In as little as an hour, I can use the Grasshopper plugin for Rhino 3D to write an algorithmic definition to generate a multitude of shifting, morphing, and interweaving geometry to form a highly complex structure. The problem with the speed of this technology, especially with inexperience, is the ease of which the designer can overestimate the viability of a design in the physically built world. A 3D model exists in a vacuum, with no external forces acting upon it, no gravity.
It is obvious that a physical model will aid in the deficiency in communication via design drawings in terms of clients. However, more importantly, the process of building the model aids in communicating the viability of a design to the designer themselves. It brings to the forefront the construction progress of part A leading to part B leading to part C. For example, it’s impossible to leave a horizontal plane in mid-air before the vertical supports are erected. Hence, an untested digitally generated structure might exist as an interesting study but can never be physically built.
This isn’t a new idea, model making as an exploratory tool started during the Renaissance period, when Architects of that age, unlike their Gothic predecessors were deriving their designs off Graeco-Roman architecture of which they did not have immediate frames of reference in their surroundings. Thus, model making became a method for checking the feasibility of design proposals.1 Until we live completely in a virtual world with surrogate avatars as a representation of ourselves, it is in my opinion, that a physical prototype remains the best check in cutting-edge innovative design.
Part of our job description is to sell possibilities, the more speculative and innovative the project, the higher the risk to the client and the more important it is to establish the credibility of the design. A presentation model built with contextual surroundings immediately strengthens the integrity of a design and clears away confusion and doubt. Public opinion of the controversial design of the Perth Arena is still divided to this day 2, would the project be given the green light if a physical model was not contracted?
Finally, let’s look at the role of models as a monument to design. Below is a museum model of a traditional Chinese village for the National Museum of Natural Science in Taiwan by King Y Chung. The model features farmers tending to their chores and even pigs searching for roots to eat amidst the brush. In his words, “One can actually feel the peace, quietness, and tranquillity of village life.” 3 From far it’s difficult to distinguish photographs of the model from actual photographs due to the authenticity of its recreation and allows us to experience and understand designs of the past. This preservation of architecture is often an overlooked role of models which is a shame.
With our growing population, cities are often fighting for space to expand and often buildings marked for conservation by the national trust might get in the way. I am all for protecting our cultural heritage both as a historical study but also as a means to further our design education. However, I am also aware of heritage listed buildings in prime real estate, sitting derelict and unused, due to the high cost of restoring and satisfying the numerous codes and requirements of the conservation charters. I assume eventually, these very important buildings will have to be demolished out of necessity and properly researched commissioned models will be our only window to its existence.
- Nick Dunn, Architectural Modelmaking 2nd Ed (London: Laurence King, 2014), 14.
- Simon Anderson, “Perth Arena,” Architecture Australia 102 – 5, September 2013, accessed March 12, 2017, http://architectureau.com/articles/perth-arena-1/.
- King Y. Chung, My 36 years of Model Making in Hong Kong (Hong Kong: MCCM Creations, 2012), 132.
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