I’ve created a new smaller website for information about Sir John Wolfe Barry, Tower Bridge and other structures.
The main route to it is via the ‘Building Passions‘ website which promotes my book of the same short title, derived from this website. I will eventually move across the domain name (sirjohnwolfebarry.com) for this WordPress website -not sure what will happen to these pages, but, assuming they stay alive, I will always have a link to them from the new website.
As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am expanding my writing to cover fiction so will develop an imprint to market this to the world. I have completed content and artwork for a historical fiction piece based on the life of my grandfather (‘The Other Red Baron’) and am drafting text for a trilogy of pure fiction novellas connected by a theme of dictatorship versus democracy. Separately, as part of a group of writers who live in or near Canterbury, we are trying to co-draft a murder mystery – not as easy as we might have expected!
I’m always on the look out for opportunities to engage with audiences whether through my writing or other means. I attended a really interesting online workshop on running, well, online workshops! I’d like to engage with groups of about 20 people and then use virtual break outs to hone in on key areas of interest. I will do this for my own topics in the history of the built environment, writing/self-publishing, history more generally, and in STEAM career support for schools.
My delightful teenage daughter told me I was a bridge nerd the other day. In her terms this would be considered an insult to any decent teenager. Fortunately, I’m not in my teens and I consider it a compliment.
What do I like about bridges? Below is a list of possibles:
- They are elegant
- They connect two communities
- They circumvent a natural obstacle
- They are historic landmarks
- They were built by significant people
- They are structures like buildings
My book ‘Building Passions‘ aims to celebrate historical structures. The website has lists of them with links to further information. I’m even building my own working model of Tower Bridge. Yes, nerdish, but who cares.
Many great engineers and architects were nerds. Isambard Kingdom Brunel was a super nerd. He was also voted 2nd greatest Briton after Churchill. Interestingly, both of them had a non-British parent – Winston’s mother was American and IK’s father was French. They weren’t afraid to be different.
You can read more about Brunel’s family and the Barry family, with their Victorian connections between architecture and engineering. The book is available in print via the website and if you use the code IKBSCB you can get free UK postage.
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised a number of issues about how societies run themselves.
I have been exploring democracy as part of writing a trilogy of novellas. The basic premise is that a long-lived, family dictatorship is finally coming to an end, but the people need to be prepared for transition to democracy.
You can’t just throw it at them if they’re not ready for it!
There are plenty of dictator analogies in real life and fiction. States where the supreme leader has moved to a status of leader for life, or pretty much there. The most famous early historical example was Julius Ceasar taking out the Senate, for which retribution came back inevitably on the Ides of March. But his nephew Augustus went on to found a dynasty of emperors. Napoleon is another case in point, from general to leader to emperor – once again he met his downfall. Then of course Hitler more recently and Kim Jong-Un currently.
The transition to democracy is more fraught with troubles, witnessed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and failed attempts in Libya and Syria. As I write my second novella, I show how anti-democratic forces can be manipulated to defend the status quo, if needs must. A bit of bloodshed can help incite civil war, irrespective of whether either side has really thought through the logic …
I’m on the verge of starting the final book in the trilogy – I intend it to be full of hope, since that is the kind of message we all need currently amidst the lockdowns. But it will also look forward to a calmer future when society has hopefully picked up a few pragmatic lessons and, hopefully, reacted positively to a temporary but repeatable crisis.
In the meantime, chill out and read my book covering the history of architecture and engineering during the Victorian era: ‘Building Passions‘.
Once lockdown started in the UK I stopped making print copies of my book ‘Building Passions’ available to purchase. This was because I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t spread COVID-19 via the book and the postal system.
To compensate I have halved the e-book price in April. Since my goal has always been to sell mainly in e-format then this made sense. However no sales have taken place via Kobo.com .
Therefore I will resume with postal sales from the end of April and review how I distribute the book electronically. I dont want an exclusive contract with Kindle. I’m starting to dislike anything linked with Amazon, who seem keen on maximising profits at the expense of their workers and independent publishing.
I would have promoted the book more through physical talks but obviously the pandemic came along. I’m less safe at remote talks but I will try to develop these skills.
I thought now would be a good time to start reorganising my web content related to Sir John Wolfe Barry, Henry Brunel and their families.
I’ve started building a new website to replace this one which will disappear in June. It will have less content in it and do more pointing to other material on the internet, including my ‘Building Passions’ website. Sadly this will also mean doing less on WordPress, which really helped me get started many years ago with my own blogging and web content.
At the same time I am using this as an opportunity to position my other writing, which is focused on fiction, as well my pending PhD research assuming I get the funding for it.
It would be nice to brand everything under one title, but it may be tricky and there is no point stretching things artificially to fit. My USP is me, Nick von Behr and you can find out more about me on my LinkedIn profile.
Who am I for those who don’t already know me and don’t want to look at LinkedIn?
I’m a portfolio career professional with a bent for research, analysis and writing. I’m very interested in history, particularly related to technology, the built environment and politics. I’m also interested in education, having worked and volunteered within STEM, and more recently STEAM, career engagement and skills.
I’ve previously blogged on my effort, that began last October, to apply for a PhD at a local university in Canterbury, England.
While I have been offered a place for the Autumn, there are still issues with how the PhD might be funded. Currently the most likely proposition would be a grant to support joint supervision between a UK and French university. I won’t do the research if I can’t get funding.
The PhD was going to focus on Art Nouveau architecture, first epitomised in unique houses designed by Victor Horta in Brussels in the 1890s. It will now go wider to cover what I term early ‘modern’ architecture, this in a broader period across the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries.
My book ‘Building Passions‘ refers to ‘modern’ Victorian architecture in its full title. This captures a sentiment that the design of structures was modernising in response to 19th-century developments in the architectural and engineering professions, as well as technical progress in the use of building materials such as steel, glass and cement.
I won’t cover in a PhD, except as context, what happened in Chicago in the 1880s when architects first designed what became known eventually as skyscrapers. These ‘super-structures’ are also referenced in the book. The world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE, has a construction heritage that can be linked back directly to Sir John Wolfe Barry and partners – and the first of these was the civil engineer Henry Brunel, son of the 2nd Greatest Briton after Churchill (by public vote), Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
You can read more about them all in the book, which is on sale at half price as an e-version for the month of April at www.kobo.com .
The National Health Service in the UK is opening a new emergency hospital today in London to handle the growing number of COVID-19 cases – it’s called the NHS Nightingale Hospital after the famous Victorian nurse with her lamp, a symbol of the Crimean War which had so many military casualties, many from diseases spread amongst the besiegers of Sevastopol.
I have visited the Crimea twice (prior to the illegal occupation by Russia) and seen the magnificent Panorama of the siege of Sevastopol. I’ve also been to the small port of Balaklava, better known for the woollen headgear named after it, where the British were based during that war. I haven’t yet been to the site of another temporary hospital, which served the needs of the ill and wounded many miles away on the other side of the Black Sea.
Isambard Kingdom Brunel was asked by his brother-in-law Sir Benjamin Hawes in the War Office to design a prefabricated hospital in Turkey – supposedly to placate Florence Nightingale who was pressing Hawes for more support. This he did rapidly and it was shipped out to Renkioi in the Dardanelles and assembled there.
Medical experts have since said that the unique modular design had an influence on the development of all hospitals subsequently. You can read more about the project at Brunel’s SS Great Britain website – the vast ship was used to transport troops to the Crimea. For more on Brunel read my book ‘Building Passions‘ which from today is available for only £2.00 as an e-book in the UK for all April (different prices for other countries covered).
Temporary or emergency hospitals have been pivotal in helping society to deal with major crises such as viruses and wars. When I worked at the Institution of Structural Engineers we developed a learning resource for students based on a military engineer’s rapid construction of an Ebola hospital in Africa.