Tuesday, November 21, 2023



My first few months in Dubai were oddly unlike the rest of my stay (almost two decades now) More like the preceding 12 years in Zimbabwe in some ways.

I was responsible for this small building from concept design to completion, and my toolkit was the Sketchup and Autocad I brought along on my laptop, along with Photoshop. I had heard of Revit, (recently purchased by Autodesk) but not yet had the chance to use it.

In a rapidly expanding practice the design role slipped away as I gradually became a "production specialist" and increasingly "the Revit guy" So Jebel Ali Spa burns brightly in my memory. The short, intense, concept design period, adapting to the differences of climate and construction practice, then the long weekly drives to site, and the tedium of minutes to be written up.

Seems like yesterday. Seems like a lifetime ago.


My second project with GAJ was another spa. This time I was inheriting a concept design and developing it into a tender package. Strictly 2D CAD and feeling a bit out of my depth without the specialist operator input of my previous outing.

I don't know if this was ever built. It was taken out of our hands in my first exposure to the cut-throat world of business here. I do remember agonising over how to maintain the thermal properties of the arches and recesses that interrupted the cavity wall construction that was our standard practice.

I had learned about cavity walls as a bricklayer in the UK, but everything is inside out here. Hot, moist air outside: cool and dry within. Memories of heated discussions about the folly of ventilating cavities in these conditions. People cling to old habits.


15 years ago we had a busy branch office in Sharjah, and most of the Revit users were moved over there. I moved back and forth to some extent and tried to argue against what I saw as a way for the main office to avoid facing the realities of a transition to BIM.

This project hails from that period. It never moved beyond concept stage, which was handled in the Dubai office (not in Revit) Fortunately, my boss Brian Johnson allowed me the freedom to shadow the design development using Revit (for this and other projects) in an attempt to demonstrate the vision of a BIM cycle (from inception to occupation and beyond)

This remains an uphill struggle even though it is increasingly obvious that clients and contractors are demanding BIM. To be fair I think it's understandable that architects led the charge but now lag behind. We are notoriously open-ended in our thinking and resistant to rigid formulas.

We like to be pioneers, but the nature of our role, early on, demands keeping multiple options open and using "smoke and mirrors" to tease out the possibilities in a brief. It's a kind of juggling, and I am yet to see a BIM application that handles this well while dominating the market for production stage work.

We are all familiar with the fact that refusing to use the dominant software in any sphere puts you at an immediate disadvantage. For my part, I continue to pursue the goal of "sketching with Revit", if only because it has given me so much pleasure for the past seventeen years.


Conversations across the generations. What a pleasant evening I had with Karam Baki at my local Syrian restaurant. Great food as always, and a pleasure to finally meet in person, this young man with his boundless energy and positivity.

It's a great thing that a passion for BIM can form such rich connections between people of quite different backgrounds, cultures, ages and characters. We talked and ate and walked and talked, thanks to the onset of cooler evenings in Dubai.

An idea is brewing in the recesses of my brain. How great would it be to meet up with more and more of my "BIM buddies" across the world, young and enthusiastic, eager to ask questions of a grey haired warrior, still fighting for the BIM cause in my own little way.

Technology is great, but only in so far as it enhances the human condition. Great to spend time together Karam.


Orthographic view, shaded view, composite render. There are many ways to view the model. This small project came out of our UK office, and I was asked to do some updates, including visual presentation.

Brian Johnson has been a pivotal figure in my life. He took me on as a refugee from Zimbabwe. He supported us when we formed the office band, "GAJ rocks". He embraced the BIM vision instinctively. And he has placed a lot of trust in me, allowing me to evolve from project architect to a more free-floating role as BIM guru and all-round Revit trouble shooter.

Periodically he threw these "challenge if you choose to accept it" curved-balls at me. Of course I couldn't refuse but he has been a good judge of what I could handle and where I could make a telling contribution.

We are both now stepping back a little, passing on the baton. I miss his constant presence in the office. But then again, I am also working remotely much of the time. It's a privilege to work for GAJ and to be allowed to fade away, ever so slowly. 😎



Friday, November 17, 2023



I have been archiving some of our old Revit projects in the cloud. At times this has involved upgrading by as many as 15 versions. Lots of new features in that time. But I think it's interesting for us all to remember the journey and maybe take some inspiration from past solutions even if they a bit crude or naive by today's standards.

I was still a project architect when we worked on these golf villas. Quite a big Revit team and I felt a bit out of my depth half the time, but we got through it. Some of my team members from that era have blossomed into senior roles in the practice and it's been a pleasure to step back and let them run the show.

Interesting to jump into Google earth and pick up a few random images of the finished project. I would like to say I was proud of the architecture, but it would be more honest to say that it's come out better than I feared it might. Not that I played a major design role.

But it was kind of a "coming of age" project for me. Even in my late 50s I was eager to prove myself and learn new skills. It's not that I have stopped learning now, but at 72 it's more important to inspire others and to reflect on how to pass something forward.


Same project, golf course villas, fifteen years ago. Those were the days when I recorded a 70 hour week and sometimes left the office close to midnight. Spare a thought for all the millions around the world who leave their families behind in search of a better life.

I'm not an apologist for illegal immigration. I don't believe it does anyone any good. Indeed, I would far rather that Zimbabwe had not plunged into an abyss, even though I was able to relocate legally and count my time in Dubai as a positive experience.

In 2008 I was very excited about Mental Ray rendering, within Revit. This study is for proposed enhancements to the design in response to client comments. It's not meant to be a high end render, but all the same, there's a level of realism here that I was excited to explore.

The shot from Google Earth gives an idea of the size of the two communities we were working on at that stage. Seems like ancient history now.



15 years ago. The client wanted Andersen windows on this project. I wanted to demonstrate matching their, CAD details in Revit. They look OK at first glance, but looking a bit closer... I have to reconstruct the logic behind this.

Part of it was not wanting to stray too far from the standard Andersen detail, (which assumes a timber frame of course). Part of it was trying to maintain thermal insulation. But maybe I should have extended the concrete sill a bit further into the wall.

The lack of a dpc under the sill drove me crazy when I first got to Dubai. But you only need this if its going to be exposed to rain day-after-day in poor drying conditions. Even then, a well detailed stone sill did the job just fine in the UK a hundred years ago without inserting an impervious membrane.

Anyway they built it, either like this, or not. Mostly I share this because I gave up trying to do this kind of detail in Revit soon after (for the day job)

Thereafter, someone would be assigned to creating the typical details for a project, using 2d CAD. Sad in a way, but I understand the rationale. The guys with enough site experience to do the job well were not fluent in Revit , plus the library of standard details was mostly CAD.



Early morning walk. We had rain last week. You may have seen the dramatic photos of the lightning conductors on Burj Khalifa springing into action. I'm guessing that is connected to the beautiful cloud patterns that greeted me as I strolled forth.

I concluded my little exercise session with a visit to the corner shop for bits and bobs. Next door but one is an abandoned building site that never got past ground floor columns. It's the kind of anomaly that papers like the Guardian love to gloat over in their resentment at Dubai's success, and determination to end up on "the right side of history" in this cosmic game of musical chairs.

The world is full of extreme contrasts and inequalities. In my youth of course I had utopian visions, and loved to point the finger. I can safely leave that brand of foolishness to others now. Accept the way things are, imagine long, slow, unpredictable transitions, and hope that they continue to increase the range of opportunity available to most people.

PS notice the moon, floating high, top right, serenely constant throughout the human story.




This project was when I realised what a remarkable talent Lisandro Mendoza is. Going back 12 to 15 years he developed the Revit model with minimal assistance from me. No fuss, no drama, just quietly got on with the job.

I'm quite sure he will make his mark in New Zealand and whichever firm gives him a start will have a winner on their hands. I've only been to New Zealand once, but it's a very special place. A bold move that will pay off in many ways, no doubt.

Can't help reflecting on how many young architects have passed through the offices I worked in, both Zimbabwe and Dubai. It's always an enriching experience to interact with fresh young minds and to respond to their curiosity as honestly as possible.

Right now I have another group of interns doing basic Revit training. The preparation is quite demanding, if you want to do a good job. But it's worth the effort and I like to think that twenty or thirty years from now, when I am long gone, some of them will think back on the funny old guy with the white beard and pigtail and smile at the memory.


English wool production grew from subsistence levels in the early Saxon period to become a major export in medieval times. Raw wool from southern England and Wales was highest quality and in great demand across the channel where new technologies for spinning and weaving were boosting production. ("the pedal-loom with mechanised fulling and napping" Wikipedia)

Flemish merchants bought raw wool from England, processed it and sold finished textiles into the Mediterranean basin. Lavenham, Suffolk was one of the most prosperous wool towns in this boom and bust world. Enter religious dissent and persecution. Flemish protestants were driven out by Catholic rulers. Some of them settled in Colchester, not far from Lavenham, bringing their knowledge and technology.

The offshot is that Lavenham suffered rapid economic decline and was effectively frozen in time. No fun for those who saw their prosperity undercut, but a happy accident for lovers of "the way we build" like me. Credit to Andy Marshall 📸 for the photograph beneath my sketch, which prompted me to research a town I hadn't heard of before.

Human transitions are complex and unpredictable. Beware the simple narrative of three word slogans that undercut reflective thought "thanks" to new digital technologies.

Image created on a Samsung Note phone with the built-in stylus and SketchBook drawing software. Softening with Pixlr.


Wednesday, November 8, 2023


I found this old photo on the Internet. I don't remember where so I can't give credit. In any case the photo itself long predates the digital era.

What can be said?

Battersea power station, in use, running on coal and powering London, an essential force in the modern world and the long process of innovation and industrialisation that has made so many people's lives longer and more comfortable.

It was part of a transition, constrained by both demand and supply factors in a complex world. Notice three chimneys. Previously there were two, and subsequently 4. Change has to follow an economically viable route. Ideology rarely helps.

Giles Gilbert Scott. Grandson of a giant of Victorian Gothic was brought in as a facade consultant. His work on Liverpool Anglican Cathedral is different but equally impressive, handling monumental scale and expressing the mood of a society with one foot in tradition and the other in modernity.



Alfredo and I pretty much split the duties between us when it came to the vaults of Notre Dame. Our approaches were very different but that's a good thing right? Speaking for myself, I was in it for the learning experience, and I learned a lot from the other team members.

It's surprising how many different types of vault there are in just one building. To be honest I wasn't quite satisfied with any of our solutions. But they did a pretty good job in the context of the model as a whole.

One of the biggest surprises for me was the vaults that are higher on one side than the other. That's how flexible the ribbed vault with pointed arches is. A revolutionary technology in its day.

Will it ever come back? Who knows? Load bearing natural stone is making a bid for low-carbon, dark horse, material of the future.



Six part vaults mediate between the large span across the nave and the smaller spans from column to column, running down the sides of this glorious space. It's done without any fuss. Most people would hardly notice the transition taking place above their heads. The cleverness is overwhelmed by the drama, the breathtaking scale

In later work the ribs soar from the floor plane to the apex of the vaults, eliminating the squat round columns seen here. Which he is better? A foolish question perhaps. Glory in the striving of each generation of master masons to explore new possibilities while maintaining a sense of unity in buildings completed over centuries by immense human effort.

Yes we achieve miracles with our modern technologies. But can we claim the unity of purpose, the clarity of vision of the medieval world? In some ways, diversity is our strength, but in others it begins to resemble our "tower of babel"

Let's pray for a happy resolution to the paradoxes of modernity, as seamless and inspiring as the great vaults of Notre Dame de Paris


Former colleague, long time friend, drummer in my Dubai office band "GAJ rocks", Architect, father, all round good guy, Bernhard Ott. It was an honour to know you.

Attending his wedding was a wonderful experience, my first time in Bavaria. The music, the buildings, the culture. Two more memorable visits, staying at the house he designed for his family, being driven around to pursue my passion for different "ways of building"... then being presented with a guitar and bottle of whisky so we could relive our joint passion for live music for yet another evening.

He is gone too soon. Living with cancer for many years I knew, but still it was a shock. He enriched my life without any doubt. Generous, dependable, with a quiet but wicked sense of humour. Bernhard, I salute you.



Some of my earliest work in Revit. This must be 17 years ago. A house on the palm for a rather famous person. Not our design, we were engaged to modify.

This was one of a series of challenges thrown at me that forced me to learn to use Revit, effectively and artistically. I was starting to take shaded views and rendered views from Revit and combine them in Photoshop. This is long before realistic view became a thing. It was a way of getting a Sketchup feel out of Revit

I ought to dig this model out and see how crude my skills were. I wonder how well it would upgrade for that matter. I can clearly remember the excitement at what Revit could do, punctuated by periods of despair as I struggled with limitations both in myself, and in the software.

How long ago that was..



This project went on for years and never moved beyond concept stage. It was passed around to different architects in the hope of breathing life into the carcase.

I carried the baby for a couple of years in the hope of demonstrating that Revit could be used for concept work. I think that struggle is familiar to many firms.

Be that as it may, I had a lot of fun with this project. It was challenging and I learned a lot about using the software. This is the old rendering engine, before Mental Ray came along. Lots of shortcomings, but the palm trees were great. Convincingly volumetric..

In summary, I have been keeping my BIM pencil sharp for 17 years and counting. There are many different ways to "be an architect" and I have taken my own particular journey down the BIM road.

Hugely rewarding.