Social Housing 1:50 Model Kits – Material Politics in Ecuador

Earlier this year students from the Material Politics atelier were involved in a live social housing project in Ecuador. The project was concerned with the design and construction of social housing that was affordable and sustainable. In addition the design required a level of variability determined by location, need or individual preference. In order to convey these potential variants of construction the group designed a model kit that would allow the community to engage with the proposed construction and personally modify the arrangement of their future home through the model.

Each model kit was designed as a series of singular or pre-constructed elements made from laser cut plywood. The production of such parts requires some testing to ensure correct fit of joints as well as the issue of space within the components boxes.

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The 1:50 flexible model showcases a social housing typology designed for the informal neighbourhood of Monte Sina­, in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The typology proposes a construction system which can be adapted to each family’s particular needs and be constructed incrementally, rather than a set building design. As a result, the 1:50 model acts both as a device to communicate the structural principles of the typology and a co-production tool, allowing each family to design their home according to specific needs, wishes and conditions. In each model kit taken to Monte Sina­, a manual is included, explaining the contents of the kit and the structural components out of which the houses are made. The neighbours were therefore able to debate their spatial needs in an illustrative manner and mock up their future houses with ease.

More information on the social housing project:!suya/c10fk

– Eira Capelan, Material Politics 2015

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1.50 model IIThe group produced an accompanying assembly guide for families wanting to use the kits. This serves as a great insight for us to the design of the model and how such thorough thought can be applied and transferred to full scale construction planning. The guide can be viewed online here.

Many thanks to Eira Capelan for her summary of the project.

‘Urban Mining: The St. Johns Quarter’ 1:100 & 1:50 Models by Daniel Kempski

5th Year MA student Daniel Kempski came to the workshop fairly late on in his project with a need to convey multiple aspects of his design proposals through model making. Having successfully completed his two projects and some valuble lessons learnt. Of particular note was the time consuming engraving and cutting of the cork elements. The results of this were fantastic but it should be noted that this can be very time consuming and therefore potentially costly in terms of laser cutting time. We asked if Daniel would write us a piece to accompany some images of his models – he responded in great detail!

We look forward to seeing some more of Daniels projects next year.

The full description of the project and the application of the models made with us is explained here:

“The culture of use:reuse within the construction industry is an emerging area of importance within the field – with firms being placed under increasing scrutiny to change their methods building demolition and deconstruction in order to evolve to meet the growing demands of waste management. It is key to address this issue parallel to the growing dereliction within our cities – with many buildings being demolished once being deemed unusable.

How this can be linked to programme arrives through the notion of an Urban Auction House: a place where individuals can bring their waste materials (arriving as deconstructed elements) and then be further sold to buyers who can make use of these products.

The scheme acts as a hub for all types of individuals within the construction industry. It tries to establish an even playing field for its users, with products being available at a reduced price due to their imperfect nature – enabling the customer to be able to purchase construction materials at a cheaper rate, seeking to reduce the current gap between small and large scale developers within the market.

The aim of the design is to maximise retention of the existing building (Albert Warehouse), while not constraining myself to remain within the existing structures parameters and potentially harming the programmatic outputs. I aimed to change and manipulate these aspects of the existing form that I felt did not fulfil its true architectural potential.

An entire new central bay is established between two existing segments of the build – enabling a more focused entrance point to be generated – recessed back from the roadside, with an element of grandeur created through the staggered, vaulted stonework.

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I feel it was key to investigate the building in two different scale models: a 1:100 Section through the scheme in order to understand the internal workings programmatically; and a 1:50 Bay Study to investigate the materiality and light qualities.

1:100 Model

One of the more demanding changes to the existing structure arrives in the form of the central bay being deconstructed and replaced by a primary structure primarily formed by reclaimed stonework sourced from Quay House (one of the four Urban Mines). It was vital to interject a new, more accessible entrance to the building for the main visitors entrance in order to establish a focal point for the east facade (for sake of both functionality and aesthetics).

Recessing the entrance away from the pavement provides a much needed forecourt, reinforcing this new change of threshold through vaulted stonework encapsulating the individual as they proceed to enter the Auction House.

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The Auction Hall is embodied within a double-height space, overlooking the River Irwell – creating the sense of theatre to be instilled upon the individual, with grand, exposed structure and a resonating acoustic acting as key protagonists. A raised platform further enables individuals to spectate during the auctions.

In contrast, the Lower Ground Floor functions as a back-of-house storage and preparation area. The workers gather and move the materials during their journey within the Auction House.

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1:50 Model

In order to gain a practical understanding of the atmosphere generated by the materials reprogrammed into southern elevation’s perforated brickwork facade,a scaled 1:50 model was constructed. The aim of the model was to investigate the internal light qualities predominantly, to ensure that the transitional space could not be deemed unwelcoming.

The model was also generated to create a built example of a key bay detail that repeats several times along that facade. The proportion between punctured brickwork and the actual structural masonry is key to enable the maximum introduction of natural light, while retaining structural integrity. The light qualities within the transitional spaces are key towards ensuring the success of the internal programme of the building – circulation spaces are there to offer relief in order to create a sense of separation between the Auction House and Galleries.

The large, double height spaces allow natural light to arrive from both the VSCs and punctured brick facade, allowing the central exhibition pieces to have their qualities maximised, as well as the space itself.

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Making the Models

It was key to establish distinguishing characteristics between each of the materials used, as the scheme revolves purely around material reclamation (both architecturally and programmatically) It was vital to represent materials under same semantic in the building specification, as the same material choice in the model – enabling an easy understanding of the intended material discourse: e.g. obvious differentiation between stonework, timber, masonry, etc.

I felt it was key not to oversaturate the models with materials, instead working with three or four strong materials that work complementary to each other provided end products that felt cohesive.

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Within the 1:100 sectional model it was key to establish a strong juxtaposition of materials in order to depict what elements of the build are retained and newly interjected. This is attempted by utilising 3D printed elements to narrate the qualities of the proposed stonework bay, with the etched 3mm plywood representing part of the retained masonry bay.

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For the 1:50 bay study, 3mm cork board was used as the primary component to replicate the texture and ultimate aesthetic of the masonry – this was to ensure that minimal finishes had to be applied to the already delicate nature of the perforation post-cutting, providing the facade with a more natural demeanour.

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Plaster-casts were made in order to distinguish a level of material separation within the space – focusing primarily between what is stonework and what is masonry. Both materials are reused, as recognised within the programme of the build, and thus is was key to attempt to create a more textured, used finish – achieved by placing a larger build-up of petroleum jelly within the moulds, creating a more textured finish.

Through the process of making both of these models, I feel that a greater understanding has been generated towards the atmosphere created within a building through the interrelationship of materials used within. It is far too easy to remain focused upon the external qualities of a site – and have that overshadow the internal conditions.

Combining both digital fabrication and hand crafted elements provides the ability to work efficiently and precisely, without generating a too-clean portrayal of the scheme. Regardless of the desired atmosphere within the build, I feel it is key to always develop your model-making understanding and techniques; with many components that could be made incredibly easily by hand, are now subject to digital methods due to sake of ease.”

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1:50 Site Model for Extreme Cold Accommodation by Tom Smith

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Recent Part 1 Graduate Thomas Smith was one of the few shortlisted and eventual prize winners in our recent modelmaking award scheme. His project which looks at ‘Fuel poverty accommodation for an extreme cold climate’ balanced the benefits of laser cut components with fine hand crafting to made a crisp clean presentation standard model.

By considering the next steps beyond a medium, in this case laser cutting, the results can be fantastic and the skill and understanding conveyed is self evident.

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“The model conveys the overall structure and form of two of the building typologies I have designed. The elements of the model act in the same way as the structural elements I propose to incorporate.
The finish of the plywood when etched works well to represent the replaceable larch cladding, and the smooth un-etched finish replicated the internal finish of the structures and the walls and floors will all be finished with ply. The clear acrylic represents glass and the polycarbonate shell, allowing me the illustrate internal conditions in terms of lighting.

I feel that I have learnt to ensure that I plan how I am going to construct the model first to ensure that what I want to produce is achievable.”

Tom’s finished model is shown below. We wish him all the best for the future!

‘Peacock Museum’ 1:50 Cross Section Model by Mahishini Vasudevn


In another First Year case study we asked Mahishini Vasudevn to tell us about her recently completed project for the ‘Resolution’ brief:

“For our first project, habitat, I chose Peacock as my animal client so I made a design that would stand proudly and attract the eyes of the people just like the Peacock would do. To portray this, my design had a cantilevered floor which protrudes over the pavement of my site in Charles Street. The facade was designed to have stained glass which had the same colours as the peacock. In my design I have mainly focused on grasping the attention of people instantaneously.

In order to convey the most information about my design, I made a sectional model to give an insight to the structural aspects and the interior detailing of the design like the cantilevered stairs and the circulation around the building.


In the case of materials, for the glass facade I have used coloured acrylic as it best represents the colour and transparency that is implied in my design.  As for the columns, beams and floor joists I used Styrene H-columns which were sprayed in black to represent steel frames. The floors were made with MDF wood to replicate the wooden floors. The pathway with granite paving slabs was laser engraved on grey card to show the colour and the small amount of texture that I wanted to show. The interior was done with wood and acrylic. In my model I have tried my best to produce them in such a way that they almost represent the same materials that would be used in reality if it were to be built.


Through making this model I have learnt new techniques of model making. It has taught me more about my design like the structural connections and how a design comes together as I was able to have a 3D view of my design. I’ve learnt how to plan my work and handle time with care.

Model making has been the best experience I’ve had as a first year architecture student and I’ve enjoyed working in the workshop.”

IMG_8084 This model is put together with a good selection of materials that help to demonstrate the different component of the design shown in section. Mahishini made good use of pre existing strip materials by choosing styrene H beams to construct what would be the steel frame of her building if made at 1:1. Strip materials such as these are extremely useful in section modelling and we hope to stock a range in the near future. In the mean time they are available from 4D Modelshop where you can also register for a student discount quoting either myself or Jim as your tutor here at Manchester.

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‘Arch Game Lab’ 1:50 Cross Section Model by Estelle Xin Yun Ang


First Year Student Estelle Xin Yun Ang has just completed a 1:50 section model of her proposal for the re-purpose of vacant space under a railway arch way. Estelle kindly described her project for us:

“I chose to build a model in which part of the facade was removed to communicate the details of interior spaces and the assembly of structural components. The railway arch was modelled as a section to show how it acts as the ceiling of my design. I modelled the underground and made a window to give a good view into the basement. The facade detail was quite important in order for me to express the sense of gaming, which was why I took the time to paint the tiny offcuts.


The exterior spaces surrounding my design is extensively graffitied which inspired me to design a gaming studio where the potential of play is explored. I incorporated game buttons into the design of the facade to convey my idea of gaming.


To model the context, I decided to use plywood as the texture provides a good representation of the brickwork for the archway. For the ground/base, I used mdf wood and applied wood stain to give a good contrast to the light coloured arch. I spray painted the laser cut mdf in grey to show the concrete floor plates. For the walls I chose to use vac-formed styrene to achieve a permanent curved shape. I added strips of acrylic between the two pieces of styrene to make up the thickness of the wall and that helped save some material.

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I overcame the difficulties of modelling the curved shape of my design and I have learned to use different techniques on different materials to achieve the best result. After a few trials and errors I was able to understand the construction of my design. This is what I find interesting because there are so many ways in making a model and through experimentation I get to know which method works best for my design.”

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What is clearly shown in this model is the attention to making each element correct for assembly. This patience and consideration is something we should all aspire to when designing and making. Often one of the hardest things to do during a project is accept that something you have made is incorrect and should therefore be re-made. Whilst this may seem like wasted time it is exactly the opposite and by taking a step back from the project to look at what you have learned you will see that such mistakes are necessary for your own understanding of the design as well as gaining a better understanding of material and machine constraints when making.

We hope to see more projects with this level of thought and consideration in the coming weeks leading up to the final submissions and in future first years.

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1st Year History of Architecture Paradigms Project

We’ve had a busy few weeks in B.15 with the last week and half dominated by this first year project.

In conjunction with a series of paradigms lectures first year students have been asked to choose a piece of historically significant architecture to replicate and study through multiple means. One of the requirements of this brief has been to produce a section model allowing the observer to view the construction framework and internal layout of the building they are looking at.

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The results from this have been very good with groups taking time to consider different aspects of the real constructions and how they might best be represented at scale and within the time frame allowed to produce the model. Materiality was a prime consideration with the most successful examples providing a balance of different materials across the model construction.

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Things to Consider: Always Printing Plans

One crucial part of getting these projects started was to get correctly scaled plans printed for reference. A number of groups hadn’t considered this necessary as they had smaller plans and scale rules for conversion. We highly recommend getting at least one printed correctly scaled site plan for reference when producing your models. Without one to hand you will spend a great deal of time referring to cad or wrongly scaled drawings for reference when you could easily be comparing your model components to an accurate plan on your desk .

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Photographing Models

As part of submissions students also had to produce a pamphlet detailing the key facts about their chosen piece of architecture. This meant taking photographs for their models had a duel use providing images for their pamphlet and their portfolios. Anyone wishing to use the studio space to take photos of their current or past work should drop in and we can advise on availability and help you set up to shoot.


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Stahl House 22 (9)Frank House (20)Frank House (27)The completed models were then placed together with the other submission requirements in a small exhibition of paradigm studies back at the studio space.

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Some great work and valuable lessons learned for all – first years are really pushing the expectations for the next waves of students! Well done everyone – see you for the next project!

Scott and Jim

‘Testing The Machines Of A Third Industrial Revolution’ Cross Section Presentation Model, Abhi Chauhan

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This project was completed in the final weeks of the last academic year by 6th year MA Student Abhi Chauhan. The project is the follow on to the 1:100 section we featured several months back. What is particularly appropriate about the styling of this project is the subject matter or the site. Being a 3D Printing Manufacturing facility of the future means no better method of production that the technology in question. This is definitely something to consider when devoting yourself to a major project like this – for example, if you are building an eco-concious design then that ethic should carry through to your presentation and thus model construction. This project sticks to its purpose through and through.

Abhi has been since graduated and started a full time position at Grimshaws in London. We wish him all the best in his future career!


This piece will be on display as part of our B.15:45 Exhibition so be sure to have a look in person.

Abhi has kindly written us this extensive account of the theory and construction methods he used in this stunning final piece. Enjoy!

This model is a final exhibition 1:50 sectional model. The slice is located through a key component of the building scheme titled ‘The Machines Of A Third Industrial Revolution’ The model slice – in detail depicts the processes of 3d printing of 1:1 architectural components, to be tested on a stalled concrete frame bounding the site. The design of the facility is such that it sits into a trench in the ground and features a folded roof structure which integrates a 3d printed park at ground level with the industrial processes of the facility within. The scale of the facility has been designed to be oversized, to deal with the variety of large scales that are needed in the manufacture of components for the construction industry.

The model builds upon the 1:100 sectional model completed earlier this year, and takes on a similar aesthetic to that of a cross section through a large industrial machine hanging of the walls of the facility.

The model has been constructed with a variety of different techniques.


The base has been CNC cut from x15 18mm mdf sheets layered and glued together. This method, although not the most cost effective meant that each layer of the base could be designed to incorporate slots and grooves within for housing of the various components that would eventually complete the model.

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The red structural parts forming the portal steel frame structure hung within the trench were all constructed in 3ds max and then 3d printed on the ABS printer. These parts were then spray-painted to get the final red finish seen. Other components that were printed, include some of the facade components, and the series of storage tanks and pipes to the right of the trench. This method of manufacture was chosen sue to the time constraints, the subject matter of the project, and the complex shape of some of the parts.


The roof was also 3d printed and a shelling script in grasshopper gave the folded structure a thickness to make watertight for 3d printing. This part was the most challenging to construct and after a variety of failed tests the part was printed at Hobs due to their larger printer beds (up to 1500mm wide) which allowed for the part to be printed as one component. Finishing the roof are a series of card panels (depicting a metal skin) which were laser cut and engraved. These were bonded to the 3d printed structural roof frame using spray mount.

The material archives (in white) set into the base of the model were the last parts to be 3d printed on the model, and were done on the powder 3d printers. These constructs were notoriously fragile and once installed in the base had their edges and portions of their rebuilt in white pollyfilla.

The remaining components making up the model have been formed from either 2 or 3mm clear acyclic. For example the 3d printers on the -2 level have been laser cut form a mixture of 2 and 3mm acrylic and then assembled to snap fit and slot together to avoid gluing. This clear aesthetic was chosen for a variety of the model parts as can be seen.

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The landscaped elements including the cranes and gantry and the main internal staircase were all laser cut from 2mm mdf. These part were all spray painted to the final grey and black finish shown.

The facade skin (resembling an ETFE system) was vacuum formed over a 3d printed mould. The mould was designed with groves in it and as such were expressed in the final plastic shells.

Before any parts were manufactured every part was modelled in 3d and then assembled to create a master digital model. (see image) Due to the large amount of parts on this model this was necessary to eliminate any unforeseen mistakes which would be harder to rectify once parts had already been cut.


Each part of the model was treated as a mini project i.e. the main facade, the main stair case, the 3d printers on the ground floor, etc. Once these were all assembled and sprayed the whole model was put together like a giant jigsaw. Due to the fact that almost every part was digitally fabricated there were few tolerance errors during final assembly.

The model took approximately 3 weeks to translate from an actual section into model drawings and then 3 weeks to get all the parts cut and painted and a final week to assemble together.

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Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem, First Year Paradigms Project

This first year group have made a great set of models to demonstrate the various design considerations used in this Louis Kahn design. The building was designed in 1969 but never built.

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The group decided to produce a 1:50 section model showing the internal construction. This was achieved through a combination of laser cut and hand made components. The original design proposal was to be made from stone and would appear consistent throughout. For this reason the group decided to make the model’s using wood with light staining to blend the lighter timber with the MDF sheet.

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The groups 1:100 model (below) shows the extent of the proposed completed building. The group used pine to cut the outer wall components which were stained. A nice feature of this model is the ability to remove the roof sections to view the internal layout.

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This is the groups site plan model demonstrating its relationship geographically to the nearby mosques which had be a key element of the design from an early stage. The line of sight is shown using red thread across the landscape.

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Cross Sectional Bridge Model, East Croydon Pedestrian and Cycle Bridge, Charlie Kentish


This 1:50 scale cross section model used laser cut cardboard for the supporting structure and 3D Powder Printing for the parametric roof design. The roof section was created digitally using Grasshopper. The project was commended by the Manchester Society of Architects in the design awards for 2012.

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