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BOOK

REVIEW

Models: Architecture and the Miniature By Mark Morris.Wiley-Academy, 2006.£26.99

Models is the latest book in Wiley-Academy's Architecture in Practice series. Mark Morris presents an overview of the use of models in architecture in five sections, each followed by examples drawn from generally well-known architects. The usual suspects - Gehry, Hadid and Libeskind - feature strongly, along with several newer names, drawn mainly from the US, where Morris currently teaches.

My interest in the subject is probably no greater than most people's, so I should warn you that if you don't have a relatively geekish fascination with architectural models, this volume is unlikely to spark it.

However, it's presumably not meant to be a page-turner for the average reader and there's no doubt that Morris writes authoritatively on a subject in which he is clearly knowledgeable and engaged.

The book's content is slanted to what one might stereotypically imagine to be an academic's interest in models. On occasions it suffers from elaborate analysis, which somehow perambulates around the obvious. The introduction starts with the simple question 'Why should architects use models?', but fails to give the simple answer.

Perhaps there is no simple answer, but one possibility is that architects use models to develop, test and present propositions. In the same way that students occasionally become fixated on the imagery of their two-dimensional drawings, leaving the critic yearning for a simple model, here the author on occasions becomes obsessed with the intricacies of his subject, which leaves the reader yearning for a little clarity.

While an author's obsession can be endearing, especially if it draws the reader into sharing it, at times in this text it leads to a sense of repetition. More curiously for a book which covers some areas in such meticulous detail, others are barely mentioned. Models have a history of use in architecture for testing and developing lighting, acoustics, structures, microclimates, etc. The author scantly addresses some of these roles on less than a page in a chapter on 'retrospective models' - almost as if they weren't part of the design process at all.

Gaudí's hanging-chain models of the Sagrada Familia are noticeable by their absence, reinforcing a sense that the author is intuitively drawn to aspects of the miniature which don't involve the testing and development of the more technical aspects of design.

Models is well presented, well illustrated and reasonably priced. For those with an interest in the subject it may well prove engaging. But for the less-committed reader, this is not the attractive option that the title alone might suggest.

Alex Wright is an architect in Bath and a teacher at Bath University School of Architecture

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