Miniature Buildings
(top of page)   Home   Articles

Miniature Buildings

Some thoughts on building models of all types and sizes

Some thoughts on building models of all types and sizes

Welcome. If you have not visited Minature Buildings before can I suggest you begin with my Aims and Scope article or at the Home Page. If you have visited before - welcome back. I hope this article is of interest to you.

HO , OO , 4mm, 009, 1/72, 1/76, 1/87

Part of the Hudson and Allen
mediaval range for 25mm wargamers

The title of this article begins with HO and OO which clearly pitches it as being about model railway layout buildings. But it also includes scales much loved by military modellers - all the various figures around 1 inch / 20mm / 25mm tall. It's just that the number of buildings created by military modellers is, I suspect, much less than by the railway fraternity.

From Hudson Allen

This article should form one of the cornerstones of this website.  It must surely be the most modelled group of scales.  So much is written and illustrated about this class of models and so many models are produced.  Including, it has to be said, some of the finest model architecture you will find.  The best work of rail and military modellers is first class.  The scale(s) deserve(s) attention but it is a hard piece to write.  Part of the issue is that there is just too much material.  A commentator such as me hardly knows where to start.  So this is something of a stream of consciousness for the moment.

Maybe the best way to kick off is with an attempt to list some categories.  First by model construction type and then by building type.

A low relief card model of a 1930s factory from Scale Model Scenery

Paper and card

Simply because I have already produced an article on the subject, the first category I want to mention is buildings made from paper and card. I have the feeling, with no particular evidence to back this up, that this category is on the up and up.  At least in the railway world. Less so for military subjects.  I'm not going to say more on this for now but please do take a look at the article MBcard.htm .

A low relief card model of a 1930s factory from Scale Model Scenery

Except for one declaration. (or rant?) Which applies to all the materials' categories but especially here. I simply do not understand materials purists. At its wierdest is the modelling of large structures simply from matchsticks. Can anything be said for it except that it demonstrates stubborn persistence and, if the sticks are the recycling of used matches, green economy.

Card is a great material - for some things. And since the development of high quality affordable colour printing in the mid 1990's (did I mention that I used to work for Epson) printed paper texture sheets have saved us a lot of effort. But if you want to add a 2mm strip (a bargeboard for example) is it not better to use wood or plastic card? For a drainpipe or a chimney pot, metal or plastic rod? And under the card and paper exterior my firm preference is for some supporting wooden framework.

Plastic - typically polystyrene

The Black Horse Inn, made up by someone who knows what they are doing.

The second group are made from plastic card. Some, like the one illustrated, are from a kit. Others are scratchbuilt, though many of these will probably include some bought-in components and commercially produced moulded or pressed texture sheets. Even kits can involve a lot of hard work. This picture is of a Wills kit called the Black Horse Inn from their craftsman range. It was beyond me when I tried it. Each window and door opening still had to be cut from the supplied brick patterned sheets.

But there are those who construct everything themselves. For an example of just what can be achieved in 4mm scale by a purist scratchbuider take a look back at this archived article 'The Forth Hotel' by veteran modeller Don Rowland..

It is also possible at this scale to build from wood, though it is tricky to get the necessary detail. But not impossible. Take a look at this Youtube video from Marklin of Sweden for example. If you want to be picky about whether a station platform counts as a building go right ahead. But you cannot complain about the lack of detail.

In the world of toys, the 'wooden railway' (more commonly known by the famous brand of 'Brio', which has suffered the same degradation of their brand as Hoover and Biro did) there are certainly some wooden buildings. For them, fine detail is not an issue. Not at all. The world of modelling and the world of 'wooden railway' toys do not often meet. But it is a particular interest of mine. My 'train table' article is not really about model buildings but this is my site, so I have bent the rules on content a bit!

The other categorisation that may be made is by subject matter.   Clearly there are distinctive railway buildings - stations, signal boxes, train sheds etc, and lots of little lineside buildings and other operational structures.  If I'm really honest I have to say this group does not especially interest me.  Though I have tried my hand at an imagined Oirschot station.

There are lots of models of little country stations, like the one above.  But feast your eyes on this US city station offered in HO scale by Custom Model Railroads:

They describe it as a distinctive beaux-arts style train station with art glass and wrought iron canopy typical of stations built around the country during the beginning of the 20th century.  It features laser cut acrylic parts with engraved stonework.  And when bought with the companion station concurse will set you back a cool US $640.  Wow.  Out of my range.

While on the subject of grand stations I must mention Antwerp. If you have never seen Antwerpen Centraal you are missing something. A cathedal among railway stations. Grand on the outside. Monumental on the inside. This model comes from the Belgian Railway museum . It may not be the right scale for this article (it's 1/200) but who cares. There is more about this model in my blog for December 2021 - the 6th and 8th.

If I'm really honest I have to say that making models of this group does not especially interest me even though I admire them. Though I have tried my hand at an imagined Oirschot station.

The second group is 'town buildings'.  A huge number of terraced houses are produced to go alongside the tracks plus shops and other high street buildings to go around stations.  Military modellers often produce ruined examples.  I have done pieces on terraced shops and on house variety which are relevant here.

A third group is 'country buildings' - farms and cottages. Then there are lots of industrial models, including harbours, although it may be that canal and harbour structures are a category in their own right. Lastly there is a whole group of military buildings - everything from castles to pillboxes.

David, December 2019 updated October 2022