The idea of model making or intention behind a model is to consider the model as a tool to express or test one’s thoughts and ideas—not necessarily to communicate with others, but primarily to oneself as author. It also serves to give shape in three dimensions—volume—to what cannot be expressed only in the form of a sketch or a drawing. The model establishes a connection between the thoughts, ideas sketches; simultaneously identifying anchor points around which the whole project could make a beginning for development. I would consider this an important stage in the design process.
Further moving on the track, it is vital to make the choice of material for the model at a given stage in design, one which would navigate the process to firm up a stage of commitment from ‘tentative’ to ‘definitive. The most definitive aspect of this stage is to understand the scale and proportions as demanded by the nature of the project. The characteristics of site which may be completely man-controlled like in the urban areas or ‘Nature’ controlled where the elements of nature set up a visual relationship between the man-made and nature. Once this fundamental relationship is understood, the model can be made ready to examine the spaces and their consequences from within.
This becomes an important stage of the model because, in most cases, there is a marked difference in the spatial quality that the drawings represent and that expressed in the model. Hence, the model becomes a tool to clarify this disparity and represent clearly one’s visualization of the ‘interior’ of the building; not in terms of ‘interior design’ but with reference to the space quality. This allows for one to look for the potential in exploiting aspects like the ‘Structure’ and the value of “Natural Light’. Consequently, such models help in making an enormous commitment that is being undertaking in construction of the actual building or a complex of buildings in relation to what is around it.
Making models at various stages of design development is a method that lead to a better understanding of the spaces in plans and sections, surface delineations and their geometry and above all, those members of the structure so crucial to bring natural light into spaces.
Models are essential assistants when we are communicating with our engineers and other consultants. These models may be called engineering models, which could be models in parts or those of specific details, which help in establishing a dialogue with the consultants in furthering their feedback on the validity of an idea or the ways in which such ideas could be materialized.
Models have a definitive place along with the drawings—they may be plans, elevations, sections, isometrics or axonometrics. The material to be used for a specific purpose, which invariably depends on the expressive quality of the architecture that may not be completely evident in drawings.
The most difficult material to work with is wood. Solid block wood or veneers of wood, where the planes of veneers represent and define the enclosures. But the important question may remain to be asked is; at what pint in the design development process should wood find its entry? Wood is not a material which works along with certain changes in the thought process like say, clay or plasticine, which can be instantly flattened or erased without leaving behind the footprints of its pan or layout. If one had a choice of a chisel and some clay, like a charcoal drawing, clay can be chiselled and moulded in seconds. The material doesn’t resist change, since it runs concurrently with the pace of thoughts and ideas and at the end of its completion, an architect can see the whole model made of one material, as a monolith. Every monolith has weight, and weight is an important element in architecture.
Models made in chipboard, a gray coloured compressed cardboard, are more flexible in their making than wood. Chipboard with its gray colour does not radiate light. Its only impression also creates an impact in the sense of monolithic weight. All details become secondary to the colour of this material. The dark voids and the pattern of shadows animate all surfaces seen from various viewpoints.
The most impressive and complete model in its entirety, like a sectional axonometric drawing, where plans, elevations and sections are seen simultaneously is the model made in transparent Plexiglas or acrylic sheet.
The transparency through various enclosing planes, inside and outside, lend the value of superimposition of planes and spaces all becoming self-luminous. The form, the structure, he space and the light present themselves as a single entity. Models made in acrylic or Plexiglas offer their transparency to orthographic projections simultaneously. Acrylic is a material which may provoke taking wrong decisions as the experience is that of the exploded view of elements of space and space itself.
I like to believe that temple builders made the models; so did the Persians and the Greeks. Islamic architects made models. The Renaissance architects like Michelangelo, Borromini made models, since architecture was considered as a work of sculpture, the scaled-down models were the result of what the real thing would be like. A means of passing on instruction to the craftsmen, where the margins of error were minimized in the reality of construction. When the scale of projects were enormous, no good architect would risk the danger of getting into the unknown. The stakes are high also for his reputation. A sculpture can be judged but space is difficult because the real meaning of space comes out of experience of participation through structure and light, mass and volume, surfaces and textures.
Louis Kahn made models, or rather got them made under his supervision, in clay, in wood veneer, wood blocks or gray chipboard. Also some of his models were painted in monochromatic tones to highlight some specific features. The test of the model was to see if the ‘form’ remained as it was thought to be and that all ‘details’ were subservient to the form. His models were a ‘work of art’, never a commercial advertisement to seduce the promoters in funding the project. Frank Lloyd Wright’s models dealt with a much larger schema where in a specific building was a result of the overall order which included the topology of land, the anchor features of the site, the movement patterns and the public and private spaces. The models at the scale of a large neighbourhood or a precinct changed as thoughts and information on specific areas of design development changed. This was a kind of model which responded to the nature of change continuously over a period of time. The time and space truly changed and shaped the model to live in the present. The models therefore were records of their time, the philosophy and a way of life as interpreted and expressed by the architect.
Le Corbusier’s models are to be seen in a broader schema at the scale of the city, to be understood in its volumetric disposition in space. The details of the specific projects were sorted out later. However, the actual proportions were studied and the designs developed accordingly. There was a concern for the building material at its real scale and value, but only at the stages when the buildings went into their production. Corbusier gave importance to flexibility and change and modified decisions on details as the building went up in construction. His models were not the end of everything, whereas for Kahn it was the final act before it became the building.
Supposing one wants to move beyond the Euclidian geometry, then one would have to define these spaces in mathematical terms; not only in terms of its aesthetics, but also in terms to express those values which are beyond the equations and the ratios. If one could attempt such a definition then the idea of building such a space is possible. Is it a warped space, a deformed space, distorted space ≠ a space that does not carry any definition, but is still tangible? Then how does one, or what means are there to build such a model? Such forms are being generated by the computer, regardless of their purpose, as endless exercises. Do they address the questions raised above? Can the frontiers of space be touched by the glossary of these forms? In spirit of exploration these questions may come closer to answers that may be loaded with still more questions.
September 2002, Ahmedabad