If you fancy looking at St Paul’s Cathedral as a jelly mould, then there’s a new exhibition that’ll sate your appetite. At the Building Centre, just off Tottenham Court Road, the display looks at how physical models help architects visualise the impact their creations will have on the world.

A famous photograph that demonstrated the engineering principles of the Forth Bridge taken in 1885 dominates part of the room, but it’s a pivotal moment in civil engineering in showing how models can prove that a structure will be safe to build. A madcap structure that looks not unlike some alien musical instrument minus the strings turns out to be an urban plan of the Old Oak Common area, with screws for buildings and copper pipe clamps for bridges. You may also learn that a particular type of slopped roof is called a “catslide”, for reasons which become obvious when you look at it.

A large scale model of part of the future Museum of London explores how the annexe building’s entrance lobby will work in practice.

One building which was sadly never built but I wish the concept was more often used in urban areas was designed to hang the floors from the roof structure which was in turn supported by four large columns on the corners. This meant that the building is structurally upside down, and there’s no need to have a solid ground floor — opening up a vast space under the office as a public realm. It’s used occasionally, such as at Primrose Street in Spitalfields, but nothing like often enough.

Probably the most delightful objects though are the three St Paul’s Cathedrals – one made from a victorian copper jelly mould, one 3D printed and the other a resin cast. It’s significant as it turned out that the orb and cross on top of the Cathedral were adopted by jelly mould makers, Benham and Foud as their logo.

There’s a lot else here, from the scale model of an Elephant and Castle pub, to the famous cutouts that proved the Sydney Opera House could be built. There’s history as well, as early illustrations of buildings tended to be from the sky, not the ground that most people see them, so one architect took scale models onto the streets and photographed them in situ to show what the building would look like in reality.

Large models and tiny ones fill the space and show the wide variety of how models can show different aspects of a building.

Around the corner from the main display are a few more models, including one of the Building Centre itself, but also one that reminds us that models need to be accessible — as it’s a model with Braille descriptions.

As an exhibition it’s both an educational insight into an aspect of architecture that even in the age of computer design, is still an important tool — and candidly, the display is pretty good to just look at.

The exhibition, Shaping Space – Architectural Models Revealed is at the Building Centre until 28th January 2022, and entry is free.


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