Welcome to 2020/21 at B.15


Hello all and welcome to an unusual new year at MSA/B.15!

We hope you’re all keeping well and looking after yourselves wherever you are in the world. Back in March I’m not sure anybody could have predicted the situation we find ourselves in now but here we are. So what’s new for this year?

Socially distanced work spaces in B.15


General Access & Tutorial Process

Due to the restrictions on everybody right now there are a number of changes to how you can access our time and the resource on campus. We’re still working on the best method to make this work but the general principle for starting work will be as follows.

When the time comes that you want to start making a model for your project and you’d like some advice these are the steps that you’ll need to follow:

  1. Request a remote tutorial. This is currently done via this form but we are looking at changing this in the near future.
  2. After you are allocated a tutorial slot we will discuss your project ideas and determine if you need workshop access. If not we can continue to support you through further catch-up tutorials as requested.
  3. If you do need to attend the workshop you will be directed to a video induction or two depending on your year group and if you are a returning student or new.
  4. You will be allocated a date and time to attend the workshop to carry out your modelmaking tasks.
  5. Further discussion or workshop time should be agreed remotely via email or video conferencing when additional times will be allocated as required.

Procedural changes that must be followed are explained in detail as part of the induction videos that you will be directed to.

Workshop access is strictly by appointment only to reduce social contact. You will not be allowed to enter or discuss projects with staff if you have not followed the above procedure to gain access.

Modelmaking at home

When the lockdown first came into force many people thought it meant an end to modelmaking for everyone. The thought never occurred to us and we set out to prove that if you want to use models in your work, no matter what your circumstance, we’re here to help guide you to the best result we can whatever your circumstance.

Remember that we don’t engage in the act of modelmaking exclusively for the interaction with machines, tools or equipment. We make models to explore our ideas in physical form and communicate the results. With that in mind you should have no reason to stop making. It’s often very surprising what can be achieved using whatever you have to hand. I will be sharing a step by step guide soon showing how I made a facade model from soft modelling materials all from the comfort of my home dining table.

First years – Look out for a message from your head of year for your scalpel inductions! Following that you will be receiving tool kits to get you started over the coming weeks and we’ll be happy to help you get going with your projects when we meet you in your first tutorials.

If you missed my intro video in induction week you can have a watch here:


If you want to see what can be achieved just look at the fantastic submissions that were put forward for the B.15 AT HOME awards back in June.

Isobel Currie 1:100 site model entirely home made

Saul, Jim and Scott on Jim’s Last Day at B.15

Staffing changes

Some of you may have seen via our social media that Jim Backhouse has decided to take a well deserved change of pace and has left as manager after 25 years! The fun that we’ve had over the years here is impossible to measure and it’s going to be very strange without Jim around. We miss you already Jim.

That leaves me (Scott) and Saul to assist with your modelmaking needs for the foreseeable future which we’ll be making every effort to support.

Over at MMU there is also new Tech+ team member Peter Powell who will be assisting with some of your studio projects.

Without a doubt things are going to take some getting used to but we want to assure you that we’re here to support you with as much modelmaking support as we can offer.

Can’t wait to meet/carry on working with you all again.

Welcome back!

Scott & Saul


Following a great discussion from the judges and the winners presentation on June 26th we are excited to share the winning projects from the B.15 AT HOME Awards 2020. Click on the students name to view their submissions in full.

ALICIA DESMAY-HERNANDEZ – BA3 Continuity in Architecture


ISOBEL CURRIE – BA3 Continuity in Architecture 

LORNA LOVATT – MArch Y6 Urban Spatial Experimentation


A huge thank you again to our collaborators Peter Lee & Oliver Koch at HENN Berlin, Kristin Mishra & Kaia Williams at SimpsonHaugh Manchester and Artemis Antonopoulou & Phillipa Seagrave at Bjarke Ingels Group Copenhagen.

We can’t stress enough how great the submissions have been under such unusual circumstances and we’d like to congratulate everybody who submitted work. You should all be very proud of your efforts.

The full submissions document can be viewed or downloaded here.


And don’t forget the full MSA Degree show will be online for the next year displaying the full range of work from across the school.

Stay safe and look after yourselves. Hope to catch up in person soon,

Jim, Scott & Saul @B15WORKSHOP




Back in 2018 two documentary film makers spent the 17/18 academic year capturing what goes on here in B.15 to describe, as the title suggests, WHAT WE DO HERE. The film explores the different workshop users to present a snapshot of how this 50 year old part of the Manchester School of Architecture is put through it’s paces by Students, Technical and Academic Staff.

The film premiered as part of the Venice Biennale and featured in the European Cultural Centre ‘TIME SPACE EXISTENCE’ Exhibition for the duration of the much celebrated event.

After featuring in several international film festivals and winning two awards we are excited to make the film available just under 2 years after it’s original release and in our 50th year.

We look forward to resuming modelmaking work with you all in the coming academic year whatever the circumstances may be!

Stay safe and enjoy the film!

Scott, Jim and Saul


B.15 AT HOME AWARDS – Student Submissions

After a challenging few months since the lockdown began it was great to see such a range of submissions for our slightly unusual award scheme this year. Everyone should be extremely proud of their efforts to keep a practical element to their design development and presentation from home.

Please congratulate yourselves and colleagues for this fantastic work!

>>>>The full submissions document can be viewed and downloaded here<<<<<

HENN Representatives, Oliver Koch and Peter Lee looking at the submissions in detail.

Modelmakers Assemble: The different judges and B.15 staff met to discuss their verdicts.

Submissions were independently judged by representatives from SimpsonHaugh, Bjarke Ingels Group and HENN last week following the submission deadline with a final discussion on Friday June 5th.

The winners will be announced as part of the MSA collective school prize giving event, date and time TBC within in the coming weeks.

For their time and expertise we would like to thank Peter Lee & Oliver Koch at HENN Berlin, Kristin Mishra & Kaia Williams at SimpsonHaugh Manchester and Artemis Antonopoulou & Phillipa Seagrave at Bjarke Ingels Group Copenhagen.

The full MSA 2020 Show will be online from Friday June 12th here.

Take care all,

Scott, Jim & Saul


We’re excited to announce a new awards scheme for this year open to all MSA students. This new scheme will award the hard work of students who have continued to use modelmaking in their design work during the ongoing lockdown situation.
With students spread across the world at a time when we would normally celebrate the culmination of everybody’s hard work together, it seemed fitting that the work be judged internationally as well.

The panel will consist of representatives from the following practices:

SimpsonHaugh (Manchester, UK)

Bjarke Ingles Group (Copenhagen, Denmark)

HENN (Berlin, Germany)

Each practice will receive the list of submissions and, based on the criteria as explained below, choose their pick from this years home-made projects.
Judges will be looking for a clear explanation for the model(s) role in your design work, The methods and materials you have used and how well they are presented/photographed.

How to submit your work

In order to have your work judged you must use the InDesign template included in the link below. Refer to the example page included in the download pack for an insight into the content that might feature in your submission. Be honest about the situation by concisely explaining your practical limitations and how you chose to overcome them.

Key Criteria for your submission:

• Maximum 350 Words in the main body of text explaining:
a) Your project in brief, What was the purpose of your model(s)?
b) Your use of modelmaking at home: scale, material and processes that you have used and why.

• Place 3 to 6 images of your modelmaking work (over the 2 pages) in its completed state these can include process images. Use captions to explain image content as shown in the example document.

• Models should have been completed from home but can include elements produced before the campus closure, please clearly explain if this is the case, how elements were produced.

• Text should be in Effra Font (file included if you don’t have it on your computer) Size 10

• 2 x A4 pages only

• Saved as a 2 Page PDF

If your submission does not conform to these guidelines it will not be included in the final document for judging.

Please submit your work by downloading this pack

Once completed please submit your pages saved as PDF back to scott.miller@manchester.ac.uk no later than 12.00 (UK) Tuesday June 2nd 2020

There will be three awards with the winners announced on June 5th in conjunction with the launch of the MSA Digital Show.

This is a unique opportunity to have your work seen by representatives of these internationally successful practices so don’t hesitate to submit your work.

The range of practical work produced over the last 8 weeks deserves to be recognised so we’re pleased to be able to present this platform to enable that to happen. Good luck and we encourage everybody who has taken the time to make models since campus closure to take part!

Jim, Scott & Saul

MSA Campus closure and the road ahead for 2020

It’s been a strange few weeks.

You should by now by fully aware that we have shifted to remote teaching across MSA including all in-workshop activities from B.15. This has and continues to present new challenges for us all but the school is fully committed to ensuring your degrees are delivered this year as planned.

Due to an IT issue during the huge remote switch-over that has occurred here we have only just been able to access our blog page meaning these updates are a bit later than planned. Anyway, here goes…

Modelmaking From Home

If you cast your mind back to your induction with us one of the key messages has always been to equip yourselves for every eventuality when it comes to modelmaking and this instance demonstrates why that point is so important. Many of you have already expressed disappointment that you may not be able to complete ‘presentation’ models of your projects because you cant access the workshop. This is simply not true.

Modelmaking is a tool for exploration and not exclusively tied to the workshop environment and we strongly believe that you can achieve great results through exploration without the need for great expense or constant workshop access. We can all adapt and we’re here to help you do so.

A presentation model is a representation of your finished idea that is resolved or at least a snapshot of your design work to that date. This doesn’t limit itself to any particular machine, tool or material but takes its ‘presentation’ status from the quality of the design that it portrays and the consideration for the way it is put together. Be resourceful and don’t limit yourself to machines or a single medium as a means of getting your ideas across. Your hand making skills can be just as effective. Be patient and experiment with different soft modelling materials you may have. observe how they work or don’t work to your advantage and present your findings as they are. Mistakes are just steps towards more resolved pieces and should be embraced as being absolutely necessary.

Tutorials to help with Modelmaking from Home

Over the last week and a half we have been running remote tutorials for anyone wanting to produce models from home. These have covered anything to do with this field in terms of theory, technical questions, tools/materials questions and recommendations and general concerns that quite naturally, many of you have.

Thank you to everyone who’s signed up and shared their ideas with us. It’s encouraging to see that you’re willing to adapt to the situation and see what we can come up with.

If you would like to speak with us about any ideas you have or how you might adapt your original plans please get in touch via email or using the Moodle form which can be found on this post on the main announcements page (you need to be logged into Moodle: https://moodle.mmu.ac.uk/mod/forum/discuss.php?d=502741

Getting tools/Supplies

A number of you were able to get orders in with 4D before they closed which should be with you in the next week, possibly a little longer internationally depending on the different postal services.

For those who might need tools or materials in the UK Emily Crompton has confirmed that it is still possible to order from Fred Aldous for delivery and that there is a 20% MSA Student Discount. For the discount code please get in touch with us or ask during your tutorials.

In Other News……

Atelier La Juntana Summer School 2020 Cancelled

For obvious reasons this years International summer school in Northern Spain is now cancelled. We will review the situation in the new academic year with regards any future collaborations with the school. If you had applied and paid any deposits for the course should should have been contacted about a refund. If not then please get in touch with the organisers to make sure you get your deposits back.

B.15:50 events

Before the enforced lockdown we had a number of planned events that would have taken us up to the end of this academic year. Again these have been cancelled for now but we hope to reschedule all events once things are back to a level of normaility.

In the meantime we hope to put out the video footage of our guest lecture from Simona Valeriani of the V&A. Keep an eye out for that.

Annual Modelmaking Awards

We were due to announce plans for this years awards last week but have decided to rethink how these will take place given the change in situation. We will be making an announcement about this in the near future.

There is a lot of uncertainty about the coming months but the main thing is for you to look after yourselves. We’re here if you need any advice and look forward to hearing about your ideas.

Keep making and we’ll be in touch soon,

Jim, Scott & Saul

A visit to la Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo, Universidad Central del Ecuador, Quito – Patricia Belcin

During December 2019 I visited la Facultad de Arquitectura y Urbanismo (the Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism) part of Universidad Central del Ecuador, in the country’s capital, Quito. At 2980m altitude, the beautifully designed brutalist building of the faculty felt like a hidden gem among the other buildings from the university campus, the semi-circular repetitive roof structures transmitted an equilibrium very fitting for a place dedicate to design and architectural education.

While talking to a first year architecture student I understood that in the early stages a big emphasis is put on developing hand drawing skills and the designs are tested through simple hand crafted models. I was impressed of the amount of models the students were producing, and how they were finding enough time to invest in this as the course content was broader than what I had experienced during my Part 1 in the UK.

The main reasons for this were the materials and methods being used. After observing only a few models I noticed that balsa wood is everyone’s favourite material. This soft fibre wood allowed the students to quickly craft sketch models, quick prototypes and many times it was used even for the final presentation models. The ease with which this material can be manipulated allowed the students to recreate the workshop environment in their homes and with only a scalpel and some glue they were constructing a wide variety of models. Sometimes for the final exhibition models the faculty’s laser cutter was used for achieving more precise cuts on fine details.

It’s no accident that balsa is used so extensively as it is a locally grown material which is widely available at a very low price (I noted it was approximately 10% of the price at which we purchase balsa in the UK). Balsa is a native species to Ecuador and the country is the world’s leader in balsa production, with over 90% of the wood being exported all over the world. Because of the county’s altitude, climate and environment, the balsa from the Ecuadorian forests is privileged as it offers a more stable wood in terms of density. Balsa is not an endangered species due to its fast growth and facility of reproduction.

(Information about balsa production: www.euronewsa.com/balsa.html)

This made me reflect upon how we sourced materials during the projects which I undertook at MSA. Few projects asked us to consider the usage of local materials, and when we do consider it, this is mostly seen as a constraint. However, not very often do the students question from their own initiative the provenience of the materials which they use, especially in a world where everything is available at a few clicks away. From my observations gathered whilst visiting the architecture school in Quito, I noticed that the use of local materials is widening the possibilities in terms of modelmaking and construction. By using these materials so often the students developed skills which allowed them to create a wide variety of models by understanding the different properties of the wood.

While visiting an exhibition with projects from the masters of architecture course I noticed several models which used plaster or plywood, therefore being more developed in terms of material complexity, but the combination with the balsa wood was omnipresent. In the project from the below images, the student used a series of volumetric plaster models which were combined with red painted key elements of the design. The red colour was then used in the sectional model of the final design and within the architectural drawings as a highlighting method.

Apart from testing design concepts through models I noticed the importance of the technical side within their architecture degree. An application through modelmaking was the project visible in the images from below, where groups of students tested different types of joints which could be used in creating a geometrical sphere. Several methods of joining the wooden pieces were tested, including connections that used sections of recycled plastic pipes or tubes, as well as using bespoke metal fixings which were screwed into the wood. Regardless of the complexity, these constructions were built with only using basic tools and local materials.

Being exposed to the modelmaking culture of the architecture school in Quito was a good lesson about the importance of valuing local practices and materials and making the most of what resources  you have to hand. Perhaps the ease with which we can access materials produced all over the world here in the UK makes us, unintentionally, a bit ignorant of the energy and effort it takes to produce them. As a result the profession is quite wasteful. It would be an interesting project set out to find the local equivalent of the balsa wood source in Ecuador right here and incorporate it into our models. This would be both convenient and more sustainable, helping to reduce our carbon footprint as we progress through architecture school.

This article was written by Patricia Belcin, Teaching Assistant at B.15 Modelmaking workshop 2019/20. 

Exhibition: ‘Sun, Sea and Modelmaking – Atelier La Juntana 2019’ November 18th-29th

We’re pleased to announce the second event in conjunction with our 50th Anniversary celebrations:

An exhibition of student work from the third MSA exclusive week with Atelier La Juntana which took place in July 2019. The exhibition has been curated by Saul Parker-Backhouse at B.15 Modelmaking workshop and will present the full range of craft outputs from the week-long course along with video and process descriptions.

Launch Presentation Evening – Thursday November 28th from 18.00

Join us for a presentation by ALJ course organiser Armor Gutierrez Rivas who will be presenting the course and discussing how MSA students can take part in next years course.

The exhibition will take place in the foyer of Humanities Bridgeford Street Building between November 18th and 29th and both the presentation evening and exhibition are free to attend.

B.15:50 -Guest Lecture ‘Architectural Models: Past Present and Future of a Design Practice’

**********************CHANGE OF TIME AND VENUE*********************



2020 will mark 50 years since the B.15 workshop was established here in what was then known as the Kantorowich Architecture and Planning Building. To celebrate the occasion we will be holding a number of events the first of which we are pleased to present to you here.


‘Architectural Models: Past Present and Future of a Design Practice’ will be presented by Dr Simona Valeriani on behalf of the Architectural Models Network, a research network based at the Victoria and Albert Museum. “The network was set up to bring together all those interested in the history, current practice and future of architectural model-making. Its intention is to share knowledge, to take stock of the current state of the field, and to identify productive areas for future practice and research.” (Valeriani, 2018)

Dr Valeriani will present the up to date findings of the network which began recording a range of perspectives on architectural modelmaking in early 2018.

Please join us for this free lecture at 18.00 on Tuesday 12th November in the Cordingley Lecture Theatre on the ground floor of Humanities Bridgeford Street. 

The presentation and Q & A will last no longer than 1 hour. No ticket required.

We hope to see you there, Scott, Jim & Saul

Valeriani, S. 2018. Architectural Models in context: creativity, skill and spectacle [Online Article] Available from: https://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/projects/architectural-models-in-context-creativity-skill-and-spectacle Accessed 22/10/2019

Modelmaking above Alexanderplatz – Peter Lee at HENN Architects, Berlin

Earlier this summer I visited MSA Graduate Peter Lee at HENN Architects Berlin Office. Located overlooking Alexanderplatz, HENN is an international architecture office with additional offices in Munich and Beijing. They have a wide-ranging experience in work space, culture, health, education and research as well as production and master planning. It’s a great pleasure to see graduates take their modelmaking skills into practice. Where possible I always try to take the opportunities to learn just how these skills are used in their work and this has been one such occasion. Peter has been kind enough to discuss his experience over the last 3 years in practice since graduating from MSA.

After graduating from my masters in 2016 I wanted a bit of a change from Manchester so started applying for jobs in cities that I wanted to live in, mostly abroad, and HENN was the first place that got back to me. The job description was particularly interesting in that it was a mostly model making role within the design / competition team, which suited my skill set pretty well.

On a day to day basis I produce a lot of sketch models, mostly for internal use which really helps with making design decisions. Because of the fast pace of competitions (they generally last a month or two), people are often jumping between projects. Having a model in front of you is a much easier way of understanding site conditions, massings and contextual relationships than working purely with software because it has this tangible quality. 

The workshop has a laser cutter, spray booth, hot wire cutters, disc sander, sandblasting cabinet and Ultimaker S5 3D Printer. Mostly we work with foam, card and acrylic – occasionally we get things outsourced or made in the HENN Munich office, which has more machines available for woodwork.

In terms of setup it’s a lot more restricted than what the students have access to at B.15 which is mainly due to spatial constraints. The office is located in a 70s East Berlin tower and there isn’t enough space for more equipment -however, it’s more than sufficient for producing competition / presentation models. It also serves a different purpose as a workshop for a commercial practice – B.15 is more about giving students the opportunity to learn and therefore supports a wider variety of techniques and materials that aren’t necessarily appropriate or efficient for me to use.

Most of my time is spent on massing and context models but it really depends on what is important to the project – it could also be façade models, mock-ups of internal spaces, more conceptual pieces etc.

Around two years ago I produced a sketch model for an office tower competition in Hamburg which we went on to win. The massing was derived by cutting out foam slabs and arranging them to generate a stepping double height void moving up the lower part of the building. When placed in the context model and compared with other designs it was clear that it was the right way forward – while it was more conservative than some options it fulfilled all the masterplan requirements while retaining an interesting spatial logic.

The competition was also a different format from usual in that we had a lot of contact with the client / developer during the design process. People always love it when you turn up with a model, especially if it’s not required – in this case we brought a lot of sketch models which gave an insight into the design process that the client wouldn’t normally see. It’s also more interesting to have something more tactile in front of you instead of being sat in front of slides and slides of presentation, which definitely worked in our favour.

Leading practices at the moment like Morris and Co, Carmody Groarke are really pushing the use of models as an important design tool and it would be good to see that trickle down into the majority of practices. I have had two architectural jobs before this one – the only time models were around was for presentations and they were always built by a specialist model maker. Software is all well and good but I feel you can always make better design decisions if you have a physical representation in front of you.

If I could change anything about my work on a personal level it would be to be a bit more poetic with my model making through abstract / conceptual models and material explorations – most of what I do at the moment is pretty representational. Having said that, I really enjoy my job here. It can be long hours from time to time but it often feels like an extension of architecture school due to the quick nature of competitions and room to experiment. It’s also good to see models being used as a design tool and being able to use my skills to collaborate with other specialists, such as computational designers.

Thank you to HENN for allowing us to share this insight and to Peter for his thoughts, time and continued enthusiasm towards the work we do here in B.15.

– Scott

Peter at work in on his MArch final major project B.15 Workshop in May 2016