Modelmaking above Alexanderplatz – Peter Lee at HENN Architects, Berlin

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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

Mecanoo B.15 Modelmaking Awards 2017 Winners

For the past three years Netherlands based architects  Mecanoo have generously supported our desire to celebrate the use of models within architectural design. The awards consider not just a single piece of work but each individuals attitude and approach to using physical models as a vehicle to advance the understanding of their design to both themselves and to others.

After a very tough judging session this years Mecanoo B.15 modelmaking awards were announced on Friday evening at the official opening of the Manchester School of Architecture end of year show.

We can’t stress enough how worthy everyone who made the long and short lists were this year so everybody should be very proud of themselves for producing such a high standard of work across the board.

Judging was carried out by:

Mecanoo representatives Laurens Kistemaker, Oliver Boaler and Paul Thornber.

MSA lecturers Dr Ray Lucas and Amy Hanley.

B.15 Staff Jim Backhouse, Scott Miller and Phillipa Seagrave.

The full 2017 shortlist document can be downloaded by clicking here.


This years winners are:

MArch

MArch 1st Prize – James Donegan – Continuity in Architecture


MArch 2nd Prize – Samuel Stone – Continuity in Architecture


MArch 3rd Prize – Daniel Kirkby and Vanessa Torri – Urban Spatial Experimentation


BA Architecture

BA 1st Prize – Ghada Mudara – Urban Spatial Experimentation


BA 2nd Prize – Theodoris Tamvakis – QED


BA 3rd Prize – Arinjoy Sen – Common Ground

Sculpting in Plaster – CiA student Sam Stone

This years ‘Continuity in Architecture’ field trip took the group to on of the oldest cities in Western Europe, Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal. Sam Stone has spent a good portion of his first semester studies experimenting in the workshop and describes his thought and working process for us.


Whilst visiting the city of Lisbon the notion of it’s craft is almost tangible, from the decorative wrought iron verandas to the tessellated azulejo tiles, the manual, hand made implications of making the city are evident throughout it.What impressed me most was the ostentatious display of skill in the stonemasonry work of the manueline architecture in an area of Lisbon named Belém. It intrigued me to understand the depth of knowledge and skill needed to create such profound displays of craftsmanship.

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My aim initially was to learn through making, as a direct response to my early research into the various crafts of Lisbon. I started with studies into the processes of stonemasonry (manueline style columns), mimicking the carving and chiseling of stone by using plaster as a more malleable material.Work started off tentatively and without prior experience of carving or sculpting I slowly tapped away at the block removing minimal material. After a while, confidence grew and I became more efficient, quicker and more clinical with my actions. Repetition meant a gradual understanding of the how the material breaks away, how hard to throw the hammer and which way to hold the chisel. What did take me six strikes, now took me one and material would come away precisely where intended, rather than too much or too little.

The resultant studies link back well to my interpretation of Lisbon as a crafted city, and I hope to transfer this knowledge into design/programme at a later stage.

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My first three outputs are studies into manueline style architectural elements in stone, each work advancing in difficulty, starting with a simple twisted flute column to a decorative rope knot. I gained a partial understanding of what it means to me to be a craftsman; having a true understanding of material, knowledge and economy of technique and most evidently, much practice and repetition.

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After gaining more confidence with the tools, the material and act of carving, I attempted to produce a concept model and 1:500 site model. I thought these early analytical studies and their method of production, along with site analysis could inform my approach to design later on.

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The concept model outlines my approach to design decisions on the site. The block is cast stone plaster with the landscape of the site ‘excavated’ by foam formwork. Protruding perspex rods under the lateral void describe the transient nature of the road that divides both sides of the site. A mahogany piece rests on the stepped landscape as an indicator of ‘place’ I wish to create in the void.

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The 1:500 site model was carved out topography from a casted block of pigmented plaster. The excavated, subtracted nature of the landscape suited this method of modelling. Faster methods could include using the CNC machine to mechanically remove material, or making an accurate mold. However, through manually carving away to reveal the site I grasped a deeper understanding of the varied topography and stepped character of the sloped landscape of the site. It also enabled me to interrogate the landscape closer.

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If I was to offer advice to anyone wanting to experiment with modelmaking in a similar way I’d say spend time to learn the particular craft or method, its great to learn a new skill and you could find out something unique about your abilities.

Don’t rush it, at times modelling requires close attention and care, mistakes can be difficult to amend (especially in painted plaster!). As always don’t hurry modelling, if you think the model making method could help inform your design decisions later, it’s worth being patient.

– Sam Stone Jan 2017

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It’s great that Sam decided to approach his studies in this ‘hands on’ way and especially that he took the time to really improve his understanding of the material. The commitment of time is always a big issue to working this way but in marrying his practical trial and error approach to making Sam has been able to balance other study commitments against the making craft he clearly enjoys.

– Scott

Visit to Mecanoo Architects and the TU Delft Faculty of Architecture

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Last month we were invited to attend the 30th anniversary celebrations of Mecanoo Architects in Delft, The Netherlands. As part of our visit we were able to tour the Mecanoo office and workshop and conduct interviews with their long-standing head of modelmaking, Henk Bouwer and Modelmaker Laurens Kistemaker.

Our visit was dominated by modelmaking related talk and the promise of future collaboration for our Modelmaking award scheme. We will continue to refine the scheme and Mecanoo are very enthusiastic about increased involvement with the school and award process. More updates on this soon.

The complete video interview with the Mecanoo modelmakers will be uploaded to our blog in the near future.

During the evening event Creative Director of Mecanoo, Francine Houben presented a chronology of the people the have been part of the company with their projects mentioned in throughout. The diverse staff that have come and gone from the company were clearly well thought of and many present during the presentation. Special mention of Henk Bouwers extensive and continued service highlighted the importance models play in the practice as we are well aware following our collaboration with them earlier in the year.

Some of Mecanoos key projects include the TU Delft Library, La Llotja Theatre and Conference Centre in Spain, Birmingham Library and more recently the HOME project in Manchester.

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In addition to the Mecanoo insights we were able to have two separate tours of the TU Delft Faculty of Architecture. Technician Geert Coumans gave us a full tour of their workshop facility allowing for some obvious comparisons of working practice which left us reassured about our approaches to modelmaking in architectural education. The TU Delft facility has an annual intake of approximately 300 new first year students which is reflected in the size of their combined workshop and studio space. The facility was hastily designed as a result of the unfortunate fire that burnt down the previous school building in 2008. The resulting workspace is vast and lofty with workshop areas divided according to their purpose.

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In a second tour of the studio and lecture spaces we were shown around by lecturer John Heintz. It was pleasing to see models in every conceivable space around the school during our two visits. One fascinating part of the school is an extensive collection of original classic chairs which are housed in a connecting corridor between the two main wings of the school.

Facilities include: Woodworking Machines, two CNC Routers, Spraying and Casting room, three Laser cutters, Powder Printer and an ABS Printer. Interestingly Hand tools are provided only on exchange of a students Driving Licence or Passport as deposit.

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