“Usually we have models made for the client’s benefit. As an architect, you don’t want to spend 25 000 or more unless there’s a tangible benefit. You show clients plans, sections and elevations and they say they understand them, but in reality they don’t,” says Derek Wilson of Lobb Partnership, winner of the 1995 RIBA Building of the Year award for the Alfred McAlpine
Stadium in Huddersfield. “With something like a football stadium, when the client asks you where the director’s box or wheelchair access is going to be, you can actually point it out on the model and all of a sudden it makes sense.”
Andy Ingham of Andrew Ingham and Associates is a modelmaker who knows all about the business, having built not only the Huddersfield and Sydney Olympic Stadium models for Lobb Partnership, but also the Lloyds Building for Richard Rogers.
“I’m always being asked if computer modelling will be the death of 3D modelling, and my response is that they complement each other. As the stakes go up you have to give everything you’ve got to win contracts. What has changed is the amount of money that developers are willing to spend. In the end the model is still king. The great advantage of models in a presentation with clients is that they don’t have to be switched on, unlike a computer,” he jokes.
The company currently has 22 modelmakers working on the final models for the Living Bridges exhibition, due to open later this month at London’s Royal Academy. Ingham’s training as an architect at the Architectural Association has reaped rewards on this project as many of the bridges, such as Melnikov’s Garage over the Seine, are based on little more than a sketch and a single elevation. While the actual construction of the models is still done by hand, the cutting of the parts from thin sheets of Perspex is almost exclusively done on CNC milling machines. John Holmes, who runs the
computer side of the business, explains the advantages of this approach: “In the past the whole process was a bit ramshackle, cutting a piece at a time and
seeing how well it would fit the model. Now you’re forced into thinking out the whole process before cutting, checking all the problems at the start. And on a generative job using many of the same or similar parts, it makes life so much easier.”
Ingham sums up how he sees the role of the architectural modelmaker: “At its best it’s more than just a service. Through the model architects find out whether their plans are actually going to work.”
But the value of the model doesn’t necessarily end once you’ve clinched the deal and won the commission, says Derek Wilson of Lobb: “The clients will often use it as a marketing tool to sell commercial advertising space in the ground. Plus with a new stadium you’ve probably got 40 000 to 50 000 fans who are emotionally attached to the old ground and want to know what’s going to happen, and a model is the best way of winning them over to new plans.”
Top: Pulteney Bridge, Bath; Bottom left: Rialto Bridge, Venice – both created for the Living Bridges exhibition