Thursday, August 24, 2023


 Looks simple enough: sliding sash window at the rear of an end terrace, just over hundred years old. But look closer.

The timber assembly is pushed into a brick rebate from inside. This gives a pleasant modelling depth to the facade while greatly enhancing the weather seal without use of modern synthetics, tube applied and likely to degrade in a decade or two.

Internally there will be a wooden lintel giving a square opening with architraves on three sides and a neat little timber sill. Externally an interesting brick arch. Soldiers at the haunches with two rows of brick-on-edge between. Ten on the bottom, eleven above. 


Simple square mould cover strips down the side, and a wider board along the top, scribed and planed down to fit the curve. By now you have a complex zig-zag path to discourage wind blow moisture entry while allowing dissimilar materials to slide past each other.

The building can breathe while tolerating significant movement. How often can you say that of "modern construction"? Not many of these original windows left by now along this Terrace, sadly. I doubt that any of the replacements will survive a century.

Some interesting broken bond down the sides. Of course the headers (through bricks that tie the two skins together) are placed away from the external reveal in order to form the internal rebate.

More could be said, but I'll stop there.



I've been reflecting on my long journey with Project Soane, recreating a lost piece of architectural history (the bank of England as it was 200 years ago)

The job became too big for me as I tried to capture the evolution of a building over time and piece together a constantly shifting 3 dimensional jigsaw puzzle. I was reading some history of the Kings and Queens of England when I got the notion of writing text in a kind of fairytale cum morality tale style to sit alongside images of my analytical work.



Spice things up. Try to convey some of the rambling thoughts that rattle round my brain when studying historical buildings with BIM tools "just for the hell of it"

Good King Billy the original Orange monster, accepted by englishmen because the alternative was worse. Complex cultural bonds across the English Channel between London and Amsterdam. Shifting alliances and rivalries.

"The Bank that Soane built" gives me a way of peering into a wondrous period of historical transitions. Poking my headset inside and looking around. We get too wrapped up in our little modern crises. Stop complaining. Try to build something.



A quick trip to Hastings to visit old friends. I'm going to be moving around a lot for the next couple of weeks, but will try to keep the posts going if I can.

There's something about an English seaside town. The cry of the seagulls, the smell of fish and chips. Such an enormous contrast to my Dubai home base, along just about every possible metric.

I coined the phrase "the way we build" to capture my lifelong efforts to understand the human condition through the lens of the structures we create. A flight of steps can evoke memories of meals taken outside with friends. Good natured debates based on disparate life experiences.

The pebble beach meeting a grey, windswept sea along a wide open sea. So different from the tepid waters of the gulf lapping against fine sand and extending into creeks and lagoons that have seen trade pass between the fertile crescent and the Indian subcontinent since the dawn of civilization.

What a privilege to move between these worlds so easily, and repeatedly as the decades drift by. It's beyond words.



An afternoon walk in Hastings. A fishing village with a deep history and a holiday resort for the urban masses with more recent origins, lie side by side, scrunched together but still retaining separate identities.

Fascinating to watch the parade of styles, like some fashion show of housing form, spanning a couple of hundred years and more. Rounded corners and horizontal glazing speak of classic 1930s semis.

A wonderful, higgledy-piggledy ripple of roofs says "Old Town"... with a smattering of timber-framed gems that lurch drunkenly up the road. Then there are the three-storey terraces, from Regency to Victorian to Edwardian, painted up in quite delightful colour combinations.

I love the layered effect as they step up the sides of the valleys, peeping over the top of the row in front like so many theatre goers.



Friday, August 18, 2023


Wiggly roofs in Cross Street, Basingstoke. Picturesque collection of chimneys, long extinct.

This town is a glorious hodge-podge of quaint old town and bold modern interventions. A parade of late twentieth century styles, each one more ridiculous than the last.

It sounds awful, but I love it: social history laid bare for all to read. And it's alive. Forget the architectural purists. There's something for everyone here.

Heritage to Kitsch to Brutalism. Cycle paths, green links & ring-road. Tacky social housing, Edwardian terraces, slick yuppie flats.

"Warts and all" works for me. Why not?



Hampshire seems to have an endless supply of country pubs, often timber framed and sometimes thatched. We had a celebratory meal in this one, which doesn't look so old from the outside.

Inside the rough hewn oak beams and studs hint at pre-industrial times. The way the walls have been opened up is modern in spirit. The old country inns would have had separate rooms like any other house. Perhaps a barrel, set on a table, or the beer could have been kept in the scullery.

The use of a bar-counter to speed up the dispensing process comes with industrialisation like so many other ideas. And now in the digital era we have gastro-pubs with sizeable car parks, like this one.

Look them up on Google maps, check out the pics, make your choice and navigate to meet up with scattered friends. A far cry from walking down the road to the same place every time.



Basingstoke Station in the rain. The heavens just opened and the canopies over the platforms simply couldn't cope. What a contrast with the world I left behind the previous day.

So begins chapter three of my hybrid semi-retirement.

1. A month in Singapore
2. 4 months back at home base, Dubai
3. Six weeks in UK

It's not just the change in weather of course. Sharing the life-rhythms of my children and grandchildren contrasts sharply with the hermit-like routines of my Dubai apartment.

So many cultural references in the railway platform images. Rain-mist evokes the steam age. Glowing lights, slatted fascia, wrought iron cantilevers on cast iron columns with leafy capitals. Agatha Christie meets Harry Potter.

Far cry from the six lane highways of Dubai.



Something about this little terrace of three houses caught my eye. The colours for one but then the detailing of the entrance on the corner unit. The proportions of the keystone, executed in tile creasing I think, very nicely judged.

The bands of grey brick on red walls in Flemish bond are very common in this area, Waterhouse used this combination in his Reading work. They go well with the blue-grey Welsh slate and red clay ridge tiles.

Someone has chosen paint colours that really set this all off. You wouldn't call it great architecture by any means, but a positive contribution to the streetscape and far better, in my view than many of the more recent contributions.

Old age bias?



Terraced housing, Basingstoke. This little area was built to a common theme, but with variation in the details. One such detail is the bay window. The original design still exists (top left) but many have "upgraded" over the years.

In terms of proportions the old design wins hands down, and I'm a big fan of sliding sash technology. But having defended hodge-podge reality in my last post, can I bemoan it here?

A little bit perhaps, but it would be difficult to regulate. Maybe I would consider some guidelines / preferred designs, just for the street facades. It's very subtle. The brown version seems less objectionable, I'm not sure why.

All in all, it's a tribute to the robustness of this typology that it can absorb such a variety of alterations over the years and still retain a sense of unity and cohesion.



Edwardian terrace in the middle. Recent infill projects attempting to capture the same spirit, or at least to fit into the neighbourhood in a respectful way.

It's not an easy ask and I'm not saying I could do better. Probably I would give this a 7 out of 10. Definitely I prefer the original in terms of proportions, detailing, massing. But it is the 21st century, and you can't just replicate what went before.

I definitely prefer windows to be set back from the face of the wall, and if you are going to break the glazing up anyway, why not give them vertical proportions?

Still, I've seen a lot worse. 🤔



Tuesday, August 8, 2023


1982 or 3 and I was embarking on family life, although still a volunteer teacher and the only white face in a community of 1000 souls.

There were no alphabet books with an African theme to my knowledge. I was toying with the idea of a dual language picture book. It didn't go much further than this. I've always been much better at starting projects than completing them.

Shona and English, for those who don't recognise the mother tongue of most Zimbabweans. I was just thinking aloud about the concept here, doodling in my pocket notebook, much as I type these notes into my phone right now.

Filling out an idle moment with hopes, dreams and memories of this fleeting life. This one is for my daughter Wendy and for her cousins Cathy and Kundai, who stayed with us as young girls.



Titus Salt was a man of business in the Yorkshire mould. "Salt preserves" and his family dealt in the business of preservatives, chemicals of various kinds. Yorkshire was of course sheep rearing country and no doubt they supplied chemicals for treatment of fleeces.

At some point his father moved sideways into the wool business itself. As the industrial revolution took off there was a voracious appetite for more raw wool. Father and son explored new sources of fibre including Russia and South America.

Titus cut his teeth as a middle man, buying and selling, but frustrated by lack of vision among his clients, decided to set up his own factory. He chose a location some distance from the grime and congestion of Bradford, but with excellent transport links.

Here he built Salts Mill, and the model village of Saltaire. Specialising in Alpaca, a luxury cloth made with wool that others rejected. Setting standards for treating his workforce with respect. Working class housing with a hint of italianate style and all the mod cons of the 1850s.

It's an interesting story and a worthy topic for a BIM pencil study.


Fred Slag was a name we found on a gravestone somewhere on the outskirts of Sheffield. Was Etty his wife or his sister? Did they die in childhood as so many others? Can't remember.

But the names appealed. A stage name perhaps, or a character in some graphic novel that I could write. Partly modelled on Noddy Holder of the Slade. Briefly one of my favourite bands as I leaned in to my northern working class roots.

Now I've brought them back again as something closer to their original selves. Simple Yorkshire folk from the Victorian era. Characters to breathe some life into my BIM pencil studies of terraced housing.


Saltaire, the monument that Titus built to Victorian philanthropy. I'm not sure there are any deep secrets here. Ordered design with a hint of classical detail. A variety of house types, arranged sensibly with the slightly larger ones as bookends.

It must have been a hard life by our standards. Long working hours, washing clothes by hand, heating and cooking with coal. Bring in a new bucket from the shed, clean out the grate each morning, constant tending with poker, fireguard and scuttle. The pot calling the kettle black through a thick coating of soot.

I'm just old enough to remember the yearly visits of the chimney sweep. Covering all the furniture with sheets while he fed his brush up with its cane extensions, screwed in one by one.

Don't knock gas. It's a good clean fuel to help with the complex energy transition process that started during my teenage years and will continue until my grandchildren are old and grey like me. Hurry up and go slow. More haste less speed.

No shortage of ancient wisdom condensed into little nuggets. How did I get onto this? 🤣🤣🤣

Blame the BIM pencil.



Work in progress.

The corner block as originally built had two homes in an interlocking arrangement. The wings were cut back in modern times to create a single unit plan.

Along the street front the height drops to two floors, with a cellar (not yet modelled) Four houses at one level, then taking up the street slope at another 3 story unit, which also projects forward.

Simple "palace front" devices to give some extra gravitas to the main streets. It's very effective, and the more I study Saltaire, the more I see what a significant achievement it was 170 years ago.

So glad I was able to do all that data gathering back in 2007. Is it really that long? My how time slips away!


Sunday, August 6, 2023


 This Caricature is from 1974, sketched in my little pocket notebook from memory. I was trying to capture characters from a few months earlier, aware that my life was moving on. Shortly after that I started on the road to bricklaying via government retraining courses.

I think this guy was called Arnold. He pitched up every night in a pub called The Signpost, in Pitsmoor, Sheffield. They said his hands were locked into place from holding big heavy tongues in the steel foundries. A man of few words. Steady as a rock.

Scary to think I might be older than he was at the time I drew this. We lived in different worlds for sure, but rubbed shoulders for a while, and he made an impression on me.

Colorising done on my phone just now. How I wish I could sketch like that now. Maybe I can but I would struggle to find that easy fluid manner, AND ... it looks like him, feels like him.



Late 70s, towards the end of my bricklaying days, a couple of years before I volunteered to work in Zimbabwe. Standing next to the dragon gate

This was my pilgrimage to Barcelona to see the work of Antoni Gaudi. Not quite so famous as he is now. There were no queues to get in. But he had been my hero since before I went to university, based on a book from Barnsley public library.

We studied history of architecture in art classes during my last couple of years at school. That's where I learnt about the classical orders and the different phases of Gothic. I got to know who Mies and Wright and Corb were.

But Gaudi is the one who really captured my imagination. Books are all very well, but that visit, after several years of manual building work, really made me think again about what he was up to.

It's not very clear in this grainy snapshot, but I was wearing red and green shoes, plus a red and green zig-zag belt. I had two pairs of those shoes made, with the colours reversed. It was more economical to cut the leather that way. And of course I wore them as mismatched pairs.

Socially I was very shy, but I had this quiet, rebellious streak. Go figure. 🤔


My little notebook from 1974. A period of transition. The illusion that somehow my rebellion against convention would transform the world was fading into a journey full of twists and turns, a willingness to learn about the world.

I spent a few weeks on a barge. Picking up loads in Hull docks, down the humber to Goole then south. Unloading sacks of butterbeans that brought my forearms out in a rash. Hard physical labour can teach a quiet, sheltered boya few things about reality.

But my head was still in the clouds to some extent, as I scribbled away in my little pocket book. Recording thoughts and images in my own naive way. Life in the raw, spiral bound and red felt tip pen.


 This must be from 1993 when I was fresh back from Joburg where I completed my architecture studies (years 5 & 6) This project was drawn up by hand, but I did these perspective studies using Autocad.

There were only 3 computers in the office and as the new recruit I didn't get one of my own. I did have a PC at home, so these may have been done there, memory fails.

Not long after this I became the office "computer guy", introducing a customized menu file for Acad and use of Xtree for file management. We didn't have windows at this stage. You had to type in the full file path to open a file. I used a batch file at startup to create substitute drives, so we could have a "J:drive" for all the jobs, and a "K:drive for standard blocks.

Thirty years ago and full of naive hope for the digital world. No networks or Internet, just floppy disks. A dial up modem with primitive email followed soon after, and all those big heavy, stand-up drawing boards disappeared one by one.



Thursday, August 3, 2023


 Fred and Etty Slagg came from farming stock. They lived, on the edge of the peak district, open moorland where sheep had roamed for centuries.

The monasteries were long gone, broken shells of disused buildings, piles of stone that spoke of an earlier way of life that organised the rhythm of life, gathering wool, spinning and weaving, growing flax.

Fred hired himself out on a seasonal basis. Sometimes farm work, sometimes hod carrying on building sites, sometimes loading and unloading barges. Etty kept the home fires burning, sitting next to the coal-fired Yorkshire range and darning socks.

She also had a spinning wheel and could take in piece work from local jobbers who acted as middle-men for the wool merchants. But there was plenty to do in their little two up/two down.



Just woke up to the fact that Forma /Spacemaker is now part of the AEC collection. Training session cancelled at short notice so let's do a bit of exploring.

Choose a location. I've been taking another look at terraced housing, so what about Saltaire? Model housing estate from 1850. I started a Revit model after a visit in 2007. Got a bit stuck on trying to set up a context model, but... "Not never no more "

Took about 20 minutes with Forma. Texture mapped toposolid, 3d building blocks. Street names. Probably not super accurate but it's great for the kind of studies I want to do.

I had the slope wrong, and the setting out grid needed a tweak. Great feedback. Starting to understand the logic of the street layout. Where to next with this new box of toys?


I've been struggling with a cold/virus for almost two weeks now. One week to recover 90% then another to get over general fatigue/lethargy.

It's partly to do with being over 70, partly that I've always been susceptible, partly to do with hormone therapy that I've been on for six months now.

But this morning I got up early, went for a short walk and settled down to make this Revit family for my terraced housing studies. Feels good. Life is precious.

Not super parametric, just materials and a height control. Didn't want to get bogged down. First priority is to convert the 4 typologies that I sketched on my phone a while back into Revit projects. Stay focused.



Fred and Etty lived in Leeds for a while in a rented back-to-back. Etty found cleaning work with the rising class of mill owners, supervisors and merchants who were building rambling mansions in a Gothic revival style.

There was a small communal wash house in the yard at the back where she could catch up with local gossip while waiting her turn.

Fred could still pick up work on building sites as the city grew rapidly, pulling in labour from villages and small towns. There was also loading and unloading work to be had at the canal basin, plus he grew vegetables on a small plot of waste land and helped Etty with jobs like fetching up coal from the cellar to fill the scuttle.

Of course he reckoned himself the best at banking up the fire and damping it down for the night. Etty knew better than to argue such petty issues.


It may look simple, but this roof took some figuring out. The two short returns on the main pyramid don't line up, so you inevitably get a difference in eaves height. Adjusting the eaves level and pitch of the secondary roof takes a little patience, but I'm OK with the result.

This is how it was originally built. More recently the return was cut back and two units merged into one. My friends live in this house in Saltaire, so I was able to study the tell-tale scars and fudges from the inside.

I also have a floor plan from the public library in Bradford. Always sobering to see how little information builders needed to get the job done 150 years ago. Are we making progress? or just proliferating red tape and blame shifting?


Sitting out on my balcony for the first time in some weeks. It's been too hot, then I got a bit of a flu virus. I'm using my phone to work/think. Not so much for the day job, but for the BIM pencil/way-we-build persona I assume on LinkedIn, the "phone" is a huge part of my process.

Of course it's totally reliant on 50+ years experience being in love with buildings. almost 40 using computers. 25 with a laptop, approaching 20 as a Revit/BIM addict. But the immediacy of this handheld brain extension, tethered to my back-catalogue in the sky... The fact that I can walk away from my desk for a cup of coffee and some sideways thinking... that's given me a daily routine: greater directness and spontaneity.

I use two core apps on my Samsung Note to collect images and text in a chronological stream. Not all for LinkedIn, but that's a significant part of it. This image, compiled with Pixlr, while sitting out here in my shorts and sweating profusely, seeks to capture the ecosystem.