Built to Scale: Why We Love Architectural Models

Pat Finn Pat Finn

There is much discussion these days about the need for architects to attend to the needs of their environment rather than impose their personal visions from up on high à laHoward Roark. This is, of course, a mature, responsible position and one that most architects eventually come around to anyway.

But still, the injunction that, as Kengo Kuma put it, “architecture should not be the protagonist of the environment” is a bitter pill to swallow. There is an imperious streak inside many architects, a desire to make one’s presence felt via transformative design. Like all artists, architects are driven by a creative instinct that is deeply linked with the human need to exercise control over one’s environment.

While the real world might throw wrenches in architects’ plans, forcing them to adapt and even compromise, there is one sphere in which they are able to be the true lords of their domains: the architectural model. Here, architects are able to perfectly realize miniature versions of even their grandest, most outlandish designs.

For architecture fans, models are interesting because they are the purest expression of the architect’s vision in its ideal form. Furthermore, their smaller scale allows viewers to take in buildings as a whole, enabling a very different kind of experience than would be offered by seeing the site in person. Imagine, for instance, having the chance to see an architectural model of your own house and how that would change your relationship to the space.

In Tokyo, architecture fans will now be able to experience their favorite local buildings on a model scale. Archi-Depot, a warehouse-style museum devoted to the storage and display of Japanese architectural models, recently opened in Tokyo’s Shingawa District. The museum was founded by a company called Warehouse TERRADA, which has previously built wine cellars, pigment stores and other institutions that bring a loving, curatorial approach to the art of storage.

The museum features models of both realized and unrealized structures. Of the former, Tokyo residents will be pleased to see the model precursors of Asakusa Culture and Tourism Center, Tokyo Skytree and Haneda Airport. The constantly expanding collection includes works by Kengo Kuma, Jun Aoki, Shigeru Ban, Wonderwall,Torafu and more.

Ultimately, Warehouse TERRADA hopes for the museum to serve as an archive of 21st-century Japanese architecture. The idea is to create a museum that documents the present as it unfolds, creating a space for both Japanese and foreign visitors to reflect on the nation’s evolving design landscape in real time.

“Fans of architecture will gather from all over the world, as Archi-Depot has an accumulation of Japanese architectural models,” explains the company on the Archi-Depot website. “We will develop various cultural programs to spread Japanese architectural by implementing projects inside the museum as well as by cooperating with overseas cultural organizations.”

Each display is fitted with a QR code that allows visitors to bring up information about the building on their mobile devices. The QR code links to blueprints, renderings and information about other projects the architect has worked on. In this way, Archi-Depot integrates its physical archive with an even vaster digital archive, a feature that feels very 2016.

One thing is for sure, Tokyo will never be the same now that its residents have the chance to explore the buildings they see every day in model form. This reporter hopes the idea behind Archi-Depot makes its way to New York ASAP.

All photos via Colossal

Pat Finn Author: Pat Finn
Pat Finn is a high school English teacher and a freelance writer on art, architecture, and film. He believes, with Orwell, that "good prose is like a windowpane," but his study of architecture has shown him that a window is only as good as the landscape it looks out on. Pat is based in the New York metro area.
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