Architectural models … there’s not a person walking the planet who doesn’t love them. My office isn’t particularly large, either in terms of employees (7) or square footage (1,677 sf), but we currently have 17 physical models of projects lying around. Despite their protests, I am not considering any of my employees as “architectural models”.
At times, it seems like architectural models are like summer zucchini, more and more just keep showing up … if you lift up a piece of paper in our office, odds are you will find one of those two things underneath. There are times when my office looks completely trashed because we have stuff lying on every horizontal surface. Are architects supposed to be tidy people? Evidence would suggest that they are not, something that drives me a bit crazy because I have a hard time working in a messy environment … it’s almost as if the spacing has an energy to it – a sort of visual buzzing – that keeps me from being able to see past the chaos.
We literally have architectural models stashed everywhere – we are at the point now where we will beginning considering either throwing some away – or – start hanging them on the walls. I don’t think I would mind putting some on the walls but these models are typically created during the initial design process and the end product typically isn’t completely representative of the model currently sitting in our office. The issue isn’t that other people would know the difference, it’s that I know the difference.
But that’s where this next model is a bit different …
This is the cabin project we recently “completed” and we actually built this model, not as part of the design process, but simply because it represents a different type of project and we wanted if for conversational/educational discussions in the office with clients. I thought I would show it off –
For those not familiar, this is a secluded cabin project in northern Wisconsin (click here to get up to speed with previous cabin posts) and it is in a beautiful location, surrounded by thousands of trees, and fronts on to a lake. For the record, we didn’t color the lake in the model blue, I did that post-production just to help people get their bearings.
Over the course of a few weeks, we had one of our summer interns (Anna Halepaska – a 3rd-year architecture student at Auburn University) built this model from the construction drawings that had been prepared for this project. I was amazed that during the period of time that this model was getting built, Anna didn’t ask me any questions … I suppose the drawings were pretty good after all.
Since I tend to get in the office before everyone else, I would take an early morning photo every few days before anyone else arrived (that whole “No people in my architecture photos” thing must also extend to models)
This is a view of the actual cabin from the point where you emerged from the woods, included here because …
Here is that same view in the model. Of course, when I took this picture, not all the trees had been installed (if you look in the foreground of the picture above, you can see where holes were drilled into the museum board yet no wooden dowels have been glued in place).
This should help clarify the “drilled holes” comment above. Once you’ve built up your topography, about the only way to insert wood dowels is to pre-drill holes into the model – a technique that works pretty well. I will admit that this process has a bit more of the “human element” to it than I would prefer. When you have this many trees in your model, not having all the holes drilled exactly at 90° makes the trees look a lot more how they really exist – which is crooked.
We typically use a product called “museum board” which is a solid-through-the-core white paper board product that is about 1/16″ in thickness, along with basswood, to build the vast majority of our models. It is a fairly cost effective way to go because the materials are relatively inexpensive, readily available, and don’t require simian-like finger strength to cut.
Here is another view of the real cabin during one of my site visits from last winter. In all other seasons, the trees are completely leafed out and this view of the cabin is impossible to capture.
And here is the same view in model form.
Some more views with all the trees in place … clearly these are “winter trees”.
We even added the dock and the steps down to the water for good measure.
I should state that we did not charge the client for this model since at the time that we had it built, it served no practical benefit to them or to the creative process. If I take Anna’s salary over the time that she built this model, along with the actual material costs, this exercise came in around $1,425 … which considering the lifespan it will enjoy in our office, along with the ongoing practical applications during future client meetings, I’d say this was worth the expense.
Not to mention that I like having one of my projects in model form in the office – most of the others belong to projects run by my partner Michael Malone.
If any of you follow my Instagram account, you know that on occasion I will include a photo of some model we are currently working on … like this next image –
Back in April of this year, I received an email from the Art Department Coordinator for a show that runs on USA Network titled ‘Queen of the South’. She told me that they were looking to rent a physical model of a large contemporary home, that they wanted to use this model as a prop in an episode that they were about to start filming.
They quickly sent someone over to our office to take photos to send off to the show’s Production Designer. As it turns out, they said they were having a difficult time finding a physical model available for their use – that few architectural firms were making them anymore. Well, we have loads for you to choose from …
So a deal was struck that allowed them to rent the model for a few days – I think the model was only out of our office 2 days in total. All that was left now was to wait for the show to air and organize a watching party at my house.
A party at my house typically means a lot of eating and drinking so I decided to smoke some BBQ and get everyone in the right frame of mind. Unfortunately, some of the folks in the office couldn’t come – between end of the summer vacations and the obligations of dropping kids off at college, getting everyone in the same place at the same time is incredibly difficult. Rather than record the episode and watch it later (what’s the fun in that?), we decided to watch it live and roll with those who were able to attend.
We had 6 people over and treated those folks to a pretty solid happy hour and casual dinner
Pretty good bark on those ribs if I do say so myself …
Before the show aired, we placed the over/under on how much time the model was on screen at 2 seconds … and even then we expected it to simply be sitting on some table way in the background – sort of an ambiance piece, something to set the mood. The clip where our model appears in the episode is lovingly included for you here:
"Architecture intrigues me …" One of our architectural models was used in a scene of @usa_network 'Queen of the South.' Obviously we had to throw a TV watching party at my house for the office. @queenonusa @alicebraga_oficial @jamiehector #goodjob . . . . #queenofthesouth #architecturalmodel #tvshows #tvparty #officeparty
Teresa Mendoza: I sorry to interrupt your business.
Devon Finch: It’s not business … this is pleasure. I’m designing a home, Architecture intrigues me.
Teresa Mendoza: I don’t know much about it.
Devon Finch: Oh, but you do. The building is just like a business. If the foundation is weak, the structure will never be stable … eventually, everything will come tumbling down.
When the above scene aired, the room EXPLODED! You would have thought that we all went to the same college and our team just won the National Championship game on a last second Hail Mary pass. It was a fun evening to be sure.
There were a three people who had worked on this model when it was originally built, but only one that is currently in the office … and that’s her – Danielle Anderson (of previous ‘Architectural Portfolio‘ fame). We were missing our friends and co-model making buddies, Amy Miller and Erin Weisman Banna, but they were with us in spirit and we raised a rib in their honor.
So the takeaway here is:
- physical models are universally cool,
- models are useful tools in the office for ongoing client dialogs
- they can help get your work on television, and
- ribs at my house is good eating
If you need another reason to start building more physical architectural models, I don’t know what to tell you.
PS – previous posts on models that you might enjoy include: