For Roz Barr, models aren’t just a way of showcasing an architectural proposal, but an invaluable tool for testing out new ideas
Photography by Andrew Putler
The models made in our studio are not simply additional tools or objects made at the end of a design stage to showcase a building or interior. Rather, they are maquettes that may be numerous iterations of an idea, or the beginning of some other idea. They are not billed to the client, but we do use them to convey – as do most architects – an idea to clients, planners, public consultations or the design team. The majority are never seen, as they are part of a conversation in a moment of a process that may have come from a sketch, or the testing of a first thought.
The thinking about the project and the thinking of how a model can convey a single idea often enriches the next decision, or reaffirms what is right or wrong about a design. The act of making is a process of engaging with an idea that requires a decision that can be ‘made’, rethought, and ‘un-made’. This form of adaptation is about the discourse of architectural thinking, and is a critical part of our process in making and realising an idea. We imagine, we make, and the process is adapted through discussions and decisions about materiality and form.
Nothing is fixed in this process. Our ideas are always evolving as we transform them into the physical.
Models are not the only tool the studio engages with to develop ideas, but they are the essence of how an idea is realised. The scale of the model is important only in terms of how we make a decision on material but often become ‘scale-less’ as we move forward in the process.
The models pictured on these eight pages show the studio’s trajectory over the past five years. Last June we presented these in an exhibition, Adaptation, which was part of the London Festival of Architecture, and celebrated this aspect of the studio’s crafting.
We have collaborated with John Morgan Studio to produce our first catalogue documenting this process, which will be published this year with an essay by Ana Arujo and photography by Andrew Putler.
Garden room, staircase, 2011
This maquette was about a continuous surface that horizontally and vertically moves from inside to outside to extend a room’s boundaries to the garden walls. The process of casting this model relied on making a formwork where we could better understand how the cantilevered treads would work with the structure of the new concrete wall. The existing terrace was adapted around a timber post, with a screen of steel rods to offer privacy to the adjacent property. The model also shows an option for a foot rail, which could be used as a handrail by smaller children at this family home. Not one for building control. (Jesmonite, brass · L 535mm D160mm H 365mm)
Cloister, San Giorgio, Venice, 2013
The Foundation Cini invited us to design a fourth cloister as a new public space in San Giorgio for the 2013 Venice Biennale. The project, conceived purely of sandbags, was called Masengi, the name for the paving module used throughout the streets of Venice. Through testing how we could stack and graduate the pattern and surface using bleached hessian sacks, we were able to develop our first ideas. This is the final maquette before we made a model of the entire cloister at 1:50. Funding issues meant this project was never realised. (Clay · L 190mm D190mm H 10mm)
New Valer Church, Norway, 2012
This model was part of our competition entry in 2011. We had office space within an engineering practice at the time, and the model was built on a meeting table over a long weekend. The formwork was CNCd in blue foam, and is almost the most important element of the model. The form was first digitally modelled, and from this we could mill the sections. The drawings and the model emerged in tandem and both informed the process. The physical model conveyed something a 3D computer model could never achieve. (Jelutong, plywood, brass · L 320mm D320mm H 575mm)
New National Augustinian Centre and Priory, 2015
This 1:10 model was made for our exhibition, but was preceded by 1:100 and 1:50 models and facade studies. Scale is always an important decision, and for this we wanted to experience the wall-to-window relationship along with the depth of the facade. This section is through the new priory and the chapel at roof level. It also is a study of our proposal’s most important junction, where the new steel tower connects to the 1960s building. The facade changed as we built the model and it now informs the next stage of the detailed design. (Tulip, black MDF · L 600mm D800mm H 1,800mm)
Granada Pool House, Spain, 2011
This is one of the practice’s early models, which established the importance of using models as a tool for initial ideas. It explains the project’s concept of a pool house embedded in the landscape. The base was hand carved in walnut, and the rest was built from the same block. It conveys the simplicity of the idea of cutting into the land and also the engineering strategy of a single spine wall that carried the cantilever of the roof and landscape above. (Walnut · L 350mm D200mm H 100mm)
Kirkton Steadings, Argyll, 2015
This model is a study about mending a ruin. The birch ply conveys the underpinning methodology below the existing 18th-century stone wall. This is a working model, which we can change and remake as we test options for staircases, the positioning of a mezzanine, the form of the roof structure and so on. It is one of many models made for this project for a tower house in the Scottish landscape, and this is a study of how we ‘adapt’ the existing stone steading. This model embodies why we make. (Birch plywood pine, cardboard · L 320mm D200mm H 300mm)
New Church, Porsgrunn, Norway, 2014
Like the Valer Church, this model was part of our final submission. Although neither competition requested a model, we used them as part of our presentation, often replacing visualisations. The casting of the wall and the base, which provided additional area to the main sacred space, was an important element of the project. With this model, we were able to describe both the roughness of the external wall and the purity of the interior concrete. The contrast of the crafted wooden interior and detailing against the cast walls was demonstrated in the final model. (Plaster, walnut, brass · L 300mm D300mm H 300mm)
Mansard roof study, London, 2014-15
This is a response to an ongoing planning battle in London about roofscape. It unfolds the notion of ‘mansard’, a building typology that some planning authorities seem to think is the only response to a roof extension on an existing building within a conservation area. The models in this image are a selection of many adaptations of our proposed roof extension. It formed part of a document submitted to Lambeth Council, which challenges the planning guidelines of what constitutes a mansard roof. (Cardboard, plywood · L 150mm D150mm H 100mm)
Roz Barr is principal of London-based studio Roz Barr Architects