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.

6th Year Material Politics (10) 6th Year Material Politics (13) 6th Year Material Politics (18)

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

1.50 model
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.

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

Tom Smith (2)

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.

Tom Smith (6) Tom Smith (8)

“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!

Coexistence in Theory 3rd Year Mancunian Way Site Plan

3rd year Coexistence in Theory has been focussing on a stalled site located next to the Mancunian way in Manchester. The group will use this abandoned infrastructure to propose new interventions that will bridge the site bringing in to back into functional use.
3rd Year Site Model (1) 3rd Year Site Model (4) The group decided to represent a large portion of the Mancunian way which runs through the city along with building massing and defined roadways across the site. This was done by overlaying grey card board pieces to act as raised pavements creating contrast with the light coloured plywood base below which provides the road areas.

3rd Year Site Model (11) 3rd Year Site Model (7)The stalled site in question is represented in more detail due to its importance and comparative skeletal appearance to the rest of the buildings in the area. This was made using laser cut ply whilst the main massing of the rest of the model is made us of blocks of pine cut and sanded to shape.

3rd Year Site Model (13) 3rd Year Site Model (16) Group member Georgina Erotokritou described why the group are producing the model for their projects:

“It’s the easiest and most understandable way to explain ideas, space and arrangements in 3D space. Because this model covers a wider context it is easier for the viewer to see the entire picture and see how our buildings connect to the site.” 

The model is now being used as a stage to present the groups ideas as they develop throughout the year.

3rd Year Site Model (17)

Urban Design: Principles and Practice by Rachel Kerr of MSc Planning

Our first student in this year was an unexpected one. For some time now planning tutors have been encouraging their students to branch out into modelmaking as a tool to explain their proposals. Rachel Kerr decided to jump in and, having prepared her initial drawings for the model over the break, had no problem doing so.

Rachel Described the project for us:

The brief was to identify a disused corner site with a total area of less than 1 hectare for which we had to produce a redevelopment proposal. The site I worked on is to the west of Salford Central Station and is currently used for car parking (although it has been identified within the Salford Central Regeneration Strategy). The assignment requested that we assess the characteristics of the site and the surrounding area and use this analysis to produce a detailed brief for proposed redevelopment. Due consideration was given to urban design principles such as frontage, scale and public space. It was my intention to ensure that the site sits comfortably in within the surrounding area, whilst utilising the corner location to create a landmark for passing traffic.

The project uses simple material differences to divide the elements of the site. Because the model was made from laser cut ply there was the unavoidable scorching of the material edge. Rather that removing this, Rachel decided to capitalise on the burnt colour and stained the top surface of her site context buildings to match given them a dark colour in contrast to the sanded and clean look of her site in question.

Due to the small scale (1:500) of the model the site and road details we represented as engrave lines as any more definition was deemed of little importance to the overall representation required.

Once again the locally harvested ‘trees’ from our own model tree plant, as used on other projects, came in very useful and provided a natural and great finishing scale accompaniment along with a small number of 1:500 cars. Grassed or ‘Green’ areas are represented with a mottled green paper that gives a subtle contrast to the birch ply base.

The model was completed over approximately 3 days and is a good example of how to simply but effectively show the context of a site.

A reimagining of slums , QED, Alexandr Valakh Part 2

Back in March we looked at Alex’s 1:100 model exploring the assembly of his proposed site. Alex completed his model series by producing a 3D printed site model and finally a cross section model showing the relationship between the individual units and the optional outer skin facade.

Alex 3d Print (1)

After several days in the chemical bath to remove support material Alex placed his 3D printed model in a purpose made display case to protect it from intrigued hands! It’s always worth noting that forms such as this require a lot of support material when made on the ABS plastic printer which often means extended periods of time post-printing in the chemical bath.Alex 3d Print (20)
Alex final Project (4) Alex final Project (11) Alex final Project (15) Alex final Project (18)The outer skin of the model was made using paper components that were CAD designed and laser cut before being hand assembled. The completed skin was fixed onto the plywood frame carefully using superglue.
Alex final Project (20) Alex final Project (21) Mass produced standardised components were designed to be quickly assembled to create the form much like the full scale proposal offers. Alex final Project (23) Alex Final Major Section (1)Alex Final Major Section (3)Alex Final Major Section (6)Alex Final Major Section (13)Alex Final Major Section (43)Alex Final Major Section (74)Alex has produced some fantastic models here over the last two years and we encourage everyone to look at this level of work for inspiration. All the best for the future Alex!

Alex final Project (8)

‘In Limbo’ Presentation Site Model, Laura Minca

Laura SiteIntimate Cities student Laura Minca has designed an ever changing settlement within the city centre. The site, on the corner of Whitworth Street and Princess Street in Manchester has been a site of a stalled project for some years now. Laura’s concept would allow the site to continue to expand and develop as required with a construction crane remaining on site to build as the site needs evolve.



Laura gives us a description of her project below:

The project aims to initially investigate the city of Manchester under a temporal lens, focusing on the spaces ‘in-between‘ worlds, ‘in-between’ stages of development that resulted following the economic downturn. At the heart of the city’s commercial and conservation area lies Origin – unfinished, incomplete, abandoned, hiding behind faded slogans of glamour and projected fantasies of luxury living and work opportunities.

The research and output developed as part of the [Intimate Cities] Atelier will be focused on the current condition of the Roma groups that have targeted the United Kingdom ever since Romania’s entrance in the European Union in 2007. Although their ‘nomadic’ condition is debatable and its deriving taxonomy should be reassessed, the Roma groups provide a fascinating case study in terms of a traveling community’s continuous struggle to adapt within fluctuating social, political and economic climates. 

The temporal context of the project is set starting with January 2014 when the transitional controls on free movement adopted by the UK will end. Following the lift of the travel restrictions and free access to the UK labor market, a high influx of Romani groups are expected to arrive and settle within British and implicitly, Mancunian territory.

Drawing on dichotomies of spatial purity and impurity, on notions of boundary, transience and spatial justice, the scheme proposes a temporary, modular structure that plugs into the existing site infrastructure – a contemporary Roma camp, aimed to provide the incoming community with a set of architectural and spatial principles that develops incrementally.

The focus on temporary, adaptable, shared spaces challenges the sedentary predisposition specific to Western architecture and its affinity towards grand, enduring structures. The approach is driven by the idea that architecture functions as an ideology in built form, that homes are more than just fixed dwellings, more than just sheltering devices: they are tools that enable the communities that use architecture to carve their identities and redefine visions of themselves and their collective subconscious.

This is not a scheme about pristine, perfectly aligned spaces and sleek technologies, but an exploration of imperfection, of the random and the improvised. A breathing, ever-changing structure that echoes the unconventional ways of the Romani people and their ability to adapt in any given environment. (Laura Minca 2014)

Concept renders of how the site would look.

E1 R3_Context2

The scaffold construction that makes up the bulk of the design was represented by engraving the framework on acrylic sheeting and rubbing in acrylic paint to the define the details. This effect is much more efficient that attempting to construct each scaffold piece or laser cutting the frame at this scale.
Laura Minca  (6) Laura Minca  (8) Laura Minca  (9)Laura used wood stain to define the site from the surrounding area. this was achieved by masking the edges and applying more coats of stain to darken her site footprint.

Laura Minca  (11) Laura Minca  (12) Laura Minca  (15) To create the tent like canopy above each area of the site Laura used a vac-formed sheet to create the draped fabric aesthetic desired. This was achieved by creating a former using Ureol Modelboard which was sanded to the correct shape then placed on a base to sit on the bed of the vac former.Laura Minca  (18) Laura Minca  (19) The vac forming process involved heating up styrene vac-forming plastic which is then suction formed around any given shape.Laura Minca  (20)

The completed form is then taken from the bed and trimmed to size for use on the model. Laura Minca  (21)

Laura Minca  (25)Further detail was added to the internal floor spaces using laser cut cardboard fixed to plywood floor plates. This plates were then assembled and slotted into place into the main framework before having the roof canopies fitted above.

Laura Minca (3) Laura used brass etched scaled figures to convey the use of the spaces with figures dotted around the site and near the context. Small pine cones were used to represent trees which always works well with wooden based models. These can be found on various trees and bushes around campus! Laura Minca (4)

Once all scale elements were added and surround massing models were made using Jelutong block, the model was moved into the studio for photographing.

Laura Minca (3) Laura Minca (19) Laura Minca (24) Laura Minca (45) Laura Minca (84)

A reimagining of slums, QED, Alexandr Valakh

concept 1

6th year Alexandr Valakh has been researching the anatomy of slum functionality in Rio De Janeiro. Slum areas typically develop due to inadequate employment opportunities and the necessity to live resulting in the irregular and somewhat chaotic appearance of the constructions.

Alex module study (1)Alex module study (2)Alex module study (6)

To reinvent this Alex is proposing a loose set of structural rules that bring some much needed order the the slum idea. By implementing this theory Alex’s idea will allow a basic industry infastructure to help support formal employment opportunities as well as making efficient use of the same geographical footprint.

concept 2

Alex’s bold ‘plug-in-city’ concept involved units that can be adapted and extended to suit their purpose in the community. Units can be extended in any direction thus allowing the construction to climb and create a towering peak. Alex has called the project the ‘Stacked City Prototype’.

Alex module study (8)

Alex produced this 1:100 scale structural flow model to study variable layouts and in turn the conditions it would create for the people using the site. The model was extensively designed in CAD and made using laser cut acrylic and ply wood components to represent different material elements.

Alex (17) IMG_2850 PS IMG_2878 PS IMG_2841 PS IMG_2851ps

Warrington Town Centre Flow Model, Baljit Panesar

Baljit is using a slide system to convey the different mapping she has looked at in her study of Warrington High Street.

The key question for this project was ‘What is the future of the High Street?’.

The project has looked at empty shop spaces and their potential for non retail use as a reinvention of the traditional high street. Baljit mapped the variety of creative industries in the Warrington area and is looking at the potential to place them within the empty high street store spaces.

Contested Peripheries Baljit Panesar (5)

Her main site focus is the Garnetts Cabinet Works which is due to be demolished. By using this site as an ‘incubator’ or hub for creative services, Baljit proposes a ‘launch site’ for services that would normally be based outside of the high street with the Garnetts site acting as the gateway for those services.

This working model is constructed as a grid allowing pins to be placed in the board to indicate changes in site flow at specific locations across the high street and bigger city site.Points of intervention can easily be updated by simply relocating the relevant pin.  Each mapped industry or feature has been screen printed onto acrylic slides which are stored in the base of the model and slotted in above the engraved map and below the grid. This model will continue to change and inform as this project is refined and understood, partly due to the creation of the model itself.

Venice Plaster Detail Model, Becky Prince

Made using an MDF mold this detail model aimed to demonstrate the window detail Becky was focussing on at her site. The mold proved to be the most time consuming aspect of the model but turned out successfully. It is always worth spending longer on mold design to ensure a good cast.


The mold was made using MDF which can absorb moisture from the plaster mix and therefore needs to be well sealed before pouring. Becky used Vaselene to act as barrier and release agent for the cast.

The internal void was made by using blue foam to allow for contracting of the cast as it cured and then be removed. This too was well coated in Vaselene to aid removal.

Once cured the MDF was unscrewed and removed before cutting out the internal blue foam. Additional window details were added using initially laser cut and then modified components.


Manchester City Master Plan Model, Architecture of the Processional City, Atelier VI

Back at the start of December we covered one groups start on their master plan block model of part of Manchester City Centre during the still ongoing spate of block models being made in the workshop. The project was part of ‘Architecture of the Professional City’, Atelier VI at Manchester School of Architecture. You can find out more about their studies on their Blog by clicking here.