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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.

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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.

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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.

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#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.

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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!

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 …

If the tagline is #buildingpassions what is the book about?

I thought I would have some pre-Christmas fun and think of alternative long titles for my book ‘Building Passions’, assuming I knew nothing about the content.

Here goes for starters. Enjoy and feel free to add:

  • How to arouse your partner in three easy steps
  • Why model-making turns me on
  • The 10 best buildings in which to have secret liaisons
  • Build yourself the thing you’ve always wanted, from white elephant to crib

The real challenge would be to write them!

17 days and counting #buildingpassions

It’s 17 days until I launch my book ‘Building Passions’!

The last time I used a countdown on this website was leading up to celebrating 125 years of Tower Bridge earlier this year. Before that I properly launched the website in January 2018, a hundred years after the death of Sir John Wolfe Barry.

A lot has happened since then and even earlier when I first sent in my application for a Blue Plaque for JWB. In 16 days time a plaque should finally go up on the front of the house where he died on Chelsea Embankment in London.

I am currently part of a local Kent group of writers who are aiming to complete 50,000 words of a novel n the month of November, as part of a worldwide charity called NaNoWriMo. It’s not easy, but more doable if you have others in the same situation.

I have promised the group that I will tell them more about self-publishing based on my experience to date so below are some brief bullets to whet the appetite:

  • Plan, plan then plan some more – you can’t do too much!
  • Seek out those with a greater expertise than yourself whether directly or via social media
  • Be realistic about deadlines – they can shift as long as the end product is completed to a high standard, but not for ever
  • Break down the project into streams and tasks so it becomes more manageable
  • Don’t give up however bad you might feel on certain days – good news is just around the corner!
  • If you want to use lost of images and fancy design features then be prepared to spend time and money on it
  • Find reliable people to work with – they may not always be the very best, but at least they will deliver when you need it
  • Imagine what your book will look like and try and stick to that dream, with occasional adjustments
  • Above all, don’t even write a book if you aren’t convinced that people will want to read it!

Grenfell Tower: some pointers from #buildingpassions #grenfelltower

Today the first report from the official inquiry into the Grenfell Tower tragedy was published.

Its conclusions were leaked yesterday by the Daily Telegraph, despite being asked by the inquiry to wait. This pretty much sums up some of the media nowadays. The focus of resulting headlines was on the perceived inadequacies of the London Fire Brigade when dealing with the blazing inferno. Easy target …

Also today, Boris Johnson is as I write leading a short House of Commons debate about the report, in between keeping an eye on the House of Lords as it passes general election legislation.

This is all of interest to me because I write about Grenfell Tower in my new book ‘Building Passions’. This is in the concluding chapter, where I try to reflect on the wider issues that impact on our built environment.

The book is about the achievements of 19th-century families and individuals in building structures that have become iconic, such as the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge in London, or the Clifton Suspension Bridge or Box Tunnel in the west of England.

Grenfell Tower was by no means iconic when it was designed and built in London, but it has become a huge symbol of the frailties of modern society, which is gradually moving more and more away from community-based decisions to globally-determined ones.

The Government’s response to the report can only be fully actionable when UK politics has returned to something near normal after the Brexit hiatus, and when the second part of the inquiry has fully investigated the technical issues around the cause of the inferno, which completely surprised the brave firemen and -women who tried valiantly to tackle it.

In the past similar disasters have led to changes in the law and remedial actions by industry – this time the response needs to be considered and permanent, in so far as politicians are able to engineer long-term change for the good of all citizens, with the support of communities, the built environment sector and those whose job it is to rescue us from dangers to our life and limb.

Buy a print copy of #buildingpassions now!

My website ‘Building Passions’ now lets you pre-order a print copy of the book prior to its launch on 20 November 2019.

To note, this is currently only for deliveries to UK addresses, as I’m waiting for more clarity on Brexit to see what happens in the EU. The rest of the world will have to wait a bit while I decide on which fulfilment service to use.

If you still don’t know what I’m talking about then here is a quick recap:

  • the book’s full title is Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian’ architecture.
  • it covers the story of two families, the Brunels and the Barrys, who were famous Victorian engineers and architects. Think the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, Clifton Suspension Bridge, the Great Eastern etc.
  • the key relationship described in the book is that between the civil engineers Sir John Wolfe Barry and Henry Marc Brunel, respectively sons of renowned fathers, Sir Charles Barry and Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
  • the book also looks at the story of architecture and civil engineering as key built environment professions in 19th- and 20th-century Britain.
  • Finally, the content examines the ‘modernisation’ of architecture globally from the 19th Century on and the modern legacy of the Brunel-Barry partnership, both in terms of structures, but also the connection with physical and product standards.

If you prefer not to buy a hard copy or don’t live in the UK, you can instead purchase the e-book which is considerably cheaper and more interactive – it has an index which helps the readers easily cross-reference people with structures in the book.

Note: I’m very pleased to say that an English Heritage Blue Plaque will be put up on the London building in which Sir John Wolfe Barry died in January 1918. This is planned to take place on 19 November, the day before the book launch.