Super Models

I have always harboured an ambition to sketch, draw, plan and build my own house – and if it were properly feasible I wouldn’t hesitate to re-educate myself and pursue architecture properly as a career.   I think this opportunity, if not the ambition to plan and build my own house, has passed – but it certainly doesn’t stop me envying those who are lucky enough to call themselves architects.   

Model detail from Andrew Ingham and AssociatesRecently, I have become almost obsessed with one particular element of architecture – and that is the art of the architectural model and the practice of model making.   I think that we would all recall having made a model of something once – even if it was at school – and seen standard models of buildings or town plans from time to time.  Maybe you have reflected on and appreciated the effort that has gone into making these models but have you contemplated the purpose that they serve in terms of communicating the vision and context of the plans to those who have commissioned the project or to those who will ultimately utilise the finished work?

When I see a model; however basic or super-duper it may be – my imagination is sparked and my brain races off and builds a vision in my head.  The quality of the model will of course dictate how close my vision matches that of the architect (and hopefully the client) but I will always get something from the model – and I just love that.  I can then study the model in more detail and look at its construction and the thought and meticulous preparation of each particular element.  I might even have the audacity to be a critic and suggest (only to myself mind!) how it could be improved.

There are some great sites where you can see pictures (and the project backgrounds) of some truly stunning models, and some of the best are: Andrew Ingham and Associates, Amalgam Architecture and Capital Models but you really have to experience the pieces “in person” to get the full effect.

Model detail from Amalgam ArchitectsIn 2009 and then again in 2010 I went to the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition and although I enjoyed the paintings and sculptures, my favourite display is of course the room of architectural models.  Here you will see those models that have transcended into the realm of art – and the creativity, imagination and effort that has gone into some of those models is nothing short of astounding – as unlike most of the other art on display at the Exhibition, these models have been created for a commercial purpose (to sell a project or to convey a vision) and therefore have all sorts of real-world limitations to take into consideration.  Yet still some of these models will absolutely blow you away.  Sadly taking photos is frowned upon at the RA and the camera on my old Blackberry would not have captured enough detail, so you’ll just have to go and visit in 2011 and experience for yourself!

There are a couple of places where you can experience great models all year round – and lucky boy that I am, I can go and stick my face against the window of these places almost at will (and sometimes pop in and have a closer look).  It is a guilty pleasure of mine – and one that I am more than happy to share. ..

First stop is The Manser Practice, just on t’other side of Hammersmith Bridge where they have a number of models right in the window by the footpath just up from the Thames Path.  Not a bad start… then further along the Thames you have Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners where they have even more and bigger models easily visible from the path (and right next door to the practice’s “lunch canteen“ The River Café if you fancy a bite).  I am sure that if you asked nicely they would let you in to have a closer look (and next time when I am along there during office hours I will do just that – I’ll keep you posted).  But my favourite has to be one of the simpler models – but epic in terms of scale and what it is conveying – and that is the scale model of London at The Building Centre on Store Street in central London (just off Tottenham Court Road – so no excuses for not going!).  The model is right in the reception area and visible to passers-by, but it pains me to see just how many people just walk on without “seeing” one of the Capital’s true hidden gems. Tsk!

Scale model of London @ The Building Centre

The Building Centre, London

The model highlights all the significant developments that are happening or are being planned right across London; from the Olympic Park, through the Royal Docks, into the city and all the major skyscrapers and to Battersea Power Station and beyond.  Each development is highlighted and there are information displays (and a number of detail models too!) on each of the projects and the architect’s and client’s vision for the proposals.  It is truly and inspirational place and a place that I can lose myself in for hours.  I urge you all to go and visit!

So for all you super model makers out there – don’t forget the 2011 Summer Exhibition – as I want to enjoy your work up close and personal next year!

As for the OTHER type of Super Model; well my little anecdote there is from spring 1999 when I was in New York, wandering around Greenwich Village for the first time and I swept Christy Turlington off her feet (literally!).  Sadly, it was me being a complete clutz knocking her over while I was texting someone as she was leaving a restaurant!  It was however instant recognition (on my part) and yes, I was completely dumb-struck, couldn’t get a word out as I was picking her up off the “sidewalk” – not even sure if I managed to properly apologise and it’s fair to say that I didn’t make the most of the situation … durr!

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