When the majority of the Bank of England building, expanded and reworked by Sir John Soane from 1788 to 1833, was demolished in the 1920s in the course of a new renovation, London lost an architectural treasure. Project Soane, a crowdsourcing effort launched yesterday at an event in New York, aims to reconstruct the historic site virtually using BIM.
Conceived in part by Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), Project Soane is underwritten and supported by a host of technology companies, including Hewlett-Packard (HP), Nvidia, Autodesk, CGarchitect, and Case Inc., in New York. It also has the blessing of the Sir John Soane’s Museum, in London, which has supplied the archival reference drawings.
In the first phase, which runs through November 15, participants will collectively develop 3D models of two awe-inspiring interior spaces—the bank stock office and the consuls transfer office—as well as the partially conserved street walls and the intricate Tivoli Corner, a colonnaded, round vestibule inspired by Soane’s studies of the ancient Temple of Vesta, in Tivoli, Italy. Anyone who has a reasonable grasp of Autodesk Revit can register online, download the in-progress model and reference documents, and claim a piece of the vanished building to work on. Users can then submit updated models via the Autodesk A360 cloud-sharing platform, where a software team at Case will review them for accuracy before integrating them back into the master model.
Exploring architectural history is its own reward, but material prizes are also at stake: Participants recognized for their efforts in a variety of categories—such as most historically accurate and most active community member—will win HP computers, while the first 500 contributors to Project Soane will receive an e-book copy of Renaissance Revit: Creating Classical Architecture with Modern Software (G3B Press, 2015). Another round of prizes will be awarded after May 2016 for Project Soane’s second phase, a rendering and visualization competition based on the crowdsourced Revit models.
The Bank of England building has continued to capture the imaginations of architects and historians even after its destruction, thanks in part to the surviving drawings by Soane and the dazzling watercolor renderings by his collaborator, Joseph Michael Gandy. The 3.25-acre bank was designed as a live-in fortress, with apartments and barracks to withstand potential wartime attacks, as well as offices and vaults that Soane rebuilt and enlarged from preexisting foundations over the course of four decades. The puzzle-like compound reveals Soane’s “ability to sculpt with light” and to handle “spatial complexities in tight boundaries,” said Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, at yesterday’s event.
The full success of Project Soane is not guaranteed. As with any crowdsourcing effort, much depends upon the level of participation from contributors, all of who will be working on a volunteer basis. “We have no idea if this is going to work, but we think there could be a community of people interested in making this happen,” said Daniel Davis, senior researcher for Case and a contributor to ARCHITECT.
At the launch event, four Case staff members at large workstations kicked off the project, hackathon-style, chipping away at the large task ahead. One focused on windows, another on furniture. No one ever said BIM was glamorous, but Project Soane, in reaching across the centuries, may further burnish the legacy and visibility of a heroic building with digital technology.