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 Award 2016 Winners

Final judging for this years Mecanoo B.15 Modelamking awards took place on Friday afternoon ahead of the end of year show opening.

Representatives from Mecanoo were Laurens Kistemaker, Paul Daly, Oliver Boaler along with former MSA Student and previous award winner Sara Hammond. Representing MSA were Jim and myself and Dr Ray Lucas.

Judging awards

As with last years award judging looked at the overall quality of the finished models, The effectiveness of their response to the brief and the integration of modelmaking into each students designing process. This proved once again to be very tough and created a fantastic post-marking deliberation over the final results.

“I was pleasantly surprised by the efforts and quality of the students work, which therefore made it really hard for us to pick just 6 winners. We covered both sides (skill and representation of the brief) of modelmaking with a judging team of 3 modelmakers and 3 architects. I hope we as mecanoo together with Jim and Scott have contributed to push the continued importance of modelmaking in architectural learning and practice.”

– Laurens Kistemaker 

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Prizes were presented by Laurens Kistemaker and Professor Tom Jefferies to the winners who were as follows:

1st Prize MArch: Daniel Kempski & Peter Lee

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2nd Prize MArch: Natalie Dosser & Diana Muresan

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3rd Prize MArch: Sam Beddingfield

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1st Prize BA (Hons) Architecture: Ciara Tobin

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2nd Prize BA (Hons) Architecture: Akhil Mathew

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3rd Prize BA (Hons) Architecture: Daniel Vella

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We would like to thank all at Mecanoo for their continued support of this award which has already built on last years success with another quality display of projects.

Congratulations to all who made the hard earned short-list and eventual winners! We hope you will continue to employ the use of modelmaking in your learning and future careers whatever they may be.

Scott and Jim at B.15

U.S.E. Dortmund 1:1250 Masterplan Model

The focus of this year’s U.S.E. atelier is the city of Dortmund, Germany. I was fortunate to be able to take part in the study trip that saw the group, both 5th and 6th years, exploring and documenting the proposed site along with several post industrial sites. It was agreed early on in the trip that a masterplan model should be created for group discussions throughout the year and as a center piece for the end of year show taking place next June.

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“After returning from Dortmund, U.S.E. split into site analysis teams. alongside research groups, whose work was collated into a large compendium document, we were tasked with the fabrication of a physical masterplan model of the Union Quarter. 

A scale of 1:1250 was chosen due to material constraints, fitting the width of a 2440x1220mm MDF sheet. For an appropriate portrayal of information at this scale, we largely focused on the massing and blocking whilst acknowledging the railway lines, running at a lower level to the rest of the site and splitting the Union Quarter into three parcels. Other than this drastic level change, we chose to ignore other topographical features of the area; whilst the site features a gradual incline towards the westpark, this would be largely negligible at 1:1250 and would have added considerable time and effort to the construction process.

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To demarcate the site boundary, we chose to raise the union quarter on a plinth above the main model base. To economise on time, we also chose only to build massing on this plinth; outside the site boundary, roads and buildings are indicated by engravings on a plasma cut mild steel sheet. This was left outside over a weekend to rust, acting as a material metaphor for Dortmund’s steel heritage, which is highly prominent on site.

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The raised Union Quarter plinths are produced from 12mm clear acrylic recycled from display cabinets at the Manchester Museum. laser cut polystyrene sheeting was plastic welded on top, forming pavements and streets, before being spray painted white. the plinths were originally constructed from cnc’d MDF, though these were scrapped as we were not satisfied with the finish or the joining with the polystyrene sheets, which did not stick well to the timber.

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DSC05061For the massing, we were advised by workshop staff to use chemi-wood, a resin-based material known for its ease of cutting and crisp finish. buildings were hand cut; whilst being a lengthy process, we were able to add a greater level of complexity to blocking than would normally be possible with the laser cutter, such as pitched roofs.

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Blocks were then spray painted with shades of white and grey to identify their general usage, broken down into residential, public, commercial and industrial. though nearly finished to a presentation-quality standard, in future we are looking to add trees to the model as the union quarter is a particularly green urban area.”

– Daniel Kempski & Peter Lee December 2015

The main base feature of this model was the engraved 2mm thick steel sheet. On it’s arrival the steel had a light coating of oil to prevent rust which, unusually when it comes to the use of metal, was exactly the finish the group didn’t want!

DSC05104There were several discussions about how to best subtly age the steel which were all trial and error with regard to retaining the engraved detail. It was decided to clean the oil from the face of the steel and leave it outside over the weekend having been lightly sprayed with Epsom salts.

image1At best we thought it may have started to surface rust by Monday morning. To our surprise and temporary horror the rust had completely coated the sheet in the heavy rain that had ensued. Thankfully the group were able to rub back the rust with fine grade sandpaper and the effect turned out to be better than was hoped for.

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3The buildings were fixed to the floor plates and the arranged in position on the steel base. Only trees remain to emphasis the green spaces across the site but have been left off for now until the final assembly closer to the end of the year. – Scott

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