The many functions and types of architectural model may be divided into three broad categories: design models, post factum models and symbolic models; the first two can be further subdivided as described below.
(i) Design models.
These isolate a specific aspect of design, such as formal composition or structural solutions to a problem. Accordingly, decorative details, textures and colours are usually excluded from these highly simplified objects. Moholy-Nagy used models of this kind to undertake ‘experiments in space’ in his teaching at the Bauhaus in Weimar and Dessau in the 1920s.
These have a function similar to a painted or drawn sketch, with the designer using clay, wax or easily altered materials, such as plaster or soft wood, to evolve an overall design. Michelangelo designed a façade (unexecuted) for St Peter’s, Rome, in this way.
These are used to explore technical problems such as structure and the distribution of light. In the 20th century, advanced methods of assessing the effect of high winds or degrees of stress by means of wind tunnels and electronic measurement gave these aids a highly sophisticated role.
These are produced to explore or demonstrate specific structural techniques or ornamental parts of a total design.
Presentation or demonstration models
These constitute the largest category of surviving examples. They reproduce a total design in considerable detail for a client or committee to judge or for builders and workmen to follow. The more elaborate examples can be opened to reveal a sectional view of their interiors; services and decorative schemes can also be revealed by opening up the façade or roof.
Full-scale or mock-up models
These represent portions and (rarely) entire buildings in temporary materials for site trials.
These show the setting or immediate urban context of a particular building; they also indicate the ground contours and the relationships within a designed complex of separate buildings.
These similarly involve the broadest application of model usage, in depicting an entire townscape, or parts of it, occasionally providing the context of a projected building within it.
Ideal or project models
These give scope to the architect’s fantasy for impracticable buildings or visionary conceptions. This category includes unexecuted proposals as well as projected or alternative designs.
(ii) Post factum models.
Documentary or facsimile models
These record destroyed buildings for posterity or provide souvenirs of famous buildings. The 18th-century Grand Tour provided a demand for the latter type.
These are used for didactic purposes in schools of architecture, as documented in Jacques-François Blondel’s school in 18th-century Paris.
These attempt to create the original appearance of ruined or totally vanished buildings and are frequently used in exhibition or museum display.
These were extensively used before the era of photography and provide the basis of information for later repairs, alterations and extensions to a particular building.
(iii) Symbolic models
This category covers the widest and most elusive forms of model, both in pictorial as well as three-dimensional terms. Among the earliest are votive models of houses in Egyptian and Etruscan tombs, and a wide variety of structures, held by saints or donors, are to be found in religious paintings. Few of the latter are likely to portray actual designs with any degree of accuracy, but they often provide valuable information about ornamental fashions and structural systems.
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