Monday, March 30, 2015


That will be the title of one of my presentations in Washington this July. 

I am very proud to have been accepted once again as a speaker at RTC_NA, the North American version of the premier Revit Conference, "by users, for users".  Really looking forward to spending time with old friends and new, visiting the capital city for the second time, and hanging out with my daughter Wendy both before and after.

This diagram that looks a bit like a mouldy growth, spreading across a cracked wall, is in fact a subway map of Washington DC, subjected to various digital distortions.  This is one way to generate irregular, seemingly organic effects via the hexadecimal rigidity of the mindless machines that dominate our modern lives.  My session will approach a similar topic from a different angle, using basic family editor techniques to conjure up an impression of the casual disorder that typifies vernacular buildings.  You are most welcome to join me.

You may have noticed that my blog has been sadly neglected for several weeks now.  We have been burning the midnight hours at GAJ, a sure sign that Dubai is starting to go somewhat bonkers again: projects coming out of our ears.  Intense work experiences generate new ideas and I continue to reflect and learn as I stumble along with BIM pencil in hand.  Hopefully I can find more time for digital sharing over the coming weeks and months.

Last weekend was a chance to do this, and to start working on my presentations.  But I was side-tracked as I leapt (metaphorically) out of bed on Friday morning, by an idea for the RTC logo.  I don't want to be rude because I have great respect for the guys and gals behind this wonderful event, but IMHO the graphics are due for a makeover ... a little dated, don't you think ?

Anyway, it set me off on a little journey based on "why don't I do this in family editor ?".  I belong to that small band of fanatics who think that about almost anything.  I had in mind those Bauhaus style typefaces that are highly abstracted into parallel bands of straight lines and arcs.  Couldn't that be parametric ?

This is all sweeps.  Just 3 of them in fact.  The paths are constrained to reference planes, with a couple of reference LINES thrown in to keep the ends of the letter C to a 45 degree termination. 

I'm using a loaded profile so that the width of the letters can easily be varied in a coordinated manner.  The original motivation here is to be able to play with proportions parametrically, something that is harder to do using a graphics programme.
As a bonus I get the third dimension (which we will call thickness)  I don't intend to use this in my primary branding graphics.  I'm going for that very simple, flat look that dominates the world of touch and swipe right now.  But maybe it will come in handy here and there, used very sparingly.

Having said that, of course I couldn't stop myself playing around with the possibilities.  Lots of fun, and a good flexing exercise for my parametrics, but these are not graphic images I would actually consider using on letterheads, or presentation templates, or badges.

So let's get back to the flat logo.  I placed my family on a floor, just a square, drawn with the radius option checked.  Export this from a plan view and you have an image at whatever resolution you should choose and can now move on to conventional graphics programmes to play with colour combinations and add regular text.

I'm using the Calibri font that Microsoft commissioned in response to the accusation that Arial was boring (I think that's more or less what happened)  This has the advantage that almost everyone has it on their machine, it's simple and bold, but with quite a lot of subtle character.  My opinion, once again.  Feel free to differ.

I've given a passing nod to the current RTC colours.  Continuity is important in any re-branding exercise. And that's my contribution to the non-existent debate about the RTC logo.  I hope I haven't offended anyone by doing this in public.  It's just a bit of fun.  But personally speaking, I do think this is a much crisper, cleaner, web-friendly graphic style than the existing logotype.

Just for fun I mocked up a PowerPoint template.  Again this is just a personal opinion, but I dislike fussy graphics on these templates.  I suppose the idea is to make a boring series of bullet-point pages look a bit more exciting, but that's pretty weedy.  Shouldn't a speaker be able to come up with some compelling visual images that enhance his/her ideas ?  Isn't that what we want to focus our attention on, as opposed to some background graphic frills ?  So I prefer a simple, abstract template that isn't going to clash with the punchy images that a more imaginative presenter will surely put together.

At this point, I went back to Revit and punched in a couple of simple formulae to make the whole thing scale up and down based on a module.  I like to hide the formula-driven parameters down in the "Other" box so the end user doesn't get confused. 

Turns out that I needed one more constraint to get everything to scale properly.  I had neglected to give the letter C a labelled radius, which is of course just the existing "Module" parameter.

And not I have a family that can be copied around and varied with consumate ease.  Different sizes, different slenderness ratios, different thicknesses to brink colours to the front, or sent them to the back.  Once again, this is not a graphic image that I would use regularly, but it is nice to have a logo that is simple enough to handle this kind of manipulation.  You might want to generate a couple of these playful variations to use as accents at specific events or locations.

So that's it folks.  Once again, it's just a bit of fun.  I'm not trying to tread on the committee's toes or anything like that.  But it's been an interesting opportunity to explore and illustrate the capabilities of Family Editor in a slightly unusual context.

And remember, if you want to recharge your Revit batteries, there's no better way than registering for RTC, now available on 4 continents.  (Poor old mama Africa, left out once again)


Wednesday, February 11, 2015


This is intended to be a very quick one (famous last words)

I had a request from a student of architecture in Dublin to share my model of St Ivo.  I just got around to cleaning the file up quickly and purging it ... and I thought why not offer it up to all my readers.

 So here's the link.

You can find a previous post on this fascinating building here.

But I couldn't resist throwing in a couple more images.  Please do let me know if you use my research in any way and especially if you can contribute any further insights into how the building works in terms of design, construction, environmental response ... whatever.

Work has been really hectic of late, so I haven't been able to finish off all the stuff I want to post.  Apologies for that but there will be another burst of activity in due course.

In case you're interested, the hybrid/rendered interior is cheated by using a section box to slice the lantern off the dome and let more light in.  The effect is completely false of course, but I quite like the mood of the image, and it does rather show off the spatial games our young sculptor liked to play. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015


This is part 2 of a BIM Breakfast talk given on 24th November in Dubai.

You don't have to be a gifted artist to gain benefits from visual thinking.  This example is from Newton's scientific notes.  Even with his relatively crude drawing technique the idea of light being split into a spectrum of colours as it passes through a prism is conveyed much more vividly than would be possible with a purely verbal description.

You don't have to be a super-geek to do great things with BIM.  It's the thought that counts.  Newton used drawing to clarify his understanding of optics, the relationship between white light and the rainbow colours of the spectrum.  Clumsy technique but ground breaking ideas.

More examples from non artists.  Now we are entering the age of the industrial revolution, an explosion of software and hardware that ultimately led to today's digital world.
Stephenson's rocket converted fossil fuel into forward motion and enabled the first railway line that carried cotton cloth from Manchester Mills to the port of Liverpool.  Darwin was also interested in fossils, but for different reasons.  Notice the phrase "I think" at the top right.  Here he is thinking aloud by means of a diagram.  Once again, the technique is crude, but the power of visual thought is crystal clear.

Looking back for a moment to Durer and a pencil drawing of the great Humanist thinker Erasmus.  The technology he is using to capture his thoughts before they slip from memory dates back to ancient Egypt: a reed cut by a knife and split at it's end to allow the ink to flow.  Notice how he holds the ink pot in one hand to allow regular dipping of the pen. 

Here is a piece of hardware that lasted 3000 years, from ancient egyptian times to the beginning of the 19th century.  Then we started to burn fossil fuels, using up capital that had sat in the ground for 200 million years in the space of 200.  Eating up a million years every 12 months.  Certainly we are the cleverest animals that ever lived.

The industrial revolution swept swept ancient traditions away overnight.  Mass produced steel nibs poured out of Birmingham in their thousands.  No more reeds or goose feathers.
And here it is, now a museum piece.  It's just a reed pen made of thin steel sheet, but you can make them by the thousand and ship them out in small boxes. They last longer, create thinner and more consistent lines. 

All this was made possible by digging up coal.  Fossil fuels that had taken hundreds of millions of years to form, burned away in a few decades.  Only recently have we started to understand how rapidly we are consuming our natural capital.  And yet we continue to behave as if continuous growth and innovation was the answer to all our dreams.

Bigger, better, faster has become an end in itself. We all know that it is not sustainable, but we continue to put on our business blinkers and gallop off into the future.

And so to the twentieth century and technology has mushroomed.  Human population has exploded and we now dominate the earth like no species has ever done before.  The most successful species the world has ever seen.  But for how long?  We all know that it can't last for ever?  We have become addicted to growth and change.  Bigger, better, faster.  It's like a drug.  We don't know how to stop.
Don't get me wrong, I love computers.  I can't wait for the latest version of Revit to come out each year.  And I enjoy using BIM to deliver projects for GAJ.  But at the back of my mind  I know there's an elephant in the room.  And in my spare time, I try to use BIM in unusual ways, to connect back to the ancient tradition of visual thinking and artistic expression.
So here are some of my attempts to use BIM as a pencil.

I don't have an answer to all our problems, but I do have a suggestion.  Take off the business blinkers, stand back and take a broader view.  Take a cue from great artists of the past.  Use BIM like a pencil. Don't limit it's use to the narrow confines of business contracts.  Treat it as a medium that can range across the whole gamut of human thought, from art to science to education, from historical research to idle doodling and optical illusions.

Let me give some examples from my own work.

Lever House is a modern movement classic, built when I was a toddler. Abstraction & simplification.  How far can you boil down the idea behind a design concept without losing its essence ?  How would you tackle this challenge in a BIM way ?

Drawing/modelling to understand how a building works.  Asking questions, probing the finer details.  Understanding the kit of parts, sequence of trades.  What can a sixty year old building teach us ?  BIM is a terrific way to find out.

Casa del Fascio, a controversial tour de force by a young Italian idealist, carried away by nationalist rhetoric.  I used a Chess board analogy to illustrate the sequence of moves by which a regular grid becomes inflected to create a more complex functional arrangement of spaces.  Note the interplay of structural frame and infill panels, transforming a box into a sculptural form that changes as you walk around it.  One of the few 1930s buildings that looks as if it could have been designed yesterday.

I have been developing this one as an exercise for students of architecture who wish to aqcuire some software skills at the same time as investigating the subtleties of this deceptively simple office building with its triangular voids that spiral around the outside connecting office floors together and allowing light and air to penetrate and circulate.

Instead of teaching students about BIM, perhaps we would be better encouraging students to use BIM as a thinking tool via self-directed research and exploration.

Baroque architecture is known for its complex geometries.  In this study I used the parametric modelling capabilities of the software to investigate the underlying relationships, searching for an appropriate level of simplification.  I believe that hands-on exercises like this, where students use BIM tools to explore architecture of the past would have much more value than a series of lectures about "the role of BIM in the modern construction industry".

This is a place that I visited in the late 1970s and it was a fascinating experience to recreate it as a digital model.  I discovered regularities in the setting out of the seats that had never been clear to me until I undertook this exercise, using BIM like a pencil to take me on a voyage of discovery.

I seriously need to start my weekend, and there's another BIM breakfast coming up that I have to prepare for, so I'll break it off there and finish this rambling rose off next week.  I'm hoping some of this strikes a chord with somebody out there.