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.


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 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

Mecanoo B.15 Modelmaking Awards 2017 Shortlist

In partnership with Mecanoo we are please to announce this years awards shortlist! This years work has been incredibly difficult to reduce down for this list and we at B.15 and Mecanoo want everyone to know how great the work has been. Well done all!

Final Judging will take place tomorrow (9/6/17) afternoon with the award winners being announced from 18.00 at the Exhibition opening. Good luck everyone!

The complete document can be downloaded here:

Announcing ‘Mecanoo B.15 Modelmaking Awards 2017’!

We are pleased to announce for the third year running, the Mecanoo B.15 Modelmaking awards!

This years’ awards are given for both practical outputs and personal intention that demonstrates a good understanding of why and how to use modelmaking effectively in design.
Judging will focus on each students’ overall approach to modelmaking in their design work and will be critical of its application within the context of the brief, chosen scales, materials and overall finished quality.


Short-listing will occur in the weeks leading up to the MSA show opening  where final judging and awards will be presented by Mecanoo on June 9th. Anybody interested in being considered please make yourself known to us during your time at the workshop. 
Students from 3rd year BA (Hons) Architecture and in a change from previous years MArch years 1 + 2 are both eligible to make the short-list for one of six awards.

******* Open-house launch event Tuesday 14th February *******

*******Exclusive to MSA students*******

***This Event is Now Fully Booked***

To officially launch this years awards and allow students to find out more about the practice, Mecanoo will be hosting an open-house event at their Manchester Princess Street office taking place on Tuesday 14th February 17.30 – 19.30. MSA students are invited to drop in for a short introduction to Mecanoo from Architect Patrick Arends and Modelmaker Laurens Kistemaker. A good opportunity to network and find out more about this years award scheme from the people who judge it.

princess street office

‘Ask the Modelmaker’ Student Drop-In day Wednesday 15th February

Mecanoos in-house modelmaker Laurens Kistemaker will be coming to the workshop to see ongoing projects and offer advice to anyone. He will be around all day and happy to consult with you on your ongoing or upcoming work.


We look forward to seeing some great work from everyone in the coming months.
Find out more about Mecanoo on their website:

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 


Prizes were presented by Laurens Kistemaker and Professor Tom Jefferies to the winners who were as follows:

1st Prize MArch: Daniel Kempski & Peter Lee



2nd Prize MArch: Natalie Dosser & Diana Muresan



3rd Prize MArch: Sam Beddingfield



1st Prize BA (Hons) Architecture: Ciara Tobin

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2nd Prize BA (Hons) Architecture: Akhil Mathew



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

Mecanoo B.15 Modelmaking awards 2016 Shortlist

On Friday June 3rd Laurens Kistemaker toured the soon to be open end of year show choosing outstanding modelmaking projects for this years shortlist.

laurens shortlist

The process proved very difficult with a great selection of varied work on display but a list was eventually decided on to be further judged.

The complete shortlist can be viewed here complete with the students statements about their work.

Judging will be taking place tomorrow afternoon with representatives from mecanoo and MSA on the panel with the winners being announced shortly after at the end of year show opening. We’ll post the results here ASAP!

Good luck to everyone and congratulations on a great show!

Jim and Scott


“People, Place, Purpose” Mecanoo Architects Open Lecture at MSA

People Place Purpose open lecture Francesco and Laurens

“People, Place, Purpose” An open lecture from Mecanoo Architects
at the Manchester School of Architecture on Thursday 14th April 2016

Francesco Veenstra, Partner & Architect, Head of the Mecanoo Manchester Office
Laurens Kistemaker, Modelmaker at the Mecanoo Delft Office


Held in conjunction with the Mecanoo B.15 Modelmaking award we invite you to join us for a presentation of the past a present projects of international award winning architects Mecanoo. Francesco Veenstra will take us through the history and design ethics of Mecanoo culminating with the current MECD project for the University of Manchester. Laurens Kistemaker will explain how ideas are developed at their Delft modelmaking workshop from concept to presentation.

This lecture is FREE and open to all
Thursday 14th April at 17.00 in the Cordingley Lecture Theatre,
Humanities Bridgeford Street Building, University of Manchester, M139PL

Hope you can join us!

Scott and Jim

Mecanoo B.15 Modelmaking Award 2016

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


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.


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: 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.


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

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!

Mecanoo B.15 Modelmaking Awards


After many months of hard work from everyone at MSA the end of year show was officially opened at a private view event on Friday. We were pleased to include a new award recognising the use of modelmaking in students coursework.

Judging took place during Friday afternoon where we were joined by representatives from Mecanoo, Professor Tom Jefferies, Dr Ray Lucas to mark the short-listed work in person. From the outset it was clear this was going to be a difficult competition to win due to the high quality of the featured work.


Spending time to look at each piece in detail, the judges marked out of 50 based on our criteria.


The total scores caused a heated debate about the winners resulting in the decision to restructure our prizes from one to three winners for BA (Hons) as final scoring was so close.

Ernst ter Horst and Patrick Arends from Mecanoo noted that they were “inspired by the exceptional level of quality throughout and it’s important to stress these winners were all on a knife edge with scoring

The winner of the MArch prize was of “outstanding quality and creativity delivering a fascinating model of beguiling interest!” 

Winners were:

Overall BA (Hons) Winner – Paul Thornber


Highly Commended BA (Hons) 2nd Place – Sara Hammond


Highly Commended BA (Hons) 3rd Place – Thomas Smith


Winner of the MArch Prize - Hajir Alttahir


Individual descriptions of the winning projects written by the students can be found in the complete short list document available to view here.


We are thrilled with the response this award has had and are confident we can continue to recognise the great modelmaking work of our students with this as an annual award. As stated by Mecanoo we would like to repeat how close the scoring for this was and that every project picked was done so because of great quality and individual attitude to making which was believed to be fantastic so well done to everyone this year!

Good luck in your future careers!

Scott and Jim at B.15