Architects’ models “come alive” to tell stories in Supermodels exhibition

Piercy&Company’s studio pushes the boundaries of architectural model making to explore sensory and experiential methods of communicating ideas.

Design and architecture studio Piercy&Company has opened a free exhibition of architectural models made by its in-house studio, which use sound, scent and mechanical automata to explore how to communicate the idea behind a building.

The models on show are linked to the practice’s 20-year interest in exploring “the haptic, sensory and experiential”. The models themselves have been made over five years, all relating to projects worked on by the studio – some built, some unbuilt – and are a self-funded “passion project”, director Stuart Piercy explains.

“We always loved mechanisms like cuckoo clocks, and we always were interested in how mechanisms could work in models”, Piercy says. “So, you could stand in front of the model, and it would tell you the whole story about the building – that was the dream”, he adds.

A range of different techniques are used across the seven models of the exhibition. Materials include plaster, black valchromat, birch ply, aluminium, photo etched copper, white laser-cut Perspex and walnut veneers – but the more unusual elements come from the integration of speakers, atomisers, LED strips, motors and projection mapped films.

But Piercy also hopes that the exhibition will be of interest to children and will “evoke a universal and childlike sense of wonder”. The models’ references – the doll’s house, the cuckoo clock, the model railway – are examples of “the mysterious allure of objects with a miniature life of their own”, he adds.

The first of the “supermodels”, for a family home called Steel House, tells both a technical story of how the experimental modular build was fabricated off-site and craned into a constrained urban location, and the story of a home: the sound of an alarm clock, children’s voices, a puff of chimney smoke and a scent of cinnamon coming from an atomiser. A model of a church in Ealing is soundtracked by a door opening, footsteps, the sound of a choir starting up and is scented by cedarwood incense.

Projection-mapped film footage shows how a public space within an office building could act “like our great museums and galleries”, Piercy&Co says. This is evident in Supermodels where footage from Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and Olafur Eliasson: The Weather Project from Tate Modern, London has been integrated into the architectural model.

Elsewhere a model of two terraced Georgian villas splits open like a cantilevered metal toolbox to reveal the members club set within the listed building. Another model highlights the geometry behind the composition of buildings, which is no longer seen in architectural drawings given that digital tools have replaced hand-drawn methods.

Commenting on how architecture is often first experienced online through limited photography, Flythrough “visualises this phenomenon by removing everything outside the photographic field” says Piercy&Co. A small camera moves through the architectural model in the exhibition, and projects the corresponding view on a wall nearby.

The exhibition also includes a twenty-minute film showing the studio’s designers at work on the models and a spot-lit wooden cabinet of model-making tools. This celebrates the range of design skills available to a studio alongside the increased use of VR tools across the industry.

The exhibition takes place in a building on which Piercy&Co is working. Its mid-construction condition “between strip-out and refurbishment – forms the perfect counterpoint to the models” says Fiona Neil, Piercy&Co’s interiors studio director.

Lighting design for the exhibition is by 18 Degrees, and the graphic identity by Wolfe Hall is built around a bespoke typeface inspired by modular construction methods. Geometric letterforms in a slim “CAD-routed” weight, are overlaid with shapes found in the original model drawings.

Supermodels is free to enter and open until 11 December at Jahn Court, Regent Quarter, 34 York Way, London N1 9AB. All images by Andy Stagg.

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  • Carl St. James December 8, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    I managed to visit the other day and I was blown away by not only the quality of the models but also the engineering that has gone into making them mechanical. If you get the chance to visit you should!

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