Thursday, August 11, 2016


Two years ago I was seriously overweight to the point where I had full-blown type 2 diabetes.  I just didn't know it yet.  In August 2014 my diagnosis was a couple of months away.  Or perhaps I did know, somewhere deep inside.  About 3 years earlier I had finally done what my children had been pestering me to do for years and visited a doctor for a general health check.  He told me that I was "borderline diabetes", gave me the usual pep talk, and advised me to me to come back in 3 months or so.  That never happened, but I did walk around for another 3 years telling myself "I'm borderline, there's still time, I can get this under control ... but not tonight, I need my comfort food."

What saved my life was a Health Day, organised my GAJ (my day job) and BUPA (the medical aid society)  That was when I got my diagnosis and where I met Dr Ghada from the Boston Diabetes Clinic.  Two things had changed.  Firstly was put straight on to daily injections.  Secondly she gave me very specific dietary advice and made sure her staff arranged regular follow-up visits.  That was all it took to give me the motivation and confidence to take control of my diet and health.

Looking back I think there have been 3 main phases to my recovery.  Stage one was fear.  Just the fact of suddenly having to inject myself each morning shook me out of my lethargy.  I also had to prick my finger twice a day to record blood sugar levels, and remember a whole regime of pills (morning, night and weekly)  I am a citizen of Zimbabwe living in Dubai.  I am 65 years old and planning to work for as long as I can.  My only viable retirement plan is to go back to my house in Zimbabwe and live a simple life where the cost of living is low and the climate favourable.  What scared the crap out of me was the thought of living in deepest Africa and still being on all this medication.  Would I be able to afford it ?  Would it even be available in Zimbabwe ?

So fear motivated me to implement the radically different dietary regime that my doctor had carefully explained.  Three small meals and two small snacks.  Basically you are eating at 3 hour intervals to keep the energy levels up and the hunger pangs down.  Sugar, Oil, butter, soft drinks and fruit juice were out.  I haven't bought any of these things since I was diagnosed.  I drink water and green tea, plus a small amount of fresh milk.  A small snack is one piece of fruit: a banana or an orange, for example.  I have also cut back drastically on carbs.  My meals are usually either steamed vegetables or salads.  I was advised to have 2 portions of vegetables and 1 portion of carbs (rice, potatoes, pasta, bread) but in practice that just complicates things.  How do you cook one spoonful of rice ?  So my intake of "staple foods" is now very low. 

Stage 2 was the feelgood factor: the rewards of dramatic weight loss, people stopping me at work and expressing amazement at how I had changed.  That kept me on the straight and narrow for several months after the fear had faded.  It was great to experience this transition from the stick to the carrot.  My self esteem was soaring, I had so much more energy.  I felt more alert.  Just as an example, I always used to run up stairs.  It was a habit that I developed out of impatience, but of course it fell away about 10 years ago as I put on weight.  About 3 or 4 months into my weight-loss experience I just found myself running up a flight of stairs again.  I didn't even realise what was happening until I got to the top of the stairs and realised I had turned the clock back 10 years without even thinking about it. 

I started to dress more smartly.  Over the years, as my belly began to push over my belt, I had started to dress down, wearing jeans to work, eventually wearing loose shirts and not tucking them in.  You just walk around in this tent that masks the full enormity of what you have become.  There's nothing worse than fat people who insist on wearing tight clothes, right?  But now I could take trousers out from the back of the wardrobe that I had discarded ten years ago after wearing them a handful of times.  I really got a kick out of that.

Stage 3 is where I am now.  I've been through a couple of periods where my weight levelled out.  That happened after I had shed 20kg.  That was a huge achievement of course which gave me great pride, and I new it was going to be harder to lose the next 10kg.  So I got stuck at the same basic weight for 3 or 4 months, but I didn't panic.  Perhaps I needed to pause for breath, let the situation sink in.  Then I had one doctor's visit where, for the first time my weight recorded slightly higher than the last visit.  That motivated me to go back to my original strict diet.  I had gradually loosened my grip without fully realising it.  My assumption that "it just gets harder" to lose weight as you get nearer to the target was not really correct.  I found I could still lose weight rapidly if I returned to my original strict regime. 

So now I am 33kg down.  I started at 123kg and right now I am sitting at 90kg.  That's right, I've lost a quarter of my body mass.  It seems ridiculous, and looking back I can hardly believe that is my in those old photos.  So I am getting a broader perspective on the whole thing, and phase 3 amounts to a new perception of my identity and my place in the broader scheme of the Diabetes Epidemic.  I am motivated by the opportunity to share my story with friends and colleagues, to talk about the crazy world of runaway consumption that we inhabit.  I see people wherever I go with their puffy faces and waddling gait and think, "that used to be me".  I was trapped in that addiction, and I still have the cravings.  By luck I got the right advice at the right time, it set me on a new path and it feels so good to share that story when opportunities arise.  People approach me at work and ask for advice.  How did I do it?  What is my diet?  It's like I'm a born-again "healthy person".  So stage 3 is a kind of global awareness, an overview of the whole situation.  I will always be a food addict.  There will always be temptations.  But I now have the confidence that I can manage my own health.

I used to wear sandals, because it was too hard to put socks on.  As I lost weight it got easier, but still my joints were stiff.  But that can also be worked at.  I have discovered various stretching exercises that make a big difference over a period of weeks.  You can regain quite a lot of the flexibility that your body had lost.  So there is this general awareness of health issues and an enthusiasm for finding small solutions, here and there, that work for me.  It's a journey of discovery and I have embraced it. 

Two years ago I had basically resigned myself to the probability of being a semi-invalid for the rest of my life, to perhaps not seeing my grandson become a young adult.  That now seems crazy.  "Life begins at 60" is my new motto, and I'm convinced that other people can find a way out their "mind & body traps" just like I have.  BUPA and GAJ have responded to this by setting up two interviews for me to tell my story, one for a local newspaper and the other for a radio station.

It's a small contribution but it's also part of my ongoing contemplation of the global issues.  Apparently there are around 400 million people struggling with the type 3 diabetes issue.  Our bodies are just not designed for the modern world.  They are telling us to gorge on foods rich in fat and sugar whenever we come across them, because those were rare events and stored fat in our bodies was a significant survival factor over the lean season each year, and even more so in periods of extended drought.  Three year droughts are quite frequent on the African savannah.  You can lose a lot of body mass in three years, so excess body fat can be a life saver.

It seems to me now that sweeping global measures are needed to curb this epidemic.  Everywhere I look I see people with puffy faces and bulging waist lines.  That was me for well over a decade, and I had internalised that identity, embraced it and insulated myself from the very real consequences of a distorted body chemistry.  Why don't we have health warnings on sugar-rich products like the ones that were introduced despite colossal outrage from the tobacco industry?  I suspect that sugar is doing far more harm now than tobacco.  Diabetes can lead to blindness and amputation.  That's on top of the 400 million people suffering from the general debilitating effects and the worry that this causes their families: presumably more than a billion people whose lives are impacted by this epidemic.  And of course the numbers are rising very rapidly. 

When I walk through a supermarket now, I am horrified by the kind of stuff that fills around 80% of the shelves.  This is an attitude that I would have ridiculed a few years ago, but it's based on a very real encounter with food addiction.  Whenever I speak at a BIM function in some Dubai hotel, there is a huge spread of unhealty foods laid out for the participants.  It's all flour and sugar, flour and sugar.  I really have to look hard to find something that I am willing to eat.  We just take it for granted.  I queue at the supermarket to pay for my little horde of fresh fruit and vegetables, surrounded by people with huge trolleys full of biscuits and ice cream and oils and fats.  When did I become such a fanatic?  Lighten up!  Why can't people choose to eat whatever they want? 

Unfortunately, that didn't work for me.  I was extremely luck to find a way out of that vicious downward spiral and it took 18 months to claw my way back to a healthy body chemistry.  I have good friends who feel inspired by my example, but have not been able to transfer this to their own lives.  We are all different.  I found the exit door.  You may not be so lucky.  I really think that those unhealthy foods should just be taken off the shelves.  The fast food chains should be given 2 years to transition to genuinely healthy balanced meals, or be shut down.  That probably sounds like fascism to you, but that's also how many people still feel about banning smoking in public bars and restaurants.

The facts are very clear.  We are ruining the health of millions of people.  We have over-developed bodies in an over-developed world that revolves around profit.  Neither capitalism nor communism, in their extreme forms is worth even discussing.  In practice all economies are a mix of state planning and free enterprise.  But how do we create a sustainable future?  How do we curtail this mad, runaway consumerism that is bloating our bodies, polluting the planet, trashing the rain forests?  Type 2 diabetes is the by-product of a prosperous, industrialised world.  It's an indicator that we are gripped by a progress trap of the kind that has brought countless civilizations down in the past.  I have found my personal exit door, but what about the world in general?

Monday, August 1, 2016


There is a door that I made(some months ago) for the Banking Halls.  The middle, opening part is taken from photographs of doors that exist today in the Bank Museum (the reconstructed Stock Office).  The surround is based on a drawing of Soane's and a 1920s photograph of the Colonial Office.  I had made the surround rather crudely, and the whole thing was a fixed size with no built-in modularity.  So I decided to make this slightly more robust and parametric, then go on to build more doors with interchangeable components to allow for more variety and flexibility.

A fully parametric version would be quite demanding, but making parametric moulding profiles for the segmental pediment is perfectly doable. It all comes down to Height and Depth, with 3 intermediate parameters (X,Y,Z) that are all expressed as fractions of "Height".  In other words, increasing Height will scale the whole profile up, while Depth can be varied independently.  The ogee curve is a polyline, locked to the corners of a square of side "Z".

The next thing I attempted was a typical Soane studded door panel.  He used this type of door on just about all of his buildings.  I'm not sure of the original derivation. The tricky part is getting the arrays of studs to scale up and down.  I took the view that we don't need a huge variation in size.  These are doors after all.   So I kept the number of studs constant and all I need is quite a lot of equalised reference planes to respond to different sizes of panel.  Maybe another day I will do one with an array parameter so we can type in the spacing of the studs and have the number of items automatically calculated, but this time around I lacked the patience.

So I went on to do make a whole series of doors, all of approximately derived from a Soane building in some way, and most of them having parameteric door panels that are interchangeable.  Some are single. some double, and again there is interchangeability.  Behind the scenes here is some work that has been bubbling away on my stove for a little while now, a way of doing modular door families that will allow for maximum reuseability down the road whenever we model a new type of panel, surround, door swing, hardware set, whatever.  This will be the subject of one of my sessions at RTC Europe in Porto, later on this year.  It's an experiment, but it's working out quite well so far.

One thing to note, with these complex door surrounds.  When you have a piece of geometry in the family that lies completely above the cut plane, it will show up in the floor plan, unless you explicitly tell it not to.  I guess this is intentional.  You might want to show the pediment over these doors as a dashed line in plan, perhaps.  While I'm on this topic, I always found it a little odd that the "Visibility Settings" button only shows up on the ribbon if you select geometry made with the same tool, e.g. all sweeps, or all extrusions.

Another way to force something to hide in plan is to "Join Geometry" with something that DOES intersect the cut plane.  In this case, all the pediment elements could be joined up to the architrave moulding (the sweep going around 3 sides of the opening)  One drawback is that things that are joined together automatically share the same material (or material parameter).

I proceeded to change several of my generic openings into real doors and that's going to be another of those tasks to spread out over a few sessions.  Sometimes there are photographs to show if they are single or double, and whether they open in or out, but none of the floor plans offer clues, so there will be lots of semi-intelligent guesswork.  I'll conclude with a portion of my Working Plan View, which shows the model in pink and red, with a reference plan below in black.  Lots of minor discrepancies and missing details (fireplaces, pilasters, niches, columns)

I can't do much about the discrepancies now, either the hand drawn plan is inaccurate, or it results from normalising the alignments, difficult to be sure which at times.  I'm not going to start rotating individual portions of the plan by a degree here and a degree there at this stage.  That would just be asking for trouble.  Some of the crosses are rooms, some are groin vaults showing up from the cellars below.

I think I should probably revisit the parametric dome family for the next post. Had a couple of requests for that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


The Doric Vestibule is an interesting space with quite a complex set of requirements.  It sets out to provide a "VIP entrance", a back door well away from the hustle and bustle of the public banking halls that offers an alternative route to the court suite, and the governor's office.  The entrance is slightly off-centre along the newly straightened Princes Street, which causes 2 immediate problems.  There is a change of angle, and a change of level.  The angle change is slight (5 degrees) and fairly easily handled by sleight of hand.  The level change is considerable and dealt with by splitting into three parts, three short flights of steps.

The vestibule itself is a cube beneath a dome, sitting at an intermediate level.  On all 4 sides there are lobbies characterised by sturdy Doric columns.  To my knowledge, these are the only Doric columns used in the bank.  It's a special space. 

The shallow lobby that houses the outer door serves to disguise the change of angle and forms a landing between the first two flights of steps.  The side lobbies with their doubled up columns, give the impression of a major cross-axis, boosting the grandeur of the vestibule, but in practice only lead to service stairs and back-of-house areas.  The major focus is forward, via an impressive coffered barrel vault and the same motif of a half-moon arch above paired columns towards a long, long side-lit vista.  This is the corridor of power, leading ultimately to the Governor's office.

For the moment I am using the Doric Column family I made some years ago, whose shortcomings prompted my first Parametric Pumpkin Entry.  The entasis is fudged by using two blends: two straight lines instead of a curve.  That makes for a lightweight family, easy to build and easy to modify. I originally made it for a reconstruction of the Temple of Hera (or Poseidon) at Paestum. For the bank I had to adjust the proportions, reducing the capital in proportion to the shaft.  Once again I am struck by the variety that is possible within the classical idiom.

The dome was easy because I had just overhauled my pendentive family for the Chief Cashier.  I haven't shown a lantern at present because the drawings suggest otherwise, but since then I've stumbled on a photo that clearly shows that there was one.

As usual I just started building, stumbled across puzzles, studied many drawings and a single photo, and ad-libed my way to a solution.  The whole thing is quite a complex assemblage of small rectangular blocks of different heights, light wells and clerestory lighting: typical Soane.  Many of the drawings in the archive didn't make much sense to me until I was into the thick of the puzzle.  Then one by one the provided answers to the questions I had about the relative heights of the different spaces, where the walls needed to be punched by windows, which of these were semi-circular, and which tall, thin arches in twos and threes.  I really love these kinds of puzzles although they can be quite frustrating at times.

I've broken the back of the problem now, and will leave it to settle in my mind before coming back to refine and elaborate at some later date. 

Next item on my list was to look at the cellars.  I had begun these under the banking halls on the east side, working out the basic system of groin vaults between segmental arches.  I have a parametric family for the groin vaults, and there are some good plan drawings of the entire basement.  So it's just a matter of working your way methodically through, checking that you are lining up with the walls above and resolving discrepancies.

As you move towards the North and West, the basement becomes a ground story, pretty much level with the courtyards and eventually with the street itself as you approach Tivoli Corner.  You can only really work on this for a couple of hours at a stretch before it becomes tedious.  So I switched over to the entrance court for a while, which brought me to another interesting realisation.  If you look very carefully at the photos you can see that there are stairs in the corners leading down into lightwells the serve the basement cellars.

I also had a go at elevating the Bullion Court.  There isn't a lot to go on here: part of a photo and an old survey drawing which seem to contradict each other.  But I can't just leave the walls blank, so I put in some placeholder windows to move things along.  There are also steps around one side of the courtyard, leading down from the corridor next to the court suite.  But that's for another day.

I've mapped out the cellars fairly well now: where they exist and where they don't, placed groin vaults in several areas, and added most of the archways that connect it all together.  Some of the narrow and triangular courts to the north and east contained privies.  You can see them clearly on the basement plans.  I'm not sure whether they had cesspits or a night soil system (carry it away in buckets) but I am guessing that those courtyards were quite smelly places.  Hence their location well away from the public.  Perhaps the governor himself had a water closet.  That's another interesting research question perhaps. 

Actually there is an area that could be construed as VIP rest rooms.  I've marked it on this embryonic ceiling plan.

I have set up section box views that allow you to imagine walking around from room to room.  And I'm beginning to get my head around the whole building as a sequence of working spaces.  These rooms need to develop individual characters, and there are drawings for some of them.  It's a daunting task though.  Initially I have used rectangular openings in place of doors.  That's the way that Soane represented them for the most part, which is interesting in itself. 

When did architects decide to start showing door swings on their plans?  Presumably such issues had always been resolved on site directly with the carpenters themselves.  Maybe the change came when architects no longer dealt directly with tradesmen.  So I set myself to develop a set of doors based on the sparse evidence available, and have started to place these as best I can.  But that will have to be another post.

For the moment let's just review the new VIP entrance route that played a key role in Soane's planning of the North West extension.  It begins with the Doric Vestible discreetly positioned along the newly straightened Princes Street, proceeds down a long passage with the Waiting Room Court to the right, meets up with an existing corridor that runs along the West side of the Bullion Court, turns right for a while, then right again to give access to the lobbies and waiting rooms of the Court Room Suite: the domain of the Governor of the Bank of England

And finally, let me finish with a rendered view, looking through the Doric Vestibule, and towards the long passage which is brightly illuminated by the open side of the Waiting Room Court.