Sunday, May 12, 2024


 Memories of six years ago. I honestly thought I would be back in Volterra with this group of friends but stuff happens. First it was covid, then my cancer diagnosis and now the business of setting up my "exit strategy" for when the time comes to leave Dubai.

I hate the term "reality capture". It sounds like we are putting life itself in prison. But that fortnight in 2018 absorbing the sights and sounds of a Tuscan hill town that has been continuously occupied for 3000 years, that was truly magical.

Thank you to Mark Dietrick, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP and Paul Aubin for enticing me into that experience. Bottom left is inside San Giusto using the Matterport to capture the interior. Top right is my Revit model of that "rustic baroque" church which has been developed further since. Churches and temples offer such a fascinating topic for comparative history.

Kudos to David Dreffs, Tristan Randall, LEED AP BD-C Young guys (to me) so comfortable with the hardware and software, able to liberate rather than capture. "keeping it real"... language is so slippery, a complex web of neural connections. Real time render. Is there a false time render? Virtual falsity?

Volterra 2018. Special time.



Deja Vu all over again. A historic spire shrouded in scaffolding goes up in flames. Renovation project turns to tragedy.

I visited Copenhagen in 2017 on my way to a conference. Took several photos of the 17th century bourse, or stock exchange, a long low red-brick building with elaborate gables and a very unusual spire. Dragons with their entwined tails pointed to the sky.

There is a statue of Neptune at the entrance. Symbol I suppose of Denmark's wealth from shipping, (herring fishing, rivalry with the hanseatic league, union with Sweden.)


It's a wonderful city. I have done a BIM-pencil study of the Klint churches and learned a lot. Would love to go again but there are dozens of cities I would like to visit and to be honest my ability to travel is beginning to push against limits.

Let's hope the restoration project generates as many fascinating images as Notre Dame de Paris. It's truly fascinating to see traditional craftsmanship proceeding trade by trade. Copenhagen will rise to the challenge. A sad moment but also an opportunity to show strength and resilience.



My response to the Volterra experience. I used Revit and digital painting in equal measure to process my ideas and emotions, to understand the structure of the town better, to probe the technical details that caught my attention.

This process is reflected in several posts on my blog for those who want to hunt it down. For me I just enjoy looking back at that burst of energy and the special memories it invokes.

I thought nothing of extracting contours from a jumble of GIS files, stitching them together, simplifying, and generating a toposurface for the entire locality. For no other reason than my own curiosity. Accuracy be damned, I needed to produce something that would allow my brain to sift through all the diverse information and sensory overload to move forward, express my own ideas and ask penetrating questions.

This is the kind activity I live for, BIM dynosaur that I am. 🤣🤣🤣



Just to be clear, neither the original BBC extract nor the spoof report represents my own opinion. I am simply 'noting lack of nuance' and 'experimenting with a counter-factual approach'.

However strongly you may hold to "one side" of a particular debate, it seems to me to be important to acknowledge that other people take a very different view for quite genuine reasons.

I don't find it helpful to represent opinions as fact, to moralise or to ridicule. Yes there is a gentle irony in this juxtaposition, but I have friends and family who align closely with the BBC position.

I respect their views. I hope they would respect my opinion that the argument is over-stated.

I support long term climate action with a priority given to Nuclear Power. I have no problem with wind and solar but they lack energy density. With the best will in the world, a major energy transition is going to take a century or more to reach maturity on a global scale. We need abundant cheap energy to allow Africa to develop. "Ban-Regulate-Demonise" is not a balanced approach.

Those are my opinions, not facts. I'm not trying to convert anyone. I'm not on "a mission from God" I continue to read, watch and listen. I may change my mind again. But I am very suspicious of ideologically driven stories dressed up as news.




 Brixton. Not the London one, this is in Joburg. I used to have a friend there, and it was walking distance from my room in Vrededorp.

For some reason I went looking around on street view and remembering what the neighbourhood is like. I saved a bunch of snapshots and then decided to do rapid sketch overs.

It's not a deep study. Just trying to get a feel and resurface my memories to a level where they can mingle with other experiences of "the way we build" in different places, eras, climates, whatever.

It's kind of slightly gentrified, but still very patchy and security conscious, edgy I suppose. Lots of corrugated iron roofs to indicate a depth of history. I don't remember the church but I kind of like it. A certain clarity of form.

So that's it. Let's not get bogged down. Just a quick exercise. Partly aimed at developing my sketching skills on the Microsoft Surface by the way. You have to practice. No other way.



I really enjoyed being a mature student at Wits and completing the last two years of my architecture studies after a long detour, as a bricklayer in Sheffield and then a teacher in Zimbabwe.

These sketches are from a history project. I chose to locate it in Vrededorp where I was staying. It's a fanciful piece of urban design but I entered into the spirit of the exercise with gusto. My first degree in London was a period of youthful rebellion and exploring the freedom of living in that wonderful city as the sixties merged into the seventies.



Approaching 40 with a young family to support I took the opportunity to study extremely seriously. Living on a low budget in a strange city and a society in transition. All the incentives were aligned for me to work hard and plumb the depths of my abilities.


Camilo Sitte was an interesting guy. Look him up. There have been times when I imagined myself updating his approach for the digital age, travelling around cities of the world with a laptop and executing quick urban studies using Revit. The idea of a BIM sketch is very appealing to me, but it's hard to pull off. It would be easy to blame the software, but that's not my style.

Never give up.



"A sense of place" is a term I first encountered in the late 80s when I started to re-engage with architects after a 15 year detour. I never really liked the term. What's wrong with "character" and "atmosphere" for example. Perfectly good words that ordinary people understand.

People like Ian Nairn and Gordon Cullen realised that town planners and self-conscious attempts to control "the way we build" had mostly resulted in a loss of character. In my teens I was heavily influenced by the dark and brooding Victorian built heritage which was being demolished at across Britain.

These images my own, recorded on black and white film, with fairly primitive cameras. I have retained an affection for somewhat run-down neighbourhoods, where housing and industry intermingle and the streets teem with the life of working people. Such was the Barnsley I grew up in.

I'm not arguing in favour of economic hardship. Just saying that designers should try to set aside their egos, open up to the spirit of the place they are building in and aim to enhance this with their own small contributions. Clients likewise.

Call it place-making if you must. I call it respect, humility and a light touch.