Why tell a story?

In my previous post I said I am writing a book about the famous 19th Century architect Sir Charles Barry and his five sons, of whom four became well-known in their own right.

Why am I telling this story?

Firstly, because I want to. That’s my prerogative as the author! It will fulfil my personal ambition ever since I started researching one of the sons (can you guess who?) many years back.

Secondly, because I think stories are great ways to communicate with people about things that may hit a chord with them. These can be very personal issues, or more likely because they empathise with certain characters and the good and bad times they may go through. It can also be for purely technical reasons e.g. they love trains so any book about them is bound to be an attraction (hint, mine will have some mentions of trains, but don’t get your hopes up if you’re a fanatic!).

Thirdly, because if people like this story then perhaps they’ll be interested in other ones that follow. This would be good for both me and them as writer and readers. Clearly it’s a relationship.

Last night I watched the new film about the character Mowgli from the famous Jungle Books created by the journalist and author Rudyard Kipling. For those who may not know the tale, Mowgli is a boy who was raised by wolves in the Indian jungle and is conflicted by his upbringing with animals and the fact that he is a human underneath. This is a fascinating paradox which the author explores expertly and weaves his magic in the form of a plausible story.

To my mind this is the essence of story telling, which I hope I can  somehow reproduce through my writing.

The story of the Barry father and sons

I’ve decided to write a family biography of Sir Charles Barry the famous 19th Century architect and his sons who were architects, a surveyor, a civil engineer and a bishop.

This website is about the civil engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry. His brothers were Alfred (the bishop), Charles Junior (architect), Edward (architect) and Godfrey (surveyor).

The plan is to complete a synopsis and a few sample extracts to send off to agents in the hope there may be interest from publishers. If not then I will self-publish.

Why would people want to read such a book?

I hope because they are intrigued by the history of architecture and civil engineering and the structures associated with this family. Caroline Shenton has written two superb books about the Houses of Parliament for which Sir Charles Barry is best known. Alfred wrote a sanitised biography of his father. All of the brothers except Godfrey feature in various biographical compendiums and tributes from their professional colleagues.

Please contact me via @behroutcomes on Twitter if you can help in any way with interesting research or materials about the family and the things they built or people they engaged with.

More on Tower Bridge 125 years

As blogged before, next summer will mark 125 years since Tower Bridge was opened.

I’ve added a couple of extra pages to this site which is about the man who built the bridge. The first is on how John Wolfe Barry persuaded Parliament to approve the plans for a bascule bridge across the Thames. The second covers the pivotal role of William Arrol in manufacturing and installing the steel framework for the towers that supported the huge bascules. I will add further pages as we get closer to the date.

You can also keep an eye on Tower Bridge’s own plans at its Facebook page and via its Twitter handle @towerbridge .

At least one new book about the history of the bridge will be published, but in the meantime you can read Honor Godfrey’s excellent softback of 1988 through library loans or Amazon.

 

There are standards and then there are standards

Sir John Wolfe Barry is credited with establishing the British Standards Institution in the early 20th Century.

In fact it was more complicated than that as you can read elsewhere on this website.

The purpose of technical standards was to bring some order to a complex system. This would benefit all in terms of consistency and wider economic impacts. I have worked on policy reports for the current BSI which have said as much.

But an area of perhaps more controversy is to do with building codes. These are in part technical standards, but they are also partly competence standards designed to prevent unscrupulous builders from erecting unsafe housing. Architects and structural engineers need to be fully aware of them before designing their structures. However, there is a risk that genuine innovation in building may become stifled by the need to regulate bad behaviour. Students of structural design need to be made fully aware of this tension and understand how best to approach it ethically.

The ability to make such judgements requires maturity of thought. Arguably this can only be achieved through responsible education which allows learners to discuss sensitive issues within an evidence-informed environment.

The big question then is whether we are producing enough of this type of learner. Only schools, colleges and universities can provide a satisfactory answer.

Celebrating 125 years of Tower Bridge

On 30 June 2019 many of us will be celebrating 125 years since Tower Bridge was first opened to the public.

More than a year ago I started putting content on this website about the builder of Tower Bridge with the aim of completing it by 22 January this year, the centenary of Sir John Wolfe Barry’s death. I was actually ahead of target.

So I’ll set myself another goal for the 8 plus months until we reach the end of June next year: add more content to this website specifically about Tower Bridge, but obviously relevant to what is already here. As I did with John Wolfe Barry’s biography, I will blog as I go along. Tomorrow I will start with the beginnings of JWB’s involvement with the project to span the Thames further east than had ever previously been achieved with a bridge.

Hope you come back to have a look.

Another brick in the wall?

Pink Floyd wrote a song about education back in the late 70s called ‘Another Brick in the Wall’.

The implication was that education was another brick or barrier in life that people had to get through, which together with many others built the metaphorical wall after which Floyd’s concept album was named.

I take a different view about modern education. It’s not about bricks any more. Even education and training on building things isn’t about bricks. Nor is it about complete blue skies thinking and creativity. It is about bringing together knowledge with skills to produce individuals who are occupationally competent. This is what happened with Sir John Wolfe Barry’s apprentices back in the 19th century.

They often came from privileged backgrounds with little practical experience but plenty of basic knowledge. This was harnessed through opportunities to work in a variety of environments: the drawing office, archives and out on site or in a factory or workshop setting. Many of them went on to become more skilled than their master: Sir Alexander Gibb is one who comes to mind.

This was real learning by doing. But it would eventually be taken over by an academic type of learning aimed at the legal and managerial classes or to supply staff to the research laboratories of the great universities.

Sadly we have had to go back and reinvent the wheel. I only hope it’s not too late to get young people enthused again by the idea of work-based learning.

Architectural styles and communities (end)

This in my final post in a series looking at a project I’m planning to undertake about a specific architectural style and its local communities.

In my last post I described the role of the Belgian architect Victor Horta in creating a unique ‘modern’ style in Brussels at the very end of the 19th Century. There followed a highly active period prior to the start of the First World War where other architects followed his example.

Horta’s style was somewhat disparagingly called ‘noodle’ or ‘whiplash’ by critics. This is because he used strong visual symbols based on nature within many aspects of it. More importantly, he perhaps unknowingly, trod in the footsteps of both the traditionalist ‘Arts & Crafts’ movement in England, and the ‘modernist’ approach starting to emerge particularly from the Chicago school of architecture in the USA. His was a complete solution to a client’s design brief covering every single aspect of a domestic and/or work residence using a range of materials and solutions.

Other architects in Belgium, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Finland, Scotland, Spain and the Baltic States drew courage from this radical new approach. It became known as ‘Art Nouveau’, ‘Moderne’, ‘Jugendstil’, ‘Liberty’ and ‘Secessionist’ to name a few terms. I particularly like the last one as it best conveys the idea of a break from the past.

In Latvia which was then a part of the Russian Empire, a frenetic period of activity took place for a decade or so after 1899. As a result, the capital Riga has become a World Heritage Centre for the extent of its architecture reflecting this time and style. There is a beautiful museum describing the buildings and key architects, one of whom stands out for me: Konstantins Peksens.

How does any of this relate to Sir John Wolfe Barry, civil engineer?

Probably not very much as he was from an earlier generation and clearly wasn’t an architect like his father and two of his brothers. However, he was in touch with communities: his greatest civil engineering achievement Tower Bridge has resonated with the people of London, in deed the world, for almost 125 years since it was completed.