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.

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.

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.

Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture eBook by Nick von Behr – 9781916225701 | Rakuten Kobo

The book cover image above should always be credited as follows: Arpingstone (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tower.bridge.7.basculecloseup.london.arp.jpg), size and alignment by Elisa Vernazza, https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/legalcode

The e-book is currently available to order at https://www.kobo.com/gb/en/ebook/brunel-barry-and-modern-victorian-architecture

What did builders ever do for us? #buildingpassions

The answer depends on what you mean by a builder.

At one time, many millennia ago, they would have been one of the most highly respected people in a kingdom of China, Egypt, Mesopotamia or Greece.

Since then the respectability of their role has been superseded by that of architects and engineers.

That’s not a bad thing in itself, in the sense that the world has many more professions nowadays and opportunities for people to shine within them.

However, the down side is that builders have accumulated negative press, particularly those unregulated ones who operate on the edges of the law, interested only in making a quick buck out of unsuspecting clients.

Regulation is one option, but not necessarily the best for society if imposed from above. The fact is, people all over the world will always want a cheaper quote for what can seem very expensive manual work to them.

Alternatively, more of them are trying out self-build for smaller projects. This is a good development as it helps clients to identify, and appreciate more, the skills required to construct something solid and long-lasting.

The biggest worry is that those populations living in regions of the world susceptible to earthquakes or flooding continue to seek the cheapest building option, even though they have chosen t0 stay where they are rather than move to safer ground.

This is why education about the built environment is so useful and why I hope my new book ‘Building Passions’ can somehow stimulate a wider interest.

Families in history and now #buildingpassions

I’m travelling to a family reunion in London to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday.

Families are important.

I write about two of them in my forthcoming book on the 19th-century Brunels and Barrys. The full title is “Brunel, Barry and ‘modern’ Victorian architecture”. The short title is ‘Building Passions’.

In the book, the two famous families of engineers and architects connect through John Wolfe Barry and his close friend and business partner Henry Marc Brunel. Their fathers were the great Victorians Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Charles Barry, who were both Fellows of the Royal Society like their outstanding contemporary Charles Darwin. They also co-designed the 1851 Great Exhibition and Crystal Palace with Prince Albert, Joseph Paxton and others.

Families have roots and branches.

They come from somewhere and in most cases continue on, even if there are name changes along the way. Personalities appear, disappear and reappear through new generations.

This is all part of evolution and completely natural, in whatever way it may have first started.

The best families strive to work cooperatively with others for the wider good. This despite the temptation to care for their immediate lineage only.

In this way the world progresses and, we hope, avoids the pitfalls of personal greed and avarice that have become so visible today.

The end: you will know when you’ve got there

I’ve just about reached the end of drafting the text for my book on the Brunel and Barry families of Victorian engineers and architects.

I started in January of this year but only got into it properly from 12 February after I had stopped full-time work in London and the commute that went with it.

So it’s been about 3 months of writing with two restarts in March and April. The first one was on the back of an editorial assessment and the second when I decided to extend the remit to include the Brunel family. Until then it had focused on Sir Charles Barry and his son Sir John Wolfe Barry.

Where do we stand now?

Not as many words as I’d hoped for, but those there have been extensively self-edited and fact-checked – the problem with writing non-fiction rapidly I guess. Fortunately I had prepared some of the way with this website, as well as previous research, articles and talks.

I’ve also learned that finding minimal cost images for non-fiction publishing is a tricky exercise – in fact it makes me rather annoyed that some (inter)national museums, galleries and institutions are raking in large amounts of cash for image rights, when they should be serving an educational purpose through disseminating these as widely as possible, hence also luring people in to see the real exhibits. Enough said!

Next steps are reviews by trusted people and then the text goes off for a developmental edit by start June. At the same time I will start working with a designer on the cover. I’m still on plan to deliver as scheduled.

One upcoming date to note which is highly relevant to this website is 30 June, when Londoners will celebrate 125 years since Tower Bridge was first opened to the public. You can find out here more about activities this special year.