30 Years of Modelmaking at Mecanoo…

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Back in September we were invited to attend the 30th anniversary celebrations at Mecanoo’s head office in Delft, The Netherlands.

As part of the event we took the opportunity to pry into modelmaking theory and history there by speaking to long-standing Senior Modelmaker Henk Bouwer and Modelmaker Laurens Kistemaker.

Mecanoo Office and Workshop (30)

delft, train station, 1.200

The use of models is clearly a key ingredient to the design process here and will no doubt endure for another 30 years or more! We’ll be continuing our collaboration with Mecanoo in this years modelmaking award scheme. More on that soon.


Scott and Jim

Cross-Section Modelling

Cross-section models invite us to view a subject internally by exposing construction details that present spatial and physical relationships. The process of making a model in section allows us to be explorative of the fabric elements that are applied to create the overall form in a way that complete site or massing models do not demonstrate.

1.100 model dan kempski (1)

By cutting through a plan we are able represent the supporting framework and foundations of a building and reveal the anatomy of their relationship to the overall form of a design. The scale of section models tends to be best suited at 1:100 or bigger due to the small size of design features at anything smaller. The smaller the scale the more simplified elements become which, when we are investigating structural or building cladding for example, becomes much less informative.

1.50 Maggie

As with all model tasks we must clearly outline what it is the model is setting out to achieve.

The potential variants, materials and methods for making a model mean there is no quick answer to questions about what is right or wrong way to do something. It is up to you to identify what messages need to be conveyed and these messages will determine the approach to making the model.








Example questions to consider:

  • What messages must the model convey?
  • Is it about its relationship to an existing site or the surrounding landscape?
  • Is it there to demonstrate the technology being applied in the design?
  • Are you setting out to explain how a particular material or element of the design relates to another?

Before making any decisions think about this carefully to avoid missing the point or creating unnecessary work for yourself or group.

When looking at these models we need to focus on a specific target area of a plan that best serves our intended purpose or message. If this purpose examines how a wall will support a roof for example then ask yourself to what extent does the viewer need to see the rest of the building around this focus area?

John Soane Model Ketil Rage and Kristian James (1) Katie Williams 1.20






Tips for Cross-Section Modelling

  • APPROPRIATE SECTION. Identify the best place to make your section on a building plan. This should be based on your overall purpose and is the most critical consideration when making a cross-section study. Try not to section areas with excessive repetition of features such as windows that will make for more work when producing the model. Double check your scale!
  • SUPPORT AND STRENGTH CONSIDERATIONS. Don’t rely on glue or magic to support floors or load bearing elements unless you have designed them to do so. Looking at the section in question and considering materials you intend to use you should think ahead to the point when the model should be self-supporting. How will it hold itself up if the other side of the building isn’t there? Thinking and planning the model thoroughly is crucial.
  • UTILISE OFF THE SHELF COMPONENTS. If your section cuts through floor levels you may need to represent supporting beams, trusses or layers of facade cladding. Rather than manufacturing these to suit make yourself aware of materials that are pre-formed such as styrene ‘I’ beams, tubing or textured sheet material. There is no point in making something that is a standardised material for construction much like how you would approach full scale building design to reduce working time and costs.

If you’re unsure of anything you know where we are.


CiA Year 6 Section (16)

CiA Year 6 Section (12)

Social Housing 1:50 Model Kits – Material Politics in Ecuador

Earlier this year students from the Material Politics atelier were involved in a live social housing project in Ecuador. The project was concerned with the design and construction of social housing that was affordable and sustainable. In addition the design required a level of variability determined by location, need or individual preference. In order to convey these potential variants of construction the group designed a model kit that would allow the community to engage with the proposed construction and personally modify the arrangement of their future home through the model.

Each model kit was designed as a series of singular or pre-constructed elements made from laser cut plywood. The production of such parts requires some testing to ensure correct fit of joints as well as the issue of space within the components boxes.

6th Year Material Politics (10) 6th Year Material Politics (13) 6th Year Material Politics (18)

The 1:50 flexible model showcases a social housing typology designed for the informal neighbourhood of Monte Sina­, in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The typology proposes a construction system which can be adapted to each family’s particular needs and be constructed incrementally, rather than a set building design. As a result, the 1:50 model acts both as a device to communicate the structural principles of the typology and a co-production tool, allowing each family to design their home according to specific needs, wishes and conditions. In each model kit taken to Monte Sina­, a manual is included, explaining the contents of the kit and the structural components out of which the houses are made. The neighbours were therefore able to debate their spatial needs in an illustrative manner and mock up their future houses with ease.

More information on the social housing project: http://www.materialpolitics.com/#!suya/c10fk

– Eira Capelan, Material Politics 2015

1.50 model
1.50 model IIThe group produced an accompanying assembly guide for families wanting to use the kits. This serves as a great insight for us to the design of the model and how such thorough thought can be applied and transferred to full scale construction planning. The guide can be viewed online here.

Many thanks to Eira Capelan for her summary of the project.