In London last week I toured the “Introduction to Architecture” exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum and was instantly drawn to the architectural models on display.
Architectural models are both more realistic than two-dimensional drawings — as a way to represent three dimensional space — and more imaginary because they inevitably have a dollhouse quality. They provide serious information and a latent sense of play at the same time. Take this model of a Tudor style house,
neatly packed in its own traveling case. It’s compelling because it presents a bird’s eye view that immediately communicates the character of the design and seems to pop out of the box in a magical way: it’s the tool as toy. Scale models also
make it possible to analyze closely details like columns, window and door proportions, and materials. The beautiful wood model of the iconic modern Villa Stein of 1927 at Garches, by Le Corbusier,
quickly illustrates the design’s innovative interplay between flatness and depth.
See how the planar front and rear facades with their flat ribbon windows contrast with the cut-away corners and larger, deeper openings on three sides. Contemporary photographs tended to show the house straight on
from the front
or rear, accentuating the planar quality (Both photos courtesy Oklahoma State). These images communicate the design’s graphic light-catching qualities — just as two-dimensional floor plans usually do — but tend to obscure the way volumes interconnect. Unless you are already an architect or can read plans quickly, models just make a design easier to understand.
Long ago when I was in architecture school we spent a lot of time making cardboard models and sketching axonometrics or “axons” (perspective drawings) to explain our designs. Well that’s so, like — 19th century. Now, thanks to the exponential development of 3-D modeling software like Google’s Sketchup and Autodesk’s BIM (Building Information Modeling), 3-D drawings that can spin, turn, and tilt or that you can fly around are ubiquitous. Google’s 3-D Warehouse online is itself a fascinating resource where you can play with Frank Lloyd Wright’s early machine-age modern Robie House in Chicago
or his marvelous stone yacht of a house
on the beach at Carmel, California for Mrs. Clinton Walker (misidentified, incidentally, in the Sketchup model as the Martin house). Or, if castles are more your taste, take a look at the Chateau Azay le Rideau,
with it’s many turrets, or Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria’s Schloss Neuschwanstein,
said to be one of the inspirations for Walt Disney’s Cinderella Castle. You can see that this website quickly becomes addictive. All of the computer models are created by different individuals (many are designers and architects) to demonstrate what the open source software can do.
At Houseplans, 3-D images of houses are available for many designs, like Dan Tyree’s modern so-called “15 Degrees” Plan 64-166 for a sloping site,
which is drawn in a perspective view to highlight the way the design takes advantage of the hillside. Bud Dietrich’s drawings for his Prairie Style Meadow North Plan 481-3
resemble models with the roof off so you can easily see how one room relates to another.
Our ultimate goal is to have as many plans as possible in 3-D presentations. Watch us evolve and revolve!