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Some thoughts on building models of all types and sizes


Some thoughts on building models of all types and sizes

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Miniature Parks and Model Villages

Madurodam

Some of the biggest collections of model buildings are contained in what used to be thought of as model villages but are now more commonly known as 'miniature parks'. That is, parks containing miniature buildings rather than small scale representations of parks. I have long been a fan.

Since I now spend much of my time in the Netherlands, let me begin with the Madurodam park located in Den Haag. Which I love. It entrances adults as well as children and spans the whole spectrum from traditional Dutch farmhouses to the Rotterdam Docks, Schiphol airport and the tourist highlights of Amsterdam and elsewhere, all modelled at 1/25 scale. One of their slogans is 'Holland in an hour'. It was opened in 1952. The picture at the head of the article is just one of the palaces on display.

One of the village greens at Bekonscot

A few years ago I would have begun this article with Bekonscot at Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire or the model village at Bourton on the Water. Which are very different. Both focus on small domestic subjects. I mention those two for the purely personal reason that they were part of my daughters' childhood. And therefore part of my life. I suspect we went to them as much for my pleasure as theirs.

Both have been in existence for a long time. The model at the Old New Inn (yes really) opened on Coronation Day in 1937 and Bekonscot in 1929. It claims to be the world's oldest and original model village.

This claim is disputed. The other UK candidate for this title is Wolf’s Cove. was once one of the most celebrated features of Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire. The artist and architect Charles Wade spent the majority of his life designing and building the model houses to create his own miniature Cornish fishing village. The model buildings included a pub, houses and fisherman’s cottages. Wade later went on to add the road, canal and railway. Since 2010, we have been working on recreating the village, based on original photographs, re-excavating the harbour and making replicas of the original models. The recreated village can be visited every summer and Charles Wade's original models are on show in the house.

Part of the Bourton village

The village at Bourton, in particular, seeks to recreate the real village in which it sits but at 1/9th the size and using the local Cotswold stone for the models. I don't know if the scale is unique but it is certainly unusual.

My enthusiasm for miniature buildings is just a hobby. It probably is for you too, though you may be involved in the production and operation of one of the many parks, towns and villages. In which case you know much more than I do. If you want to contribute some of that knowledge please do write to me at MiniatureBuildings. Though much of the work has already been done. A good place to start seems to be Model Villages by Tim Dunn. The advertising blurb for this 64 page work published by Amberley Press says:

This is the story of Britain’s model villages: miniature worlds that have captivated garden guests and paying public since the early twentieth century. This history of these small-scale utopias covers their early growth as playthings of the wealthy, their blossoming into fairylands on seafronts during the post-war holiday boom, and of many model villages’ gradual decline from toy-towns to ghost towns. But it is also the story of how diligent modelmakers, artists and crafters have carried on in the sheds, gardens and workshops of Britain to build small – yet think big. Today we still delight in their miniature marvels, and this book explains why. This book is part of the Britain’s Heritage series, which provides definitive introductions to the riches of Britain’s past, and is the perfect way to get acquainted with model villages in all their variety.

Tim also has a blog devoted to the subject. Which, if you have not already sen it, you should rush off to and take a look.

Tim Dunn's monograph is much more accesible than some other works. Thanks to Google Books preview function I was able to access Model Villaging as World Modelling, an article by Mike Aling of the University of Greenwich Department of Architecture and Landscape. The language and arguments of the book within which the article appears, Worldmodelling: Architectural Models in the 21st Century, feels to me unbelievably pretentious. But the article itself contains some interesting information. Just to give you a taste of the style:

The model village is sited in the not-quite real, or more often the never-was real in their particular form of toy-like simulacra. Sometimes, they are yet-to-be real, and share this condition with architectural models. Unlike the architectural model however, model villages are largely functionless: they are a pursuit of delight. They are also worldbuilding exercises, and like architectural models, their success lies in their immersive potential, along with the coherence of their spatial and cultural logic under their own terms of engagement. A cognitive displacement is made by the visitor, not only through scale shifting, but into the strangely familiar world beneath the knees, a supposedly brighter place if the visitor is willing to agree that a more anodyne and apolitical village is an improvement on actuality. Through this the model village exudes a very British form of Magical Realist worldbuilding.

One other park which has special memories for me is much further away. Cockington Gardens in Canberra, Australia. I visited during the period of my first abortive attempt at a model buildings online magazine and because of this was able to get a tour around accompanied by one of the owners including a look behind the scenes. It is one of life's regrets that I wasn't to able to write then the feature piece I had in mind, acknowledging their hospitality. This special park now has an MB page to itself, or you can look at their own website.

On my list of places to go one of those near the top is Mini-Europe in Brussels. It promises 350 monuments from around Europe reproduced at 1/25 scale.

The Italian area at Mini-Europe

I said earlier that I am just a hobby enthusiast. But for some the creation and display of miniatures is a much more serious matter. Esan Osmanoglu of the Department of Architecture at the University of Istanbul wrote his thesis about the Turkish park 'Miniaturk'.

The Tomb of Sultan Ahmed the 1st, at Miniaturk in Istanbul.

This is the abstract of the full text.

AN ARCHITECTURAL STUDY ON MINIATURE PARKS AND MINIATURE MODELS: MINIATURK This thesis is an architectural study surveying on miniature parks and miniature models exhibited in them and particularly focuses on Miniaturk - the first miniature park of Turkey- located in Istanbul. It is established as an environment containing a group of miniature models of buildings and landscapes, which display the variety, and richness of the cultural tradition of the previous and contemporary Anatolian civilizations, and especially Ottoman grandeur. In this study, it is argued that Miniaturk stands as a hybrid category between a museum, a public park and entertainment centre. Miniaturk is also conceived as an architectural environment providing a possible ground to discuss the conceptions, misconceptions and presuppositions about architecture in the popular realm and in the professional and disciplinary framework. Thereby, Miniaturk is investigated through the processes of its production including the initial design idea and all the stages of its construction. iv This study also tries to discuss the miniature models from different points of view. Whether they are considered as tools of architectural representation or not by the professionals, the popularity and the communicative advantage of these models can be used to arouse interest in the cultural and historical heritage as well as the contemporary architecture. The daily life of man on the street is strictly connected with architecture; therefore Miniaturk requires recognition as an environment for realization of these connections and relations.

Really? I'm afraid there is something about academic theses that invites ridicule. Mr Osmangulu 'argues' that Miniaturk "stands as a hybrid category between a museum, a public park and entertainment centre". I don't think anyone is going to disagree too much with that proposition though I do think that "an exhibition of models" might belong somewhere in that list. But the idea that it "is also conceived as an architectural environment providing a possible ground to discuss the conceptions, misconceptions and presuppositions about architecture in the popular realm and in the professional and disciplinary framework" seems to me to over complicate what is going on.


Please write to MiniatureBuildingsComment@gmail.com if you have something to add. Comments, criticisms, extra thoughts, pictures, or even complete articles for inclusion in the Miniature Buildings site are all welcome. Or if you would like to be added to my mailing list to hear when a new article is published.

David, October 2019
updated October 2022