World Cup qualifiers which was a huge achievement as some of you will realise.

The ESPNcricinfo report headlined with a picture of Harare Sports Club and the verandah that I helped to design in 2002. Still looking good as a minimal intervention that adds important seating capacity and blends into the Cape Dutch aesthetic of the original building.

Kudos to Mike Clinton, my boss at the time, for directing the design with a light touch in his inimitable manner. As you can see it was all Autocad in those days, although I was already dabbling with Sketchup and Archicad.

The grand scheme for a circular stadium, to be built in segments as money permitted was designed in 3d Autocad but never won the hearts and minds of the committee.

Nice memories though, to go along with those of taking my now-grown-up sons to matches. Chatting to Chaminda Vaas on the boundary😳😎. I really miss those days in Zimbabwe sometimes. But in the end life there became untenable. Tragically so.



I was meditating on the etymology of "Originality" and decided to talk to chatGPT via the new Bing. My prompts are captured in the image.

The responses were plausible but to my mind a bit long winded and evasive. It's almost as if it was just trying to guess what I wanted to hear then padding it out with snippets of text from an ordinary Web search.

The most useful insight came right at the beginning. The usage of "original" branches off in two directions that ended up poles apart.

1. An original is the source object which can been copied many times. It may or may not be inventive.
2. An original is a surprising departure from all previous work often expressive of a cult of personality.

Not what the robot said, but my own thoughts, prompted by our short "conversation"

We used to build within established traditions, which acted as deep wells, points of origin for a huge variety of reinterpretations. (the same can be said of painting, music, etc)

The modernist myth suggests that we can design, un-moored from any preconception of style. The aesthetic will somehow emerge during the design process, which aims to be rigorous and functional. The line between originality and novelty becomes paper thin.

Origin as roots v originality as un-tethered flights of fancy.


New rule: a different kind of post. Allegorical stories, spliced in with BIM pencil images. Because "the way we build" reveals who we are, cast in stone for our grandchildren's grandchildren to puzzle over.

For the next few days, it will be the Bank of England aka Project Soane. After that, who knows? Let me know what you think.