Featured

Today’s the day #buildingpassions

I’m launching the print copy of ‘Building Passions’ this evening Wednesday 20 November in Central London.

The e-book has been out since September on www.kobo.com . The full title is Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture .

English Heritage has just put up a Blue Plaque on the house in London where Sir John Wolfe Barry lived, no. 15 Chelsea Embankment. This is in the 125th year since he built Tower Bridge with Henry Marc Brunel and others. It is also a little over a century since Wolfe Barry died, at his home, in 1918.

I will continue to promote ‘Building Passions’ through the website and give talks about it to local audiences in and around Kent where I live.

The next one is on 17 December at Canterbury Christchurch University. It is being organised by the STEM Hub based there, which coordinates volunteers such as myself to speak to Kent school-age children about careers in science, technology, engineering and/or mathematics/medicine.

I will also be talking about the book at Ashford Library on 25 February 2020 and am happy to come to an easily-accessible venue in London and the South East to do the same. Please contact me at enquiries@buildingpassions.co.uk .

Featured

Not just Tower Bridge on the #buildingpassions list of structures

I’ve produced a list of structures mentioned in the book ‘Building Passions‘.

I created the list for indexing purposes, as it naturally flowed out of my text for the book. Perhaps I should have done it the other way round?

All lists need choices to be made. The public voted Isambard Kingdom Brunel the second greatest Briton after Churchill. Does that make his structures the best British ones ever? Of course not!

This website focuses on the works of his son Henry Brunel in partnership with Sir John Wolfe Barry, who really gets the credit as project lead. His father Sir Charles Barry has many buildings on the list, including the Houses of Parliament, but no tunnels, bridges, docks or rail lines and stations. Sir Charles was an architect, unlike the previously named engineers.

Other architects and engineers are on the list, as well as unattributed structures such as the Acropolis or the Burj Khalifa.

Some might say it’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast. I disagree. There are connections between all these structures across and over time.

Which is my favourite structure on the list? No surprise to those who know me, it’s the Travellers Club in London by Charles Barry and his close friend John Lewis Wolfe. Apart from sheer admiration of form and function, my father used to be a member and often stayed there on trips from Switzerland to the UK.

I also appreciate the significance of John Wolfe.

Sir Charles’s fourth son was named after him, and in tribute to his memory and lineage, he continued with the ‘Wolfe’ title in a family name that is still alive today.

Featured

Another Baker’s dozen until the launch of #buildingpassions

In early 2018 I posted a blog in the lead up to officially launching this website on a key date.

Sir John Wolfe Barry died on 22 January 1918 at his home, Delahay House on Chelsea Embankment. This website was set up to commemorate the centenary of that sad day and English Heritage will be putting up a Blue Plaque at the location on 19 November.

I used the phrase ‘Benjamin Baker’s Dozen’ to describe the 13 days to the launch date. It was a play on words, as Sir Benjamin Baker, the co-builder of the iconic Forth Rail Bridge, was a good friend of Wolfe Barry’s and featured on the site. Nothing about baking then!

Fast forward 22 months and I will be launching the book about John Wolfe Barry, Henry Brunel and their famous families on 20 November. Baker features in that as well, but sadly for bakers, still no new recipes!

But there is a connection.

My wife Viktoriya loves baking and has suggested that she makes a cake to celebrate the book launch. We’ve not decided on the details yet as Tower Bridge might be a bit too complex, much as I would love it!

Once it has been created I will of course publish a photo, but perhaps not the recipe which will remain a family secret for at least 100 years.

Featured

At last! A Blue Plaque for the man who built Tower Bridge #buildingpassions

After almost four years since applying for one, it seems that we will finally have an English Heritage Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry!

I often say patience is a virtue. In this case it really is.

I remember completing the application thinking that it may well be rejected due to the sheer numbers of competing ones. But it was worth a try. The process is deliberately slow and careful to ensure that literally everyone is happy with the decision.

Why does JWB deserve this commemoration, given that he already has a window in Westminster Abbey, and the iconic Tower Bridge he built with his business partner and close friend Henry Marc Brunel is a global landmark?

I could give many reasons, but I think foremost is a tribute to the great metropolis of London where he was born, raised, worked and died. He wasn’t just there all the time, but it clearly was a very significant city for him.

My book ‘Building Passions’ not only covers the story of John Wolfe Barry, but also of his father Sir Charles Barry, architect of the Houses of Parliament (who already has a Blue Plaque at his former home), as well as other members of the Barry and Brunel families. Not least the ‘2nd Greatest Briton’, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, starts it all off.

The location of the Blue Plaque will be adjoining Chelsea Embankment on the Thames, on the outside of the house where John Wolfe Barry died in 1918 aged 81 years. While it has just missed the centenary of his death, I’m hoping it can still mark 125 years of Tower Bridge.

His life was a great innings, to use a cricketing metaphor, and its legacy continued through the organisations and structures associated with him, the Brunels and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture.

Once I know more about the exact details of the unveiling I will publicise it on this blog.

Featured

#buildingpassions is about rebranding the built environment sector

#buildingpassions is the tagline for my forthcoming book about the Brunel and Barry families of Victorian engineers and architects.

Why I have I chosen it?

Firstly, because I like the play on words similar to the #buildingstories tag used by Roma Agrawal for her ‘Built’ podcasts.

Secondly, because no one else seems to be using it currently so it ticks the U in USP (unique selling proposition if you didn’t know, a marketing term).

Thirdly, because while my book is mainly about the history of architecture and civil engineering, it references the wider built environment in which they belong. This is the key sector which visibly and materially transforms our towns, cities and landscapes, generally for the good.

The nouns ‘building’ and ‘builder’ don’t always have great press currently in the English language at least, as they are mainly connected to the construction industry. This is just one part of the built environment sector, and not always the most reputable bit due to the ‘cowboys’ who operate for lower prices but with a higher risk of serious problems later on.

The worst recent example that comes to mind is the 2016 structural collapse of a church in Nigeria where building regulation corruption is rife – 160 people died! Similar issues have arisen with houses in earthquake zones in Nepal and Ecuador, for instance.

So we clearly need a rebrand with a strong positive feeling to it and I hope #buildingpassions (click for the relevant page) can somehow contribute to this.

Featured

Welcome to Sir John Wolfe Barry’s site

He built Tower Bridge

This website tells the story of Sir John Wolfe Barry.

Who was he?

He was the civil engineer who built Tower Bridge. He doesn’t get as much credit for this as he perhaps deserves. So the purpose of the site was to tell his story to mark the centenary of his death on 22 January 2018. Content has been added since then mainly via the blogs (see below) but also in anticipation of the 125th anniversary celebrations of Tower Bridge’s first opening on 30 June 2019. The author is also publishing a book on Sir John, his partner Henry Brunel, and their (grand)fathers and brothers due to come out by end September 2019.

The site is split into blog posts and content pages which connect with each other and external links.

If you want quick snapshots then read the blog posts – use the category cloud to help you find things you are interested in e.g. Tower Bridge.

If you want to read the story of JWB (as I call him) then use the top menu for sections of content which all link to each other in the same order.

Enjoy!

The place where they do the annual Xmas lectures #buildingpassions

When I used to work at the UK Academy of Sciences, we often got calls asking us about our Christmas Lecture, particularly as the Autumn days began to darken.

We would politely reply: “I’m sorry, you want the Royal Institution. We are the Royal Society.”

In some cases this led to a follow on conversation about the difference between the two organisation’s titles. We would explain that the Royal Society was one of the world’s oldest science academies founded in 1660, whereas the Royal Institution had been set up in the 19th Century by science communicators with the purpose of educating the public about science. Michael Faraday’s famous lectures on electricity morphed into the annual Xmas events broadcast on the BBC.

I am giving a Christmas lecture in Canterbury on 17 December with the same title as my book ‘Building Passions’. It may not be on the same level as the RI ones, but it is about communicating on the STEM subjects, as we now group them. Mine will focus on engineering and architecture as part of our built environment’s history.

I will talk about the Brunel and Barry families of engineers and architects. Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Brunel, sons of famous fathers, worked together on building Tower Bridge in London. I will cover other well-known and interesting structures and there will be a live demonstration of simple bridge building.

Do please come along! Whether you manage or not you can still buy the book and/or donate to my favourite charity campaign Time to Change.

How to find your audience and win it over #buildingpassions

Communicating is all about tailoring your key messages to the right audience.

When I started in education policy back in mid 2002, we soon realised how important this was. Within a few months we were meeting as a group of education experts and policy staff with the new Secretary of State for Education. He was a busy man, but already impressed with our first report on continuing professional development for maths teachers. We just needed to get home the key points rapidly and convincingly.

We all learned from that meeting and went on to produce other reports and have other meetings with Ministers. At the other end of the hierarchy are the students in our state schools in England, for whom politicians are tasked to provide oversight.

I spoke to groups of them this week at a school in the town where I live. They were teenagers, so inevitably there was bravado and shyness depending on their perceived status in the school. My constant message to them all was be passionate about at least one area of their life.

I realise now, having sat through some fascinating sessions at a Kent education conference today, that communicating with students involves engaging with school staff and parents/carers simultaneously.

Above all, this is a long term process which won’t necessarily produce immediate results.

Like writing and publishing a book.

Developing my writing into fiction #nanowrimo

I blogged a while back that I’ve started writing a novel based on the life of my grandfather Baron Lex von Behr.

This fictional story connects with the non-fiction of ‘Building Passions’ and in deed this website, through the theme of families.

As I said at the book launch of ‘Building Passions’ last week, I’m fascinated with family relationships and legacy. My grandfather almost lived out a novel or even a series of short stories. These included his mother, brothers, sisters, cousins, life partners and children.

While I am more comfortable writing non-fiction, particularly linked to history or education or the built environment, I realise that fiction is the big one. You can mould your subjects and develop their stories in parallel with the flow of events around them.

The book will actually be a trilogy called ‘The Other Red Baron’, split between three phases of Lex’s life as there is so much to cover about him. However, the core story is on his spying career and his passionate love affairs in Tashkent, London, Berlin and Paris.

As things develop I will consider how best to communicate on my progress – currently I’m sharing my writing trials and tribulations as part of National Novel Writing Month (nanowrimo.org), its Kent community forum on Facebook and in meet-ups with local authors in and around Canterbury.

They thought it was all over … #buildingpassions

‘They think it’s all over … it is now’ was an expression from 1966 that became famous in the UK at least (subsequently through an eponymous TV show).

This was the year the English soccer team won the World Cup at Wembley, the home of football. The commentator was explaining why English fans were already running onto the pitch before the final whistle – then the home team scored in mid-sentence to settle the match.

I kind of thought my research, writing and publishing project was all over this week, what with a new Blue Plaque for Sir John Wolfe Barry on the Tuesday, followed by the book launch for ‘Building Passions‘ on Wednesday.

Yet I realise today that in a way it’s only just begun (apologies to the Carpenters singing duo).

I still need to promote the book to potential audiences – there is no point even writing a book if it isn’t read by all those who might possibly be interested in it.

The next event is a lecture on the book in Canterbury, England on 17 December, only 8 days before Christmas. Signed copies will be available to buy as last minute Xmas gifts.

For those who don’t know it, Canterbury is a beautifully historic English city closely associated with the Monarchy and the Church. St Thomas Becket was martyred in the famous Cathedral on the implicit instructions of King Henry II. Pilgrims have visited ever since, and the famous ‘Canterbury Tales’ by Geoffrey Chaucer institutionalised this into English language and culture.

The crime took place because loyal servants to the highest authority in England thought this would please their master. Sounds familiar eh?

Just 3 days until the #buildingpassions book launch

I’m launching the print copy of ‘Building Passions’ on Wednesday 20 November in Central London. The e-book has been out since September on www.kobo.com . The full title is Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture .

The day before that, English Heritage will put up a Blue Plaque on the house in Chelsea where Sir John Wolfe Barry lived and died.

Both of these events will be a major personal milestone for me as an historian and author. But they also represent the first steps, I hope, in my shared efforts to expand our knowledge about the built environment. As I have recognised in my book, Roma Agrawal really started this for many of us with her fantastic book ‘BUILT’.

What happens after the book is launched?

Well, I’m writing my next one, an historical novel based on the life of my grandfather Baron Lex von Behr, who may have been a spy … I hope to publish it in 2020, a century after he escaped from the clutches of Soviet Red Guards in what is modern day Uzbekistan.

I will continue to promote ‘Building Passions’ through the website and give talks about it to local audiences in Kent where I live.

I’m also thinking about doing academic research linked to one of the themes in the book – what helped define architectural ‘modernity’ in the Victorian era, how does this link to our built environment legacy, and why is it important for the current process of quality design and build?

Or something along those lines …