Saturday, September 23, 2023



Two different buildings. (in Paris) Four different versions of the Corinthian Capital. One interior, three exterior. One pilaster, three round columns. Two smooth shafts, two fluted.

Differences also in the proportions, the separation and stylisation of the acanthus leaves, the representation of the hibiscus flower, top centre. I could go on.


Some years ago, in the wake of Project Soane, I developed a modular system for assembling classical columns. I wasn't aiming to show all the intricate detail, just a quick way to create a placeholder that captured the essentials.

All part of that little enterprise I call "the way we build"


Reviewing the Villa Savoye windows in the light of Sunday's visit. It seems to me that there is sub-frame made from square tube. This defines a series of rectangular spaces. Into these spaces fit either a standard two-pane slider, or a fixed light (or in one case a centre pivot)

These infill units seem to be fabricated from flat bar, for the most part. This gives the sliders a very narrow profile in plan, but at the overlap there is a return on both lights. Call it a weather baffle.


My hypothesis about the distribution of sliders and fixed lights was mostly correct. Just in the master bedroom, the fixed panel flips to the other end.

Really enjoying the motivation that visit provided. Just pushing things up a notch. I will probably come back to all these families and rebuild them from scratch at some point. But it's a bit like doing a painting. You need to keep all the areas moving forward in parallel to some extent. Do a bit here, do a bit there, stand back and think, rework the first part, etc etc.



Updating my Revit model of Villa Savoye yesterday, based on last Sunday's visit to the real thing.

Photos are great especially for looking back and noticing the fine detail but there is nothing to replace actually being there. So I'm trying to make the best of my images while memories are still fresh.

These are the secondary bedrooms. I have coloured the beds green so they pop out against the peach walls. The yellow is the master bed position, but not really worked on that area since the visit.

The main insight here, (apart from the peach colour of selected wall surfaces) is the way the walls defining storage units are topped off around head height. So the wardrobes stand free in the space.

Not quite there yet, but a significant leap forward.


Le Corbusier is such a difficult guy to pin down, simultaneously claiming to be the height of functional rationalism and an artist of raw emotion.

Here are some of the unusual geometries found in Villa Savoye. I had spotted some of this before my visit, poring over images from various sources as I built my Revit model. But there were a couple of surprises.

The aerofoil shape of the two columns that break the long west-facing opening of the main terrace for example. Very difficult to spot on photos. I suppose it's meant to minimize their obstruction of the view. Does it really make a difference?

I am left with the impression that a lot of the details were worked out on site. I think that's a good thing on the whole. Active collaboration between architect and builder. Not easy to do in today's aggressive contractual atmosphere.

And the walls are so THIN! Exposed ribs like a famine victim 🤔 A weekend home with the thermal properties of a tent? (forgive my hyperbole)

So much to think about after this visit.


Saturday, September 16, 2023


 Breakfast behind the old lady's back. Everything is so familiar although I last walked past 45 years ago and I barely remember anything from that visit.

In 2019, a small team of BIM enthusiasts set about building a Revit model of Notre Dame de Paris, purely as a private venture. It was a voyage of discovery, a hands-on approach to understanding the history and construction of this great monument, so recently ravaged by fire.

I love doing that kind of stuff. The experience lent extra layers of meaning to my visit today more than four years later.


Derrick cranes and river barges. The materials have changed from wood to steel, but the same principles have been used to build Cathedrals next to a river for hundreds of years. Similarly, factory made container-size modules, stacked 5 high replace the ramshackle craftsman's village of medieval times.

Did they eat quiche and hot chocolate? Not sure how old quiche is, but chocolate came from the new world so we would have transitioned from Gothic to Classical by the time that percolated down to artisan level. Maybe I should have asked for bread and cheese with a glass of cheap wine 🤣🤣🤣


Guess where I went this morning? Taking photos to answer all my unresolved questions after working on a Revit model sporadically over many years (and using it for training sessions)

More than a few surprises along the way. Expect more 🙂


 If yesterday was Modern Movement, today is French Neoclassical. La Madeleine, Greek Temple outside, Roman Baths inside but still managing to be a quintessential Catholic Church.

Great place to pause and reflect as my Paris trip draws to a close. I will be back in Basingstoke tomorrow night. It's been a wonderful trip. Perfect hospitality from Daniel Hurtubise and family. Going to miss you guys.

We still have Slack of course, but face-to-face is the bestest. 😜



"Second Empire" became a thing in English architecture with the works of young enthusiasts like Cuthbert Broderick in the Leeds and Scarborough. I have always had a soft spot for Broderick, so I decided to "go to the source"

Palais Garnier was commissioned by the emperor himself (Napoleon III) so it will do nicely although there are lots of more ordinary residential blocks in Paris that exhibit the main features of this style.

Garnier's Opera is riotous enough to be neo-baroque. I guess an opéra is allowed to be a little grotesque. What's in a label anyway? Corb would have hated it just as much under any name. 🤔


You can have too much of this kind of stuff, for sure, but I do like the languid caryatids holding branches across the doorway. Maybe they are there to catch the eagle droppings. 🤣🤣🤣

Seriously though, can you imagine living in a society that builds like this? I don't think it's helpful to get judgemental about the past. Quite the reverse. It should be more than a little humbling to realise how much our values and beliefs are shaped by the world we live in.

My aim is to visit buildings, research them and their context, take photos, collect images, make models and analytical sketches, in short to dive in, head first. Out of this activity come thoughts. Express them, in a vivid and forthright way. But keep an open mind. Be gentle with the human souls who lived before us. Seek knowledge, but don't let it puff you up.

That's my little hobby called "the way we build"


Tuesday, September 12, 2023



Back in Basingstoke. I walked in to Sainsburys this morning. Get some exercise and replenish my salads war chest. How to live a healthy balanced lifestyle (as a 72 year old with prostate cancer) looms large in my thoughts and habits these days.

But it has to be "for" something also, right? In my case that means a passion for buildings, backed up by drawing, painting, modelling, music... All as hands-on as possible. (who invented that little portmanteau "hands-on")?

These are shots from my morning walk. They made me think of Gordon Cullen and his Townscape sketches /manifesto. He had a wonderful knack for conveying the joys of urban life, space, mystery. Those things that seem so abundant in towns that "just grow" but desperately hard for central planning to achieve.



I burst upon Paris on a beautiful sunny evening. Thank you Eurostar for a smooth and interesting ride, all the way from my favourite station in London to the heart of Paris. Definitely part of the same modern world but immediately slightly different in terms of culture and "ways of building"

It was already dark by the time I emerged from the jerky old metro. Not so hard to navigate for a first timer with "age issues" but different enough from "the tube" to cause small moments of confusion 🤣🤣🤣 All part the experience. How fortunate I am, in so many ways. Hallelujah! (if a grumpy old atheist with a belated respect for religious belief is allowed to use that exclamation 🤔)


Greek Doric, engaged columns attached to Tuscan pilasters, that's my interpretation anyway. The plinths are just wierd 🙄. The whole ensemble is an interesting variant of the Triumphal arch motif that Soane used on the Bank of England (Lothbury Court, bullion gateway) Columns with statues above the entablature, to define an entrance.

Didn't have time to explore the station further. Just "grab a baguette and go" mode. Hungry to soak up more of the experience of being in a city I last visited 45 years ago. 🤣🤣🤣




Windows and wine (in the afternoon!) Tokens of my parisian experience on a glorious late summer afternoon.

Have we forgotten how to frame an opening? Flemish Bond with rusty red and cream coloured bricks. See how the 6 course deep, flat arch fits into the bonding. Very carefully worked out, down to the air-brick over the keystone. Is that to ventilate timber floors?

Shutters fold so neatly into the reveals. They are closed on the upper floors, just visible at the top. And what about the Juliet balcony? Just a hint of Art Nouveau in the wrought iron.


This is just some random building in the suburb I happen to be staying in. But it caught my eye, instinctively as we walked past. All the analysis comes afterwards as the conscious part of my thinking apparatus takes a second look.

Date? I'm guessing at early 20th Century, just before the move to rational abstraction kicked in. Verbal rhetoric replacing the cultivated instinct we used to call taste.

Which brings us back full circle to wine, I guess. Just the one glass with some spicy tofu, parsley and thinly sliced bread. A proprietor with excellent taste doing the choosing, off the cuff on learning that I don't eat meat.

Superb first day.



Struggling with the heat and other factors, so I chose a morning walk from Trocadero, taking in Rue Benjamin Franklin and crossing the river by the Bir Hakeim bridge to finish with a vegetarian crepe and cappuccino, before returning for a bit of a midday nap.

One of Auguste Perret's first projects was my primary target. In my youth as an architecture student, it was heralded as a steppingstone towards the ideal of structural honesty during the early days of the reinforced concrete frame.

Certainly, he was a pioneer in terms of using this technology, and his work evolved over time. But I take exception to the idea that there is a weakness in this design because the frame is expressed rather than exposed.



The entire frontage is faced with ceramics of different pattern and form. The structural frame is picked out in plain cream terracotta. Most of the infill features a remarkable "leaf & berry" treatment, with great variety of depth colour and texture: almost a bas-relief sculpture. But there are other treatments in specific areas.

I can see why the modernist die-hards find this building troubling, despite being such an early example of structural expression by an office where Lee Corbusier spent a couple of formative years. From close up, it's just a riot of tactile decorative surface.

I love it.



More snippets of texture from Auguste Perret's apartment block on Rue Benjamin Franklin in Paris. Such a delight to see this at first hand, if only from the street.

Most of the images you see in books fail to convey the richness, let me call it "subtle exuberance" of the external surfaces. From a distance, or at low resolution, it appears to be a bland, unexpressive design. The infill panels could almost be chipboard or OSB

There is barely a hint of classicism or any other nameable style. Perhaps Vienna Secession would be the closest. But maybe this was the intention. Do you really want your apartment block to stick out like a sore thumb? Maybe not. But some sense of individual identity from close up, that's hardly controversial.

Another "where's Wally" moment. Spot where he signed the building. Maybe the style of lettering he chose gives a hint at his intentions.