One of the most famous facade groups : an Amsterdam canal frontage
Most buildings are designed to face the street.
Not all of course; some display their best side to an expansive back garden, but for
most buildings all their interesting and attractive features are on just
one side - the front or facade. If you don't want to put your
modelling on a layout or open the door and furnish the insides maybe you
should only trouble yourself with modelling the bit everyone looks at.
A bit more than just a facade
This mini diorama by an unknown military modeller illustrates the effective use of a
facade. Though, to be fair, it is a little more than just a pure
facade. Almost certainly the modeller's real enthusaism is the
tank and the figures on and around it. The building is there to provide
context for the main subject. Not that the modelling of the building has
been neglected. It is detailed, well proportioned and weathered.
The lack of a back to the building does not detract from
the scene or appear off-putting. Indeed it would probably be
distracting to the central scene to include any more of the building.
The practice of just building the front of the building is a well
established part of film sets of course - originally modelling in 1:1
scale but with modern techniques often in smaller scales too. Even
sometimes in over-scale so that actors look smaller than they really are -
such as Hobbits or Borrowers?
Sometimes front is enough
I think this example of a western street is
full size, though with the quality of professional film modelling you
can never be sure. Which is, of course, the point.
In another context altogether, if you think about it, many dolls houses are in reality no more than
deep facades with little attention paid to the sides and no attempt to
recreate the back of the house.
In railway modelling, the technique
is referred to as low relief and is commonly used to provide a backdrop of
buildings behind the layout .
The Chinese wine shop facade, shown here, was produced
by King & Country as part of their "Historic Oriental: Streets of Old
Hong Kong" range. K&C generally produce their models for the
military modelling market but it is not clear what campaign this is
designed for. Or what scale it is?
Since it is a key element of the Miniature Buildings credo that
we should focus on the modelling of buildings for their own
sake how do we feel about just recreating the facade?
The modelling of facades
certainly offers the opportunity to produce and display more models.
Instead of requiring all round display space the facade model requires
only wall hanging space - protruding at most only a few inches into
precious living space. It may not be the lifelike
reconstruction of a complete prototype in miniature but, on balance,
- we like them.
Modelling facades is also something which is
used by some commercial giftware and souvenir suppliers.
Facade plaques of old Sydney buildings on sale at the Sydney Museum and a mystery (old?) Dutch gable house
displayed on the (now disappeared) ministructures site
not a recent development. I did read somewhere that bringing home
souvenir models of buildings seen while travelling is a practice of
some antiquity. Any experts out there please do let us know
something of the history.
A Spanish church.
Not typical of Laurenston's work, which
featured lots of English pubs
At one end of the spectrum you will find many small examples presented
either as fridge magnets or as small china ornaments - maybe 2" to 5" high.
One range of this kind was produced by Philip Laurenston, featured in a
separte article. They are slightly more than facades but are flat backed.
Amsterdam seems to be a
leader in this market and the ornately gabled Dutch town house is
eminently suitable for this presentation.
In a larger size I have some seen some good examples of the genre in Rome
displayed within a picture frame. Sorry, but I omitted to take a
picture of them.
Within the same category, but at the other end of the scale, are limited
Including the remarkable and extensive range
produced over the years by
Hazle Ceramics as illustrated here.
Their website includes a huge amount of information about
their flatback scale models of historic British buildings
under the banner of "A piece of Britain". The range is
huge and the quality high. These are not pocket-money pieces.
The chosen side to display does not of course have to be the front of the building.
One correspondent, Marijke of Canada, told me of a project depicting the back wall of a
house plus the patio and some of the garden. If you have pictures of
any project you are working on you are welcome as it develops. As any of
our readers to do with their own work.
Modelling the facade is of course particularly suitable for urban
architecture where individual buildings commonly form part of a terrace
with no independent identity. Their blank side walls were never intended
to be seen and practical but ugly back elevations which the modeller will find
it difficult if not impossible to research.
A building I have had in mind to model for some time, the Old Town Hall in
the centre of Berkhamsted (Hertfordshire, England), is a good example of this. And
a very challenging piece of modelling it is too.
The Old Town Hall, Berkhamsted, now
housing a Restaurant and some function rooms
The nineteenth century facade is striking and picturesque but the building
is sandwiched between some very unremarkable mid 20th century shops.
As you can see from the picture the building has a pitched roof sloping
back from the facade. This illustrates one of the dilemmas faced by
the facade modeller. Should the roof be accurately modelled with the
correct roof angle or should it be foreshortened?
The correct roof angle requires the model to be 15 scale feet deep
going back to the peak of the roof and to include the
chimney which stands forward of the roof ridge. In my chosen scale of 1/32nd this makes the front face
stand nearly 6 inch>es forward from the backboard. This also requires the
modelling of the front part of the building's sides. At the top of
the building these are visible and can be recreated in miniature but what
is to be done about the hidden parts of the sides; the party walls with
the ugly building society and travel agency. There are two choices -
either extend the visible brickwork down which would be attractive but fake or
simply display it in a plain neutral colour. In this instance I am
inclined to model them in a plain red brick matching that on the facade
but without the darker decorative brick highlights.
A long lost article in the US magazine Model Railroader about low
relief modelling identified a number of manufacturers
producing low relief, facade, kits in HO and/or N scale - Nu-Line
Structures, Summit USA and Walthers and mentions that there are others
producing wooden laser-cut kits. (I haven't done a recent check on this.)
They define low relief as having a
depth of less than 2 inches - which at 1/87, HO, is 14 foot 6 inches. Which seems quite
a lot to me. Many faced models are much shallower.
But I don't think we really need a definition (and one of the joys
of modelling is that there is no planning authority, so build what you want when you
want). 14 feet is going quite a long way back from a facade as my Old
Town Hall example shows. Many will be content with just a metre of depth.
Model Railroader commented that the biggest challenge with low relief
structures is to make them look convincing. This is certainly
something more important on rail layouts than in other contexts. One
suggestion made is that storage tanks or trees could be used to disguise
the shallow depth but the unnamed author also said "To help draw
attention away from the shallow depth, I detailed the surrounding
landscape. I placed pallets and a few 55 gallon drums between the
roadbed and the building, added ground foam and static flock grass and
placed some weeds between the rails." This is a useful
reminder, whether we choose to model facades or full depth buildings that
prototypes exist in a landscape and that the building's environment
extends forward from the facade as well as backwards into the building.
This piece was featured several years ago in Dolls House World magazine. In 1/12th scale,
the facade of a cottage in Gran Canaria was modelled by Judi Noakes . An interesting
and original subject though Judi did admit that it was an amalgam of a number of actual
prototypes rather than a single building.
It is a good illustration, developing the point made about the railway
building, that the building is only part of an overall scene and it is
Judi's attention to the dressing of the scene that gives the building much
impact. A bare architect's model would not capture the Mediterranean
feel in this way. The decorative tiles around the front door were achieved
by printing out in reduced scale some tiles featured on a postcard.
If you are not wholly convinced with the near two-dimensional facade concept how about this
idea - just model two sides of the building and mount your work at an
This example, and the source of the idea for me, is a reproduction of The Mergenthaler Linotype Building
in Chicago , produced in 5/32 scale by Hugh Spector for the developer. Hugh works as a
professional architectural artist in ceramic and takes anywhere from four
weeks to complete one of his models. If you are interested in seeing
more of his work take a look at the
PK Imaging site.
This twin facade technique would be particularly suitable for a corner building such as a pub or hotel
or corner shop.
Taking the idea one step further, this model at the Cockington Green miniatures
Canberra, Australia (a display featured in the article 'Cockington Green')
does not have the rear face modelled as it is not generally visible to visitors.
Which is all I have to say on the subject for now. If you have
anything to add let us know on
MiniatureBuildings and we will pick
up the threads in an updated copy of this article. Or, if you have a lot
to say and lots of interesting illustrations, we might run 'In Praise
of Facades' Part 2. It's your call.
Your thoughts on all these issues are very welcome and will be added in
due course to an updated version of this article.