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Model, architectural

2. History

Source: Oxford University Press

(i) From antiquity to the Renaissance

Symbolic roles apart, the recorded history of the architectural model goes back at least to Ancient Greece. Models were undoubtedly of great value in periods of major structural innovation, such as Imperial Rome and the Gothic era. During the Middle Ages they were used to work out and test systems of masonry vaulting and for setting patterns of decorative carving through templates and full-scale prototypes. Among the earliest to survive, however, is the wood and papier-mâché model for St Maclou, Rouen (Rouen, Mus. d’Art Normand), now thought to date from the early 16th century. Other surviving models from this period include a conceptual one in wood for the Luginsland Tower of Augsburg’s defences (1514; Augsburg, Maximilian Mus.) and an elaborate demonstration model, also in wood, by Hans Hieber for the Neupfarrkirche, the pilgrimage church dedicated to Our Lady, Regensburg (1519/20; Regensburg, Stadtmus.).

The Italian Renaissance gave new prominence to models with the emergence of the architect as the coordinator of building operations as well as the sole author of a design. Brunelleschi used a variety of model functions in creating his dome for Florence Cathedral, ranging from the presentation model that helped him to win the competition to the many improvised ones (even cut out of lumps of rutabaga) used for instructing workmen in technical details. It is now doubted whether the surviving wooden model (Florence, Mus. Opera Duomo) is the one known to have been left at Brunelleschi’s death in 1446 to guide the completion of the lantern. Alberti discussed the importance of models in De re aedificatoria (1485) but added a cautionary note, repeated by theorists for centuries thereafter: ‘I would not have the model too exactly finished, nor too delicate and neat, but plain and simple, more to be admired for the contrivance of the inventor than the hand of the workman.’

By the 16th century models had entered standard practice in Western architecture and inevitably played key roles in the protracted building history of St Peter’s, Rome. Antonio da Sangallo (ii)’s large 1/24 scale presentation model, commissioned in 1539, took several years to make, and Michelangelo’s sectional dome model of the 1560s (both Rome, Vatican, Mus. Stor. A. Tesoro S Pietro) guided Giacomo della Porta in completing the structure. Michelangelo also used models as aids to demonstrate formal composition. His surviving façade model of 1517 for S Lorenzo, Florence (Florence, Casa Buonarrotti; see Florence, §IV, 5) set the fashion for the many façade competition models that followed, such as those of the 1580s and 1590s for Florence Cathedral (Florence, Mus. Opera Duomo). He also used clay models to design the shape of the steps of the Biblioteca Medicea-Laurenziana, Florence, and to explore the spatial innovations of S Giovanni dei Fiorentini, Rome. In 1546 a full-scale wooden section of his cornice for Palazzo Farnese, Rome, was placed in situ to determine its appearance. Elsewhere models also assisted a lay decision in 1576, when Palladio submitted models of alternative designs to the Venetian Senate for both a longitudinal and a central plan for his church of Il Redentore.

Inevitably, the use of models accompanied the spread of Renaissance design to northern Europe. Domenico da Cortona made models for several of Francis I’s châteaux, including Chambord (begun 1519). In 1567 Philibert de L’Orme discussed their various advantages at length in his Premier Tome de l’architecture. Jacques Androuet Du Cerceau (i), moreover, stressed the need for site models to include garden design in his Les Plus Excellents Bastiments de France (1576–9). The use of urban models was also established in the 16th century, with a model of Florence being constructed in 1529 in order to study the siege defences and Albert V of Bavaria having models made of his principal towns between 1568 and 1574. Meanwhile in England, one of the earliest references to a model dates from 1576, when the French joiner Adrian Gaunt made one for Longleat, Wilts, a country house built for Sir John Thynne.

(ii) The Baroque and Neo-classical periods

The concern for spatial complexity and dramatic lighting that began to develop in the 17th century found particular expression in those types of model that explored as well as represented solutions for interiors. Bernini, like Michelangelo, made sketch models in wax and clay for structures as well as sculpture. While it is uncertain whether Borromini used them as extensively, models devised to reveal elaborate internal systems were used well into the 18th century; a fine example is that for Balthasar Neumann’s church of the Vierzehnheiligen (1744; Bamberg, Hist. Mus.).

In England, Christopher Wren’s technological cast of mind contributed to his exploiting models widely throughout his career; surviving examples extend from the one of 1663 for Pembroke College Chapel, Cambridge (Cambridge, Pembroke Coll. Lib.), to those of the 1690s for the Royal Naval Hospital, Greenwich, London (site model and sectional detail model for one of the domes, London, N. Mar. Mus.). Models were created at all stages of the design of St Paul’s Cathedral. The 18-ft-high Great Model of 1673 (London, St Paul’s Cathedral), made to a scale of 1 inch to 1½ feet by the Cleer brothers and a team of craftsmen, portrays the interior in as much detail as the exterior. Wren’s pupil Nicholas Hawksmoor used models extensively for their creative value, as shown by alterations to his surviving one for Easton Neston, Northants (c. 1702; in situ). Others survive for King’s College, Cambridge, and the Radcliffe Library, Oxford (1713 and 1735; both in situ); others once existed for the architect’s remarkable London churches built as a result of the Fifty New Churches Act of 1711. Indeed, many outstanding models still survive for church designs in 18th-century England, including a pair of highly finished presentation wooden models for James Gibbs’s St Mary-le-Strand, London, and St Martin-in-the-Fields, London (1713 and 1722; both London, RIBA).

Throughout continental Europe and particularly in France, a wide range of models survive from the 18th century, indicating the continuing importance as well as the widening range of their uses. The Musée des Plans–Reliefs in Paris contains a collection of model designs for fortifying the eastern frontier of France by the military engineer Sébastien Leprestre de Vauban. The Musée Carnavalet in Paris also possesses an exceptional group of models for major public buildings such as the façades of Pierre Contant d’Ivry’s church of La Madeleine and Giovanni Niccolano Geronimo Servandoni’s St Sulpice, Jean-Rodolphe Perronet’s Louis XVI bridge and Jacques-Denis Antoine’s foyer of the Law Courts. A large sectional model in plaster demonstrating Jacques-Germain Soufflot’s dome structure (1757) for Ste Geneviève survives in the crypt of what later became the Panthéon. Nearly 30 years later, when the architect Charles-Louis Clérisseau helped Thomas Jefferson design the new Virginia Capitol, a plaster model (1786; Richmond, VA State Lib.) was sent from Paris to Richmond to aid the construction.

Towards the close of the 18th century models began to appear along with presentation drawings at the annual exhibition of the Paris Salon; the model exhibited in 1771 for Charles de Wailly’s staircase at the Château de Montmusard, near Dijon, is an early example. Teaching models, meanwhile, had already been used in the academies for many years, and Jacques-François Blondel gave special emphasis to models of ‘significant buildings’ in his Cours d’architecture (Paris, 1771–7). Similarly, documentary models recording or reconstructing celebrated monuments or sites were produced in lightweight materials, such as plaster or cork, for connoisseurs on the Grand Tour or travelling professionals. This didactic aspect is strikingly illustrated by cork models of the temples at Paestum and the excavations at Pompeii held at Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, which has the largest and most diverse collection of models to survive from any architect’s career. At his death in 1837, Soane left over 150 models covering 40 years of practice and representing virtually every function of the architectural model. The most elaborate models were devoted to commissions of particular complexity, such as the Bank of England (1788–1830) and the Westminster Law Courts (c. 1823startend). Soane, as Professor of Architecture at the Royal Academy from 1806, regularly used models for teaching and gathered some of the most important examples in a special Model Room at the Museum, now restored to its original purpose.

(iii) The Romantic period and after

Predictably, models were often associated with innovative buildings of the Romantic era where pictorial values were of prime importance. A striking papier-mâché model (c. 1810; priv. col.) of the bizarre mansion Fonthill Abbey, Wilts, was probably used to guide the patron, William Beckford, and his builders after the unexpected death of the designer, James Wyatt; this model registers the Picturesque silhouette and ornamentation of this Gothic Revival masterpiece. At about the same time, Frederick Augustus Hervey, the eccentric Bishop of Derry, had a wood and papier-mâché model made of his equally strange residence at Ickworth, Suffolk (in situ), sent to him in Rome for his comments before its construction under the direction of Francis Sandys ( fl 1796–1814). Portions of the model can be removed to show directions indicated within for colour schemes in the main interiors.

By the start of the 19th century a new range of specialized drawings had begun to undermine the more exploratory functions of the model. Most of the surviving models are of the presentation type, directed at committees and juries, caught up in the controversy over the choice of an appropriate style, known as the Battle of the Styles, where façades were often of greater concern than internal functions. Despite the attractive perspectives drawn by specialist artists, models continued to be required in major competitions involving public buildings of complexity, such as the London Law Courts scheme of the 1860s, won in competition by G. E. Street in 1866.

Through such idiosyncratic and diverse designers as Antoni Gaudí, Rudolf Steiner, Erich Mendelsohn and Theo van Doesburg, the creative roles of the conceptual and sketch models returned during the 20th century. Most recently, this basic function continued in the work of such architects as Denys Lasdun, who developed a design from its earliest stages using the three-dimensional potential of models to the full. The aid of full-scale models to test a design on site was revived by designers as various as Mies van der Rohe (Kröller House, The Hague, 1912) and Edwin Lutyens (Castle Drogo, Devon, begun 1910). Advances in technology also enabled the experimental model to provide exceptionally sophisticated data using computers, as well as photographic or optical aids, such as Endoscopes and Relatoscopes, which enlarge images from model scale to actual size. Vincenzo Scamozzi’s warning (L’idea dell’architettura universale, 1615; Eng. trans., 1669), however, continues to be relevant:Manie modells, being but inanimate and breathlesse things, have need of the Architect’s, or some other worthy, & Knowing purson’s speech, to expresse with words, and demonstrate with reasons, what they are, and to give them life, & motion. For thereby minds are excited, and inflamed, whereby resolutions may be taken in matters of moment … Yet modells are like young birds, mongst which one cannot discerne the males from ye females, but being growen bigger are Showen whither they be Eagles or Ravens: And therefore the owners of the workes may easily be deceaved by Modells.

John Wilton-Ely
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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