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.


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.


Steve Kirk







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.


















Methods used included: Wood Turning, Laser cut layering, Silicone Moulding, Resin Casting, Metal Powder Casting, CNC Modelling, Additive Manufacture (3D Printing), Plaster Casting.



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.



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!

Scott and JimDSC05510

“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

Making the U.o.M. Snowglobe Model – A Guide to ‘Chemi-Wood’ Block Modelling

Exterior of Manchester UniversityThis project was given to me from the University estates department who were wanting a representation of the University of Manchester’s Whitworth hall and tower that make up the Oxford road side of the old quadrangle complex. The model would then be used in a snow globe for a Digital Christmas Card sent out across the University.

As the project required the model to be waterproof I decided it would be a good opportunity to record the process of using Ureol, commonly known as Chemi-Wood or Model Board.

Whilst in this case I am using Chemi-Wood as the main material, the methods used are applicable to any kind of massing representation – this one having perhaps more detail than normally required due to its purpose.

Here is my step by step record of the process undertaken for around 5 hours over a period of a week when ever I found any time! I have included my rough sketches and thought process description to help understand how I chose to tackle the difference aspects of this representation.



The model had to be a maximum of 100mm long to allow it to fit within a snow globe. Firstly I scaled the CAD Drawings based on the required size and printed a plan and elevation to directly reference the model components as building each one. Having an accurate plan to work to is essential. Always check and double check it is printed to the correct scale.

DSC05143With the printed plans as a guide I began dividing the model into components to be massed out, thinking in my head and in turn on paper about any pitches or areas that may need to be removed later.

By identifying commonly sized components, or close to the same size you can then best determine how to cut your material to avoid waste. In this case the height and width of two components happened to be the same so I started by cutting a piece at 22mm wide.


Primary Massing
Cutting a block at 22mm width gave me a thin sheet off-cut which will come in handy later. Always keep hold of thin strips like this as they prove very useful when making add on details.
DSC05146 By putting a piece of sandpaper on a flat board we can easily sand the sawn face of a piece of material to flatten off any saw marks. With chemi-wood in particular this is very straight forward and gives a smooth clean finish. Taking the time to remove saw marks at each stage of production will save time in the long run and helps to keeps the resulting components looking crisp.


Creating a pitched roof

Accurately marking on guides when creating a pitch is recommended as without them we can only presume the machines are set accurately which, given the number of people who use our workshop, is often doubtful!
DSC05155 DSC05156 Once the piece has been cut to the required length it can then be sanded down using the disc sander, in this case removing the minimal amount of material on the edge to create the pitch as marked. Blocks with larger areas to be removed should be cut down closer to the marked line before sanding to avoid burning out the sanding discs and creating excessive force on the machine. Note that I have marked the pitch at the end of the piece to ensure there is enough material to hold on to whilst sanding reducing risk of injury. Always check your marked guide lines as you go.

DSC05163Once the pitch is complete the piece can be removed from the block. DSC05168Smaller components that require pitches can sometime be achieved as part of a bigger block using the end of a longer strip of material as shown below. Again this was created using the disk sander and clear marking as a guide. For now this piece will remain attached until the massing detail has been added.  DSC05182The tower section was measured out from the plan and two-stage pitch added. This photograph shows the second pitch marked out ready to be sanded.


Massing Details

The second phase of the model is to establish what details need to be added to take the blocks to a more familiar form. As with all models a level of detail needs to be established across all components. In this case the archway and repeated buttress’s are of notable presence and so provided the basis for the other relief details as sketched below.


DSC05191Using the thin sheet off-cut from the first block, I took the elevation details of the archway from the CAD drawings and created the archway port surround and turret details by layering the two. Laser cutting is great for such intricate parts but presents a problem when finishing due to the fragile nature of such thin components. Care had to be taken when sanding off burn marks so spare components can come in handy if there are any breakages. DSC05193I used a medium thickness cyanoacrylate ( AKA superglue) to carefully stick the layered details together. Only small spots of glue were used and can be applied with the end of a cocktail stick or a scalpel blade.

The layered up arch facade can then be applied to the primary massing from earlier taking care to center it as marked. DSC05194Once fixed the material filling the arch is removed in notches using the bandsaw – controlled easily thanks to the extension we have the piece built on with a push-stick. DSC05197After hand filing the curve of the arch using a round file the piece can be parted off from the extension and excess material carefully sanded back to the marked line taken from our printed scaled plan. DSC05201

STOP PRESS! MISTAKE DETECTED!DSC05212Leaving the workshop and walking down past the Whitworth Hall after work I noticed an error with my model so far in that I had wrongly presumed the footprint of the tower made up the entire plan print as shown. This in fact turns out to be wrong and the tower makes up just over half of the block footprint.

No need to panic!

By reviewing the plans and evaluating the oversight It was easily rectified by modifying the piece using the top center as a reference to reduce the overall size and roof pitch line. We all make mistakes so no need to worry if this happens when your making your model – its how we handle them that matters.

What ever you do don’t ignore it – especially if it is connecting to another part of the model as there is always a knock on effect with errors that will come back to haunt you! Try to take the time to do it right even if it means starting again.


 Massing Details Continued

The next details I made were the spires at the top of the towers on the end of the Whitworth Hall. to create these I took a square section of chemi-wood from the offcuts and fixed it into the chuck of a hand drill.

DSC05216Taking note of the required 6mm radius I used 120 grit sandpaper to reduce the section down to a dowel, regularly checking the size with calipers.

DSC05217Once the dowel was a 6mm I marked on the low point of the spire and used a needle file to reduce it down to a point before adding a shoulder at the base. The completed spire was then removed with a junior hacksaw before being lightly sanded flat at the base.

DSC05219DSC05223DSC05224The buttresses along each side of the Whitworth hall were made using thin strips that were layered up (shown below) on top of each other having been cut to the specified step heights.
DSC05253 Once fixed I put this piece into the laser cutter and cut strips through the joined layers creating the buttress profiles. These were then carefully fixed in place using small amounts of cynoacrylate.DSC05256 Finally I simplified the corner spires that finish the tower using the CAD Files maintaining the same basic level of detail as shown on the other detail elements. These were then fixed in place before fixing the tower to the archway and Whitworth Hall sections. DSC05260The model could now be painted easily due to the smooth surface finish of the components. In this case the raw material finish sufficed and it remains its clean colour.

DSC05261The completed Model was then fixed into a snow globe to be used for University of Manchester marketing.

Hopefully this guide will give some useful pointers for your future models. If there’s anything you are uncertain about doing yourself always ask. – Scott




UoM Twitter


Pangaea Stage Set for Manchester Academy by Peter Lee

Towards the end of the first semester 5th Year Student Peter Lee was approached by The University of Manchester to design and make a large scale set piece for the student run festival, Pangaea. The event was held at the Manchester Academy and runs across many venues in Manchester. Pete described the project for us:

 ‘The event’s theme was ‘Space Odyssey’ so designed a ‘wormhole’ with an elevated DJ booth as a focal point in the centre. Throughout the project I was working closely with Academy staff as the design had to both be both the right size for the room and mountable on the existing lighting rigs on the stage. 
For ease of fabrication decided to use 12 identical interlocking triangle frames to create a portal, which sits in front of an aluminium circle truss with fabric panels to give the appearance of depth. The design was also created in coordination with a projectionist, who required a scale model for testing visuals on. By mocking up the design physically at 1:10 it gave me a really good idea of the structural issues faced by hanging a 4m wooden portal and helped me to design a bracing system’

Pete Lee (2)The model was made using components that would eventually come to life as large scale versions looking virtually identical. A wooden frame was used to support a focal hub and fabric was then stretched to the back of the segmented aperture-like ring at the front of the piece.Pete Lee (5)Once the design has received approval for full size production Peter went about turning the concept model into a full scale design. The triangular sections were each cut out using the larger CNC cutter at MMU before being transported across to B.15 for additional pieces to be added.

Peter describes his reasoning for using CNC cut components for the full scale prop:

‘For the 1:1 build I found the CNC machine a really useful tool as it would have been nearly impossible to replicate twelve identical panels by hand – absolute precision was really important throughout the process as the projection maps only had a few cm tolerance for error. Although the digital methods I used were really basic (Sketchup) it was incredibly useful for working out the angles for the panel structure. 
Another really important part of the project was getting logistics spot on – was quite limited for time due to university commitments so efficient use of workshop time was crucial and greatly aided by digital design tools. The panels were prefabricated over a month before the event, which meant the assembly was pretty straightforward.

Due to the obvious weight difference in the full size version of the prop each component had to be well built to avoid any accidents. Each triangular section was reinforced with pine timber baton which was glued and screwed into place.

IMG_9988 IMG_9989

‘Good communication with other parties was also key as the success of the project was highly dependent on fittings in the Academy and the synchronisation with projections. Resolving issues far in advance meant the on-site build and event itself ran smoothly.’.

IMG_0143In place at the venue, the stage prop served as the focal point for the nights performers and was lit by constantly changing projections and light displays. The image below shows the piece on stage before the event began. The image below show the finished piece during the live event.10887278_461189607366949_5284888234544424655_o 10955797_461189257366984_3543354359810081653_o 1606453_461189224033654_1058877598167468098_oComparing Peter’s prototype to the completed piece shows very little structural difference and is yet another example of how a test model can serve to prove a design idea. Both the development and final versions of the project will make great additions to Peter’s portfolio with the two conveying his design thought and testing processes to a potential client or employer. You can see more of his work here.

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.

B.15:45 Years of Architectural Modelmaking Documentary Video

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As part of our B.15:45 exhibition we have produced this documentary film exploring the constant but changing use of modelmaking within architectural education here at The Manchester School of Architecture within The University of Manchester.

The film interviews past and present academic, teaching and technical staff about their thoughts on modelmaking in architecture and how the tool continues to be used in design teaching today.

We hope this provides a good insight into Architectural modelmaking and helps to define its place in student studies here.

We would like to say many thanks again to all involved in the production of this film.

Scott and Jim

Exhibition Preparations in the Workshop

Since our last post we have barely been able to move for people in the workshop, regularly maxing out our capacity. Deadlines for exhibition construction have meant a surge of students getting their show pieces and exhibit spaces completed.


There have been many co-ordinated group’s mass producing components for exhibition over the last few weeks here at SED. Whilst there has been a positive hive of activity, there have been a few instances where machines such as the laser cutter have been wrongly used which we hope to address ahead of the next academic year. This really just comes down to being aware of when it is appropriate to use a specific machine for a given job.

There is a good chance we will be implementing a ‘pay up front’ policy for use of the CAD driven machines and for the materials we supply due to the number of no-shows and the knock on effect that causes to other students wanting to use the machines. Please be aware that these changes are likely to be in place come September.

Details of the Degree Show can be found here: