Design Process: The value of failure before success

Back in June there was much to be celebrated at the end of year show where many MSA students revealed their hard work to eager practice and public visitors. Part of the popular launch is the prize giving ceremony where students are selected for their prowess in specific areas of study. Drawing, Team-work, Innovation, Sketchbook, Academic and Visual achievement awards have been permanent fixtures at the school for many years. A more recent addition to this list is our own: The B.15 Modelmaking awards sponsored by Mecanoo.
For the past three years Netherlands based architects Mecanoo have generously supported our desire to celebrate the use of models within architectural design. The awards consider not just a single piece of work but each individuals attitude and approach to using physical models as a vehicle to advance the understanding of their design to both themselves and to others.

This has helped to stimulate an improved output in terms of typology and quality of the models produced across all years of study. This year highlighted that with the number of long-listed projects proving difficult to cut down. Seeing these projects develop over the academic year put us as technicians in a good position to see not only the physical changes in terms of the work but in each individuals attitudes to the idea of making in design and how its correct use can serve to inform key design decisions along the way.
I decided to write this article to highlight a particular case in which a student initially struggled to grasp the idea of experimentation before settling on the most appropriate way forward with their work. The student won this years’ MArch first prize for his use of modelmaking. A prize which was well deserved and from our perspective a pleasure to award given the steep learning curve and effective turnaround that was made over the last two years of study.

James Donegan was one of the lucky few who managed to get selected to take part in the Material Application workshop that took place at the start of 2016. The main aims for this workshop were to encourage the use of testing in order for each student to better understand the processes they were looking at. Put simply, the high value was placed in seeing the mistakes made and not just in the analysis of a finished piece. James aimed to cast a staircase detail in plaster. I asked James to recount the experience:

“I spent too much time working on the computer and setting up cut files without really doing any research into the casting process and consequently, I ran into many hurdles and had to abandon the process all together. Although the project ultimately failed, the experience taught me the value of testing and sampling before any commitment.”

Despite having initial struggles to get his models to flow smoothly within his project it was clear from the technicians perspective that something was shifting in James’ approach.

“I started to realise the process between translating a digital model into a physical one isn’t always easy, especially if you’re trying out something new. Even before I have a clear concept for a model, I would get into the workshop as early possible and start testing ideas which would feed back to inform my designs as well as the making process.”

 

 

 

 

 

James’ outputs clearly grew and the content became much more varied and refined through constant testing. This was a notable change from his initial approaches which were driven entirely by computer manipulation.

So what tips would James offer to anyone wanting to make or improve the use of models within their design work?

“Always consult the technicians before starting on a process you’re not familiar with. It will save you a lot of time. If you can, get the basic modelmaking done at home – it’ll mean you can take full advantage of the facilities during the B.15 opening hours. Try to limit dependency on the popular machines like the laser cutter – a lot of the work people use it for can be done by hand and it usually looks better. Experiment and don’t let failure discourage you – its progress.”

 

 

 

 

 


James is now working locally at Tim Groom Architects. We wish him the best of luck for his future career.

Thanks to James Donegan for sharing this thoughts and recollections.

Scott

Mecanoo B.15 Modelmaking Awards 2017 Winners

For the past three years Netherlands based architects  Mecanoo have generously supported our desire to celebrate the use of models within architectural design. The awards consider not just a single piece of work but each individuals attitude and approach to using physical models as a vehicle to advance the understanding of their design to both themselves and to others.

After a very tough judging session this years Mecanoo B.15 modelmaking awards were announced on Friday evening at the official opening of the Manchester School of Architecture end of year show.

We can’t stress enough how worthy everyone who made the long and short lists were this year so everybody should be very proud of themselves for producing such a high standard of work across the board.

Judging was carried out by:

Mecanoo representatives Laurens Kistemaker, Oliver Boaler and Paul Thornber.

MSA lecturers Dr Ray Lucas and Amy Hanley.

B.15 Staff Jim Backhouse, Scott Miller and Phillipa Seagrave.

The full 2017 shortlist document can be downloaded by clicking here.


This years winners are:

MArch

MArch 1st Prize – James Donegan – Continuity in Architecture


MArch 2nd Prize – Samuel Stone – Continuity in Architecture


MArch 3rd Prize – Daniel Kirkby and Vanessa Torri – Urban Spatial Experimentation


BA Architecture

BA 1st Prize – Ghada Mudara – Urban Spatial Experimentation


BA 2nd Prize – Theodoris Tamvakis – QED


BA 3rd Prize – Arinjoy Sen – Common Ground

Sculpting in Plaster – CiA student Sam Stone

This years ‘Continuity in Architecture’ field trip took the group to on of the oldest cities in Western Europe, Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal. Sam Stone has spent a good portion of his first semester studies experimenting in the workshop and describes his thought and working process for us.


Whilst visiting the city of Lisbon the notion of it’s craft is almost tangible, from the decorative wrought iron verandas to the tessellated azulejo tiles, the manual, hand made implications of making the city are evident throughout it.What impressed me most was the ostentatious display of skill in the stonemasonry work of the manueline architecture in an area of Lisbon named Belém. It intrigued me to understand the depth of knowledge and skill needed to create such profound displays of craftsmanship.

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My aim initially was to learn through making, as a direct response to my early research into the various crafts of Lisbon. I started with studies into the processes of stonemasonry (manueline style columns), mimicking the carving and chiseling of stone by using plaster as a more malleable material.Work started off tentatively and without prior experience of carving or sculpting I slowly tapped away at the block removing minimal material. After a while, confidence grew and I became more efficient, quicker and more clinical with my actions. Repetition meant a gradual understanding of the how the material breaks away, how hard to throw the hammer and which way to hold the chisel. What did take me six strikes, now took me one and material would come away precisely where intended, rather than too much or too little.

The resultant studies link back well to my interpretation of Lisbon as a crafted city, and I hope to transfer this knowledge into design/programme at a later stage.

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My first three outputs are studies into manueline style architectural elements in stone, each work advancing in difficulty, starting with a simple twisted flute column to a decorative rope knot. I gained a partial understanding of what it means to me to be a craftsman; having a true understanding of material, knowledge and economy of technique and most evidently, much practice and repetition.

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After gaining more confidence with the tools, the material and act of carving, I attempted to produce a concept model and 1:500 site model. I thought these early analytical studies and their method of production, along with site analysis could inform my approach to design later on.

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The concept model outlines my approach to design decisions on the site. The block is cast stone plaster with the landscape of the site ‘excavated’ by foam formwork. Protruding perspex rods under the lateral void describe the transient nature of the road that divides both sides of the site. A mahogany piece rests on the stepped landscape as an indicator of ‘place’ I wish to create in the void.

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The 1:500 site model was carved out topography from a casted block of pigmented plaster. The excavated, subtracted nature of the landscape suited this method of modelling. Faster methods could include using the CNC machine to mechanically remove material, or making an accurate mold. However, through manually carving away to reveal the site I grasped a deeper understanding of the varied topography and stepped character of the sloped landscape of the site. It also enabled me to interrogate the landscape closer.

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If I was to offer advice to anyone wanting to experiment with modelmaking in a similar way I’d say spend time to learn the particular craft or method, its great to learn a new skill and you could find out something unique about your abilities.

Don’t rush it, at times modelling requires close attention and care, mistakes can be difficult to amend (especially in painted plaster!). As always don’t hurry modelling, if you think the model making method could help inform your design decisions later, it’s worth being patient.

– Sam Stone Jan 2017

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It’s great that Sam decided to approach his studies in this ‘hands on’ way and especially that he took the time to really improve his understanding of the material. The commitment of time is always a big issue to working this way but in marrying his practical trial and error approach to making Sam has been able to balance other study commitments against the making craft he clearly enjoys.

– Scott

Low-Melt Metal Detail Casting by Jana Kefurtova

Jana explained her project for us:

The 1:10 detail fabrication was my first-ever casting exercise and definitely one of the most exciting tasks I have been involved in throughout my architecture course. It required a lot of preparation and careful planning of each step, but I was extremely happy with the outcome and I would repeat it if I had a chance. The key to success was to understand the casting process and plan the whole procedure beforehand.

Firstly, I modelled the hinge in SketchUp and tweaked it several times to make sure it was water-tight for 3D printing. After it was printed, I added an additional layer of acrylic to increase its thickness in certain areas, which was necessary for creating the mould. This step could have been avoided, had I known better how the mould was to be created. As I learned, it is definitely worth carefully checking your 3D model with the staff before printing. You do not want to 3D print repeatedly due to the relatively high cost of the process and unavailability of the printers during busy deadline times.

Next step was a fabrication of the mould, which was to be as tight as possible in order to save the material (silicone). When pouring the silicone, I did not mix it well enough with the activating agent, which caused it not to dry properly overnight. Luckily, it was still possible to save the mould by additionally mixing more activating agent into, and the whole mould came out really well in the end.

The putrid pouring was probably the simplest step of the whole process, however, there were still lessons to be learned. The mould has to be fixed together very tightly with clamps, as the hot metal is unexpectedly expansive and it will push your two halves of the mould apart. I repeated the casting itself twice, as the first piece was not perfect. This did not require any additional material as the first cast was simply melted.

The metal hinge was then integrated into a sectional model of a timber door to show its function. This was another part of the model-making task, which took almost as much time as the casting itself. One of the unique aspects of this exercise was that apart from the putrid and silicone, I only used scrap material from the workshop: acrylic, timber, plywood and MDF. This significantly reduced the price and proved that almost every piece of material that a student disposes in the workshop can be used further by someone else.

Working with metal left me being amazed by its strength and heaviness combined with plasticity and the ability to be shaped into very fine details. It might seem like a challenging material to handle, but it is in fact incredibly fun and fascinating one. I would recommend casting to anyone who wishes to add something bold and unique to their project.

– Jana Kefurtova 2016

Designing the Mould

When it comes to successful casting the work is all in the design of the mould. There are many considerations to have that require some reverse engineering in your mind before being able to pour the first cast correctly. In this case as Jana was creating her cast detail from scratch she had to first make the detail the the correct scale in order to have the mould be created around it. This was done using a combination of an ABS 3D print and some laser cut elements.

Due to the final cast being in metal a suitable silicone for high temperature casting is essential.

Here are some key considerations when designing a mould:

  • The mould should always be designed to use a minimum of casting material (in this case the expensive heat-resistant silicone) to ensure you are getting the most from it without having to overspend.
  • How are you going to pour material into the mould?
  • The mould must also consider the cast removal – Will the cast piece come out in one? Does the mould have to consist of multiple parts? If so how can we effectively locate these parts to ensure an accurate cast?

Metal Casting Jana Kefurtova (4)In Jana’s case it was decided that the mould could be created in two parts. In order to do this the master model had to be suspended in the middle of the mould casing to allow the first half to be poured. The support piece that was used to suspend the piece would also serve as the pour hole once the mould was ready to be used. In addition to the overall shape of the mould casing Jana also added two location ‘lugs’ which would allow the mould to fit together exactly. These lugs were in place until the first half of the mould had cured before being removed to allow the second half to create the positive part of the lug.

Before pouring the second half of the mould it is important to add a release barrier to prevent the two halves sticking together. In this case a spray wax coating was used but there are several products available for the job. Metal Casting Jana Kefurtova (5) Metal Casting Jana Kefurtova (9) After the second half is cured the mould can be taken from the casing and any overlaps in the pour can be hand trimmed and removed ready for casting.Metal Casting Jana Kefurtova (10) Low Melt Metal Casting

Once the mould has been trimmed and cleaned of any foreign matter you are ready to cast. To ensure the cast is easily removed from the mould it is necessary to lightly dust the mould halves with talc.

Metal Casting Jana Kefurtova (12)Suitable casting metal can then be broken up and melted using a melting pot. All equipment and elements used are specifically for casting purposes and you should always be sure the products are suitable for the job you are attempting.

ALWAYS WEAR HEAT RESISTANT GLOVES WHEN WORKING WITH HOT METAL AND EQUIPMENT!Metal Casting Jana Kefurtova (13)

Once the metal is completely molten in the melting pot it is then time to fill the mould using a suitable ladle. In this case it was necessary to have an extra pair of hands to support the mould whilst pouring.

Pouring in one smooth action will help to get the best quality cast. In this case it was necessary to pour three times to fill the mould. This is not idea but due to the working time with the molten metal the cast was crisp and consistent after a second attempt. (A key benefit of this material is that any failed attempts to cast can simply be broken up and re-melted to be recast meaning little waste material) Metal Casting Jana Kefurtova (17) Allowing around 15 minutes to cool is important so as not to distort the metal when trying to remove it from the mould in a soft state. Metal Casting Jana Kefurtova (20)The competed cast piece was then hand finished before being added to Jana’s functioning detail model. The moulds made for this project and the resulting detail model are currently on display as part of B.15:ARCHITYPES on the first floor of our building.

Metal Casting Jana Kefurtova (21) Metal Casting Jana Kefurtova (23)All equipment and material used here is available from 4D with your student discounts.

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Welcome to 2016/17 Academic Year at B.15

Welcome to all new students and those returning for another academic year!

What’s New at B.15? 

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  • During the summer break several rooms have been rearranged and cleared in the basement to allow us to now occupy a new room to house our model archive and temporary model store in Room B.19. This room can be accessed by asking either of us.
  • With the new B.19 model store in place we have been able to rearrange part of our materials store creating space for new machines.

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  • The main addition to this area is a new spraying area which will shortly be commissioned to allow us to spray model components. As with all new equipment you will be required to ask us to demonstrate the correct practice before using the machine on your own.

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  • Access to the Photographic Studio can now be made through the materials store thanks to the addition of a new doorway. The old doorway to the studio space is now for staff use only when dealing with material orders.

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  • We have also taken delivery of a new Flatbed Cutter which will soon be commissioned and located in a re-purposed area of the photographic studio space. This machine will initially be staff operated only until its applications have been clearly established.

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  • As an upgrade from our previous belt sander/ disk sander combination machine we have now purchased a new and larger belt sander (Also known as a Linisher) which is situated at the back of the workshop next to the bobbin sander. Normal operation and health and safety rule apply when using this machine – as always if you are unsure then please ask for help before using a new machine. This will be up and running next week.
  • New Morticing Machine which is used for making squared mortice joints in joinery. This will be particularly useful for 1:1 scale detail models. This is a staff only machine at present but should your project require such a detail we will be on hand to use the machine.

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  • New Reference Books – We have added four new books to our modelmaking library.

Architectural Model as Machine by Albert C. Smith, 2004 is an in depth historical look at the application of modelmaking in architecture from antiquity to the present day.

Advanced Architectural Modelmaking, 2010 by Eva Pascual I Miro, Pere Pedrero Carbonero, Ricard Pedrero Coderc. This book goes into detail outlining construction methods and provides a good selection of case studies.

Design for Eternity: Architectural Models from the Ancient Americas, 2015 by Joanna Pillsbury, Patricia Joan Sarro, James Doyle, Juliet Wiersema. Published alongside the exhibition of the same name this book provides an interesting look at modelmaking in ancient American history and displays the often overlooked duel function of models as tools and art.

The Spatial Uncanny, 2001 by James Casebere. The artwork of James Casebere demonstrates the amazing perspective images that can be achieved through photographing interior models.

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  • We have a new restructured and re-branded permanent exhibition space on the first floor here at Humanities Bridgford Street; B.15 ARCHITYPES. The exhibition gives a categorised breakdown of model types and features a wide range of applications in the context of projects you may have to produce during your time here as students and beyond. Please get yourself over to have a good look around pick up a free new guidebook whilst they last!

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  • Lastly we are now on social media Instagram and Twitter where we will be sharing work and events @b15workshop

See you all soon!

Scott & Jim

 

 

Material Application: 5th Year 4.1B Workshop

Earlier in the year we hosted a 5th year workshop on the theme of Material Application which was explored through modelmaking. The workshop participants were tasked with two explorations.

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Firstly a selection of tools were chosen to be the subject of a scaled up study in cardboard. Outcomes were marked based on their attention to detail and accuracy along. Another big consideration was the cleanliness of the models which, when working with white card proves a surprising challenge.

The results were fantastic giving a great range of interesting objects that demanded a new level of patience and consideration.

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Steve Kirk

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The second task focussed on the University of Manchester campus. Students were asked to choose any building of interest that would allow them to explore different materials and methods of modelmaking.

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Methods used included: Wood Turning, Laser cut layering, Silicone Moulding, Resin Casting, Metal Powder Casting, CNC Modelling, Additive Manufacture (3D Printing), Plaster Casting.
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The completed models have now been added to this years end of year show display located on the 3rd floor of the Manchester School of Art’s Benzie Building which is open to the public until June 22nd.

 

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This is the first time we have undertaken a workshop brief. Thanks to everyone who took part for all of your hard work and that you enjoyed it as much as we did!

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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

Mouldmaking using Gel-Flex PVC Compound

Anyone who has experimented with casting will appreciate that the process of designing and making the mould is the most critical part of the process. ‘One-off’ simple block or slab casts can often be produced using scrap mdf to create the framework before pouring and then breaking the frame for removal of the completed cast. This is usually successful but can be restrictive in terms of detailing and can often mean destroying the mould to remove the cast.

In order to capture more intricate details of an object we can use silicone rubber which is widely used in the art and design industry. The main drawback of using silicone is its cost and only having one-purpose once it has cured.

A great alternative we are encouraging for testing is ‘Gel-Flex’ PVC Compound which can be melted, poured, cast into and then remelted and re-purposed to make several moulds with the same amount of material.

Monty gel flex tests (2) Monty gel flex tests (1)Using Gel-Flex

At present we are unable to provide a method of melting the compound in the workshop but this product can be easily used at home by heating using a conventional hob or microwaved in a suitable dish (As Monty explains below – preferably glass!). Instructions are provided with the product which you should always read and make sure you understand thoroughly before using.

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Once the product is in a liquid state it is poured in the same way as with conventional silicone mouldmaking into a box mould over the object you are wanting to cast.

The main drawback to using Gel-Flex is that it isn’t as durable when being used to produce high numbers of casts. Eventually the mould can become over-stretched and can rip. The beauty being that the material can then be melted again and poured to create the mould again – eco considerate and cost effective if you need to mould multiple items.

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Case Study: 1:1 Facade study casts by Monty Dobney

“Gel Flex was great to create the intricate detailing required to for a 1:1 model of my paternated bricks. I first laser cut and glued together (the most time consuming step) an mdf master for the mould to then be covered with the Gel Flex.

After reading the instructions I decided to melt it in a microwave oven, on the first attempt I melted the plastic ‘microwaveable’ container which I had decided to use to melt it in. But two containers stacked seemed to do the trick for holding their form! It was also important to keep checking on it as it can very easily ‘over cook’ which turns it brown (as can be seen in the image below) and a strong burning plastic smell!  I successfully used the Gel Flex to cast from both plaster and wax.”

Monty Gel Flex Tests (4) Monty Gel Flex Tests (5)

Gel Flex is available to buy from 4D Modelshop where you can get 10% student discount or at  Fred Aldous in Manchester and can be found by clicking here.

Mecanoo B.15 Modelmaking Award 2016

We are very pleased to announce the return of the Mecanoo B.15 Modelmaking award for 2016!

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Eligibility and Award Short-listing

The awards are open to MSA Part One Third year students and Sixth Year Part Two students. There will be three prizes for each year.

Short-listing and final judging will focus on process, purpose and finished quality of models within design and presentation stages.


This year we will be joined by Mecanoo in-house modelmaker Laurens Kistemaker who will assist with project short-listing and offer advice on student projects. Laurens will be on hand in the B.15 workshop throughout Friday 15th April and Friday June 3rd to observe and discuss your ideas. Be sure to come along and speak to Laurens for a unique insight from one of Mecanoos’ full-time modelmakers.

Laurens Kistemaker

Judging will take place on  Friday June 10th ahead of the annual MSA show opening where the awards will be presented.

AWARDS PRESENTATION (4)About Mecanoo 

Mecanoo are an award winning international architecture practice based in Delft, The Netherlands. Current projects include a renovation of the New York Public Library and the design for the new Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD) project. Having now opened a Manchester office to support projects in the region the company are eager to strengthen their links with up and coming architecture graduates leaving the Manchester School of Architecture. Last years modelmaking awards yielded a strong interest from all participants and several employment opportunities followed.

Find out more about Mecanoo here: www.mecanoo.nl and click here to watch our short video about Mecanoo Modelmaking.

Following on from last year B.15 will be directing the award and will also support sponsorship for the prize winners.

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BA Graduate Sara Hammond accepting her award last year. Sara has gone on to work for Mecanoo’s Manchester office.

We look forward to seeing what great projects come out of the coming months of work and wish you all the best of luck!

Jim, Scott and the team at Mecanoo

Continuity in Architecture 1:500 Bollington Site model by Will Priest

Will recently completed this working site model of an area of Bollington made from a CNC routed block of Mahogany. Once the CNC job was completed will spend several hours hand finishing details such as the building footprints and road details.

It’s worth considering this aspect when using the CNC route for a wooden model. Even though the bulk of material is removed with the machine there is usually a considerable amount of finishing to be factored in.

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“I required a site model to make massing and programme arrangement decisions in relation to the topography and trees on the site. I chose to use the CNC machine because unlike the laser cutter, it allowed me to get smooth contours at the 1:500 scale and as a result decisions could be made at the smaller scale.

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It required considerable sanding to remove the CNC excavation lines. For this is started with a low grit sand paper slow working my way up to a fine grit. I used mahogany because it is a hardwood with an attractive grain which gave the model a material connection to the actual wooded site.

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The trees were an experiment in process. I wanted to recreate the densely wooded appearance on the site with varied tree types. For this I used a variety of modelling trees, brass wire and pieces of bush.”  Will Priest 2016

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