Thursday, October 8, 2015


Would someone like to spend an hour or two upgrading my fireplace family ?  I have made a placeholder which I believe is the correct size, and I have reference photographs taken earlier this year. 

There are also drawings downloadable from the online archive which show not only the fireplace, but also the flues leading up to the roof, and the cleaning arrangements in the cellar below.

I will be uploading these resources to the Stock Office folder on A360 so anyone who is registered for Project Soane can download them and take a shot.  I think this is quite a good place to start because it's a splendid example of Soane's style: classical in inspiration but simplified and abstracted to the point of looking quite "modern".

It makes use of standard Soanian devices: circle and square, incised parallel lines, muted and neutral colour scheme.

There is a version of this fireplace in Alberto's splendid model of the Stock Office, but my photographs weren't available to him, so the results are slightly different.  For all I know, his interpretation is more historically accurate, but personally I find the design as photographed more convincing, and more in keeping with the interior of the Stock Office as a whole.

So if someone would like to model this up, I would be most grateful.  I have a million other items on my to do list.  (seems like it, anyway)

Sunday, October 4, 2015


Another weekend of following my nose wherever it leads.  I'm going to start with the Stock Office, which is where I ended up.

This is still a Generic Model family, inserted into my base model. My last couple of hours was spent studying the desks/counters and quickly knocking something up to represent them.  These and the doors help to bring the space to life a bit more.  Lots of work still needed though if you happen to have an hour or two to spare and can use Family Editor.

I really should have dropped a person or two in there.  I was thinking that our friends over at Archvision ought to give us RPCs of Wesley Benn and Jim Balding in their C18th costumes from the RPC Gala Dinner.  They would surely look quite at home in John Soane's world.  How about it Randall? 

The desks themselves are quite interesting.  Looking at the snapshots I took and at the available drawings, the sloping-top item up against the wall (where clerks would presumably pore over ledgers taken from the cupboards below) is clearly built as a table with legs front and back.  You can only see the front leg in the photographs, but the plan layouts show matching back legs. 

Perhaps we have go too used to the idea of using walls to help hold up our built-in fittings.  Maybe our technology for drilling and fixing to walls leads us towards a different approach.  Anyway, at the moment I've just built the top and the legs.  It's a parametric family.  Type in the length and the number of leg-pairs, Revit does the rest.  Doors will have to come along another weekend.  Or maybe someone else will volunteer to make some.

There is a rather splendid version of the Stock Office uploaded by Alberto Vilas Blanco flying the flag for Spain.  I have enjoyed exploring this, and was fascinated by the modelling of the foundation system.  These are basically vaulted cellars with inverted arches bracing the feet of the piers so that the whole thing resembles a cellular raft foundation. 

I was inspired to knock up a quick version of this in one of my placeholder families.  Happens to be the Dividend office, which is the last in the chronological series of banking halls on a common theme.

A good portion of my weekend was spent updating and elaborating this, and the Colonial Office, also dating from Soane's late period.  I had acquired better reference material since I first modelled these, so there was a need to adjust some of the dimensions.

Both these banking halls use high barrel vaults either side of the main dome, which provides an interesting variation on the underlying theme.  One spin-off is that it allows him to make the columns flow seamlessly into the arches on all sides.  Previously, the lower sides required a change of angle, hence his hint of a capital to mark the top of the column and separate it from the arch.  Here though there is no capital, nothing at all to show where column ends and arch begins.

The continuity of the fluting in these last two spaces is almost Gothic in its effect, like the ribbed columns that soar up to become fan vaulting in medieval cathedrals.  Still lots to do here also: the counters with their curious light fittings, the decorative plaster work, elaboration of some of the families I have roughed out, like the Ionic Columns used to support the lantern.

Imagine for a moment that you had spend 40 years of your life gradually massaging a rambling building complex into a coherent whole: repairing, rebuilding, extending.  Think of the pleasure you might get from revisiting a favourite theme repeatedly at ten year intervals, trying out new variations, mixing and matching. 
It must have given him a lot of pleasure.

In my view, BIM is the ideal medium for this kind of historical research.  Yes we could model the elaborate classical detail more easily in a visualisation programme like Max for example, but BIM combines 3d modelling with the power of true orthographic projection, it reveals relationships, asks questions, demands an integrated, multi-faceted approach.

So I spent some time updating 3 of the 5 banking halls and along the way, apart from the foundations I also got to understand the roofscape a little better.  You can begin to see that the lower portions at the 4 corners which allow the semi-circular windows to let light come flooding in, actually link together like a maze of spaces threading across the building.

Also they are just about the right level to link up to the walkway that runs around behind the parapets of the screen wall.  In fact it seems to me that they help to connect these sections of walkway, especially at the corners where I previously thought that the circuit was interrupted.
Imagine being on night patrol, wandering through these canyons with a whale-oil lamp and a pike, peering down at times through those windows with their various shapes, or through the octagonal lanterns that Soane sometimes used above a porthole in the ceiling.

Another great thing about BIM is the way levels of information are added in a series of layers, gradually building up a fuller picture of how the building works.  At first it may seem to be slow going, but rest assured that the informative power of your model will grow exponentially.  And of course BIM is all about teamwork.  Which begins me right back to the beginning of the weekend when I loaded the 3 families contributed by Sheikh Uduman into my model, bringing the parapets to life.

They are very effective: simple and lightweight but with just enough detail to enrich the model.  Perhaps we will develop more complex versions eventually, plenty of scope for more people to participate, but for now these are very effective. 

As I close with two exterior views that show how nicely the model is shaping up I just want to mention that the muted colours and lack of photorealism in my images are deliberate strategies.  Soane did use rich colours at times, but as a rule his architecture is measured and restrained.  Indeed he was often criticised by contemporaries for the austerity of his designs.  I want to capture something of that proud aloofness as I tell my tale "The Continuing Saga of John Soane".


Wednesday, September 30, 2015


As I was preparing the latest model for upload the other day, I decided to locate it in the City of London.  I'm talking about the Location tool on the Manage tab in Revit.  It takes you to a mapping service where you can drag a map pin from Revit HQ in Boston Mass to somewhere else on the globe.  Not sure if everyone gets the same service, but I noticed mine was Bing Maps.  I rather like the axo projection this brings up when you zoom in. 

What surprised me a bit was the octagonal lanterns and barrel vaults in the South East corner ... almost like Soane's treatment of the last two banking halls he built.  But looking closely it's not quite the same.  This is Herbert Baker paraphrasing Soane.  The proportions and alignments are not quite the same.

Having set the location I might as well do a solar study.  You can check this out on A360.  Drag the sun around and see the shadows move, reading off the time and date as you go.  Lots of circles in there (rotunda, 5 lanterns, compass directions, the sun of course ... and why not throw in the old Bank logo too ... bit odd the way the spear point slices England in two ... what do you think Ian ?)

When you think of it, Soane's bank was kind of like a Medieval Town: organised chaos within a perimiter wall.  And when you look at Soane's drawings it's obvious that the screen wall was built like that ... even had a walkway going around that the night watch could patrol.  Apparently they had a room full of pikes for these guys to carry, "just in case". 

Looking at these drawings brought me back to the parapet ornaments that I am hoping someone will model.  I wanted a better image to stir the troops into action and it struck me that maybe I had seen them in one of his other buildings that I photographed a few weeks ago.  And yes, there are a couple of variations on that theme in the Dulwich Picture Gallery, apart from the phone box at the back.

His church opposite Gt Portland Street underground has rather a fun variant with pineapples on sticks coming out the top.  Better not say too much about those in case I slip on a Freudian banana skin.

So moving on to his other churches and guess what ... more variations on the same theme.  This is starting to remind me of the planters in Frank Lloyd Wright's Chicago projects that I studied a year ago.  Interesting how architects get fixated on a favourite little detail and worry it to death over the years.

Speaking of death, there it is again on the tomb that he shared with his wife and eldest son.  Tragic that he saw them both buried there long before his turn came around.  Quite a few interesting variations here if you look carefully.  Wouldn't it be fun if someone made a series of parametric families to capture these different interpretations of a round-headed ... what is it anyway?  Bit like an acroterion, but not quite.

And of course there are his two homes, town and country, both of these had to have them.  I think the ones dotted all over the frontage of the Museum are pretty close to what he used on the Bank actually.  Take that as your model.

So we are back to Threadneedle Street (the old lady) and a little collage from the hugely impressive archive of drawings that Sir John left behind for us.  Maybe it would be nice to get this "whatever it is" 3d printed, sell them as "John Soane Paperweights"  Would have to scale them down a bit of course, the originals are 2' 1" square (cubed perhaps)

And finally I have to give a shout out to Sheikh Uduman, a member of our local BIM User Group who has stuck his hand up and contributed 3 families in response to my appeal.  See how easy it is ?  Why not throw something into the pot ?

So that's it, lumps of stone that our hero left around all over the place, as if to say "John Soane was Here !"