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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.

Model Railway buildings

Z scale, by Marklin

Z scale, by Marklin

This is probably the biggest single class of model buildings.  It took me a long time to get to this article yet I still do not have a lot to say about the subject.  Because it is such a big topic?  Because so much else has been written?  Or because the word 'railway' in the title really doesn't matter?  I intend no disrespect by that to all those model railway enthusiasts.  I love trains and I love model trains.  Of which more later.  But this website is about model buildings and the fact that a building is going to be displayed on a train layout makes no significant difference to my appreciation of them.

A crofters cotttage by John Simpson found in Facebook's
Model Rail's Skills Station group

Even that is not strictly true.  Combining buildings with railways does not reduce my appreciation of them. But it can enhance that appreciation.  One of the great features of miniature buildings in the context of model railways is that, typically, they sit in a landscape.  

A crofters cotttage by John Simpson found in Facebook's
Model Rail's Skills Station group

Sometimes they are just plonked down next to a piece of track but in all the serious layouts they are bedded in to the scenery and look as if they belong in the place they are.  Which adds an extra dimension to the building and to the viewing experience.

Layout buildings have other strengths too.  They are generally built to scale, which is something I value. As discussed in my Scale or Effect article.  The only real exception to this is in the small world of toy 'wooden' trains; Brio and the like.  Which I talk about in a separate Oirschot Station article.  

Some of the bigger layouts play with scale to give a sense of perspective but for most builders keeping the buildings at the same scale as the trains is a given.  Unless of course you are working in 'OO'.  What a shame that UK modellers got themselves into that mess.  And shame on those manufacturers who persist on marketing their model products as HO/OO.  Either it is 1/76 or it is 1/87.  It can't be both.

There is more about HO and OO scale buildings in my 'HO +' article and a little bit about N scale in my '144' article.

There is one 'but' to my favourable comments about scale.  For everyone except the super-rich there are space constraints on layouts.  There are few, if any, guides on how to make your layout bigger but plenty on how to squeeze more into a restricted space.  

Picture from CS trains.com . The original is in Maitland, Ontario.

Picture from CS trains.com . The original is in Maitland, Ontario.

Yet buildings associated with railways are often big.  A terminus station might have a 100m facade to the street, a lineside factory could be 300m long, the sort of terraced housing that backs onto the tracks might contain 40 houses each 6m wide.  It is a rare 1/87 scale layout that can find room for a 1.15m terminus, a 3.45m factory or a 2.8m terrace - let alone combining them all!  The Gibson Works by 'doctorwayne' illustrated here is an exception to the rule.  It is however about 2m long!  Made apparently by combining Walthers kits with scratchbuilt sections.  The standard compromise is to keep components such as doors and windows to scale but to only model tiny buildings or an unrealistically small number. There are some examples of this in my article on UK church models intended for railway layouts.

I'm afraid I have no idea who made this detailed little scene.

The other strength of most serious railway modellers is that they crave realism. The search for detail tends to produce good looking models and often good use of weathering techniques. I discuss weathering in a separate article.

Putting all these features together means that some of the finest small scale buildings you will see exist only as an adjunct to a model railway.  At least when we are talking about building exteriors.   There are exceptions of course, notably the professional producers of house portraits, but most railway buildings look much more realistic than the conceptual models produced by architects.  For really high quality interiors we look elsewhere; they are generally the province of the serious dolls house enthusiasts.

What else should I say about model rail buildings.  There are of course two main categories within the genre.  Railway buildings such as as stations, engine sheds and signal boxes and lineside buildings such as houses, factories and warehouses.  Plus, on bigger layouts, other non-railway items like shopping streets or farms.   You might like to also take a look at my articles on Farms, UK churches and shops.

I hesitate to criticise but the selection sometimes seems a bit cliched.  Some of this is down to individual modellers but it does seem that each new manufacturer who comes along rushes to produce their version of the tried and tested flat-front terrace house, 19th century factory, old-school garage or quaint country station.  Modern housing, blocks of flats or urban stations don't seem to get a look in.  To be fair there are not many Georgian rectories, non-conformist chapels or secondary schools right next to railway lines.  If I have got this all wrong do please write and tell me.  The address is MiniatureBuildingSite@gmail.com  .


One of the layouts I follow is the 'Pickwick Line'. I like the quality of his work. And the variety.

David, December 2019 last updated October 2022