Wednesday, January 31, 2024



Energised by a very special family gathering over Xmas and New Year, here are some of the tiny changes in my daily life since returning to Dubai, less than a week ago.

Put a pinch of salt in your cup of coffee to shade out the bitterness. Buy two new grey coffee mugs to counterbalance my proclivity for dropping things. Buy super glue to attempt a repair. Buy little plastic picture hooks to hang the calendar I got for Xmas, right next to my desk. (reminiscent of the woodcuts my father did when he was young)

Lost in the middle is a reminder of the Sukkery Dates I found. Distinctive taste at a very reasonable price.

Picture two illustrates a radical upgrade of my vision technology. The Melson Wingate glasses were bought in Sheffield, 45 years ago, when I was (belatedly) learning to drive. Cheap National Health frames. They didn't get much use until recently when I found that they worked well as computer glasses. Unfortunately they tend to slip off, and I had repurposed a covid mask as a device to keep them on. (probably the best use that mask was ever put to in my opinion) They now have little rubber hooks on the end. Much better 🙂

For longer distances I need stronger lenses now. I had some variable focus ones made about two years ago. Never got used to the disorienting fishbowl effect. Finally towards the end of my holiday one of the hinges broke. So I have much cheaper lenses and frame from the same local shop in International City. Fixed focus this time which is much better, but I need to slip them off when I use my phone.

Hence the chain.

These are the little bits of technology and culture that we adapt to our individual needs. It's not a competition or a race. Embrace the small enhancements when you stumble across them and exhult in every moment of this wonderful experience we call daily life.



Why do I do these kinds of pictures?

Windows are a fascinating phenomenon. I have been searching for a comprehensive and consistent approach to window families in Revit for more than 15 years now. With some success, but there are so many variables.

We have been devising ways to let light and air into our buildings for thousands of years. Sometimes this amounts to little more than gaps in the fabric. The archetypal round mud hut typically has a halo of light at eaves level. The eye adapts and this becomes sufficient for daily activities to proceed.

But back to my drawing. The source is Volterra in Tuscany. There is an ancient arched opening that has been bricked in to create a smaller "modern" window, with shutters. It is off centre, presumably for pragmatic reasons. But this pragmatism becomes picturesque, in a town that bears the mark of more than a hundred generations. Physical traces of change in the daily life of people as the years go by.

So I can make a Revit family and I can make a fanciful collage... It amounts to the same thing. Grappling with a human artifact that is vastly bigger than me in its history, its scope and emotional baggage. Never mind the panoply of technologies behind it.

Drawing is about understanding and there are many ways to draw a cat. (or skin a window 🤔)



Two quite unrelated images except that they both represent digital adaptations of my lifelong love of "drawing" in its widest sense. There is no sharp distinction between drawing, modelling and design. The etymology of the words in various languages bears testimony.

One image of a dog I spent some time with recently. In this kind of sketching activity I focus on marking quick instinctive decisions, being selective, messing with the colour scheme, aiming for some kind of emotional truth.

I used SketchBook Pro and Pixlr, two softwares that passed through Autodesk's hands in the days when they embraced the "cloud - mobile - social" mantra. I have them installed on both Samsung Note and IPad, but for various reasons the phone wins out in practice. That's the device I have to hand always. It's where I can sketch on the spur of the moment, when the spirit moves me.


The city model is Luzern /Lucerne modelled in Revit after a visit on the way back from Denmark. It's a wonderful city and I also did an acrylic painting that hangs on my wall. Revit was never intended for city modelling, but it's my "BIM pencil" so I use it to reflect on places that catch my imagination.

The sketching approach may strike some as odd, but I find value in "quick and dirty" Revit models. Not for commercial work, but for my own private studies. I do think it's unfortunate that BIM has become such a specialist domain, identified with technicians, coding, ROI etc.

Nothing wrong with those approaches, but I do wish there were equal numbers of intuitive artists, abstract visual thinkers and creative generalists using BIM tools. It's all about balance. Do we have balance in our increasingly polarised world?

Let's say it's a worry.


Sunday, January 28, 2024


 In 2002 the Zimbabwe economy was in terrible trouble. Work was hard to come by and we found ourselves doing mostly quick concept designs that never got off the ground.

This proposal for a Medical Centre in Borrowdale Brook went further than most but eventually foundered. It captures a period when I was keeping several applications open on my task bar and switching between them. True multi-tasking in Windows NT4 seemed like a big breakthrough.


A couple of years later, I switched over to doing almost everything in Revit. If I was a bit younger probably I would be going through another period of agile switching back and forth. (Rhino, Dynamo, Twin Motion, Mid Journey, whatever) But I realised during Covid that there were other things I wanted to do with my spare time rather than learning new software packages.



Here I was using Autocad for detailed plans, Elevations and Sections, photoshop for applying colour, Archicad for quick 3d views, acrobat for compiling everything into design brochures to submit to the client. We also had Lotus Smart Suite, which came with the computers we bought when setting up our network.

There were some good things about that little package, but I've forgotten the details now. 🙄


Back in Dubai. Sunbathing through the fly mesh on a very mild afternoon. I arrived in my flat from the airport at 2am. Trying hard to make the inevitable chores into a bit of an adventure.

I just invented a new tool called the "scrape'n'sweep" hashtag#perfect-for-pigeon-poop-problems

Like most great leaps forward in technology it involves combining two previously unconnected ideas into a single solution to a known problem.

Of course technology, like language is an aspect of human culture. As such it evolves by a process which is far less well understood than its biological namesake. But we can safely say that the idea would have to "catch on" to "perpetuate itself" and become that great leap forward we sometimes imagine that we can identify in the incredibly complex web of interactions that we like to label "progress"

I enjoy engaging with technology, both manual and digital, simple and complex. But I'm reluctant to make value judgements about where this is all going. Time will tell. Definitely some aspects of "progress" have been very positive. Others, not so much.

My biggest contribution, I think, has been using BIM tools and processes to think about "the way we build" in different times and places. And trying to connect that work back to the ordinary routines of daily life. That's the essential thread running through my posts here.

For what it's worth.


Some of you will be aware that I have this little hobby called "the Way We Build" In essence it's just my lifelong passion for buildings and cities. It began with a belief that the best way to understand something is to draw it. Of course it helps to travel to different places, to have spent part of your life working in the building trades, to read books and so on. But for me, drawing is central.

I am using that word in its widest sense. A drawing is a model, an abstraction from reality. It can be a pencil sketch, a physical model, freehand, drafting board, digital. So my hobby began with hand sketches and collected images. It proceeded through CAD and took on a new dimension with BIM.



I am currently organising my various forays with the BIM pencil, and uploading them to the Construction Cloud. It will take quite a while to knock it all into shape and of course it's a limitless endeavour. I just want to tie up the loosest of the loose ends and pass something coherent down the line as my legacy.

ACC is essentially a working space, and from there, as various topics take shape I intend to export useful content to the Web site that Daniel Hurtubise set up for me. So between this and my blog, perhaps a broader public can get an idea of what my little hobby is all about.





Tuesday, January 16, 2024


My children live in such different surroundings. I guess it's the way of the modern world. Different countries, different styles, ages and configurations of residential building. The comparisons make for an endless source of fascination.

Singapore has had no choice but to build vertically. "Tower Blocks" can be sordid places and much maligned in the UK for example, but this development is just delightful. Much of it is in the landscaping, but the history of the site as a series of "finger docks" presented a splendid opportunity which has been well seized.



There's nothing too spectacular about the architecture, but that's fine with me. Better to err on the bland side than to go way over the top, like the Liebeskind development next door, which just tries too hard. (in my opinion). Maybe the styling is a bit arbitrary and dated in places, but the detailing is solid enough.




Do I wish I was living in this kind of "expat heaven?" Not really. Occasional pangs of jealousy perhaps, but in the end I do enjoy living among "the great unwashed" or is it "Deplorables Inc."

It's a special privilege to stay with family in such different environments though. Something about the "rich tapestry of life"  I'm just so, so lucky.



Back in Singapore. Rain Vortex at Changi Airport, the Jewel. I've passed by at a lower level on previous visits, but this was the first time to get a proper look at the light show. Surrounded by terraced seating in a simulacrum of the rain-forest that claimed ownership of Singapore Island until relatively recently.

Lots of pyrotechnic displays accessible online at this time of year. This time of transition between years. There is a serious danger of overkill, just as there is with "groundbreaking" architectural form. Too much innovation morphs into a confused jumble of sameness, instead of the unique vision intended when each new design was developed on its own.

But Singapore does quite a good job of evading this trap, in my opinion. Perhaps it's easier within the constraints of an island. Maybe there's something about the unique history and the natural beauty.

Cities are fascinating places. I never tire of thinking about them, revisiting old favourites. Very thankful to have friends and family in some of the most fascinating, willing to host me from time to time.

Happy New Year everyone!



My few days in Singapore are drawing to a close. It's been a suitable bridge between the excitement of a family adventure in Thailand and the impending return to normality in Dubai.

Yesterday I had the chance to walk around in the Orchards shopping area for about an hour. Lots of gleaming towers in various "styles of the moment" standing atop four and five storey shopping malls where the fashions come and go at an even more rapid pace.

The sky was overcast with intermittent light rain but this was not dampening to the spirit as it would be in Northern Europe at this time of year. There is lots of street art on display to humanise the ground level experience : greenery too, lush and abundant.




To think that Singapore has risen to this level of abundance over the course of my lifetime. Perhaps the remaining pockets of poverty around the world will witness a similar transformation during the lives of my grandchildren. I certainly hope so.

I stumbled upon a little gem, a frozen time capsule. Not so very old, but rare now in this part of town. Here is the residential version of the shophouse typology that I love so much. For all it's verticality and rapid cycles of renewal, Singapore has managed to keep these memories of its earlier history, to celebrate them and to integrate them without freezing them into museum pieces.

No city is perfect, but this place is an inspiration to me. I look forward to coming back before the year is out, but let's not start counting chickens.