Classic Craft Behind New London Model

With the launch of New London Architecture’s model of London we get the inside story from Pipers, the company who built it

As he overlooks the 12.5m long, 1:2000 scale model of London, with its 170,000 buildings created from the latest 3-D printing technology, Patrick McKeogh, Managing Director of Pipers, explains the purity of the appeal of models in an age of perfect digital reproductions. “If you go to a gallery or museum the model is the one thing that people are pulled towards.” The perennial appeal and wonder of the model – the scale, the detail, the handcrafted similitude – is all the more enchanting in a digital age. But for the building industry, the physical model is also a mediator when encountering other professionals. “It’s very easy to engage with, you can discuss it and the physical, tactile quality is a way of engaging people with what a plan represents,” says McKeogh. “Models have always been good at bringing people together to interrogate and to look at something.”

That said, McKeogh highlights the fact that current modelmaking combines analogue and digital. The vast physical model of London stretching out in The Building Centre (the New London Model) is also a canvas for digital drawing, as visitors can use a touchscreen to play films that bring London’s infrastructure projects to life across the surface. Companies who have invested in the project, such as Land Securities, can show clients their own tailored presentation while the model enables everyone to see key future developments in London, such as new transport or infrastructure plans.

Simpler Canvas

While the previous eye-grabbing model of London proved popular among the public at The Building Centre, the core of the original model (which was extended over time) was created for those deciding on the Olympic bid 10 years ago. Visual elements that made it impressive in Athens and Beijing such as its bright colour made it less amenable for light projections.  The colour pallets on the new model are toned down, “the last one was very bright, it had a gloss finish, very shiny. Trying to project onto it was difficult. This is matte, with lots of pastels, which is the perfect canvas,” explains McKeogh. Plus there were parts of London that weren’t being covered, so it made sense to build something new and more adaptable.


(Photography © Paul Raftery)

In the past, the normal timeframe for building a model of this size might be around nine months to a year, but this one needed to be ready to show at the MIPIM real estate show, which meant Pipers had four months from start to finish. What made this possible in the time frame was 3-D printing and the help of Ordnance Survey. McKeogh says that working with Ordnance Survey meant they, “were able to create the drawing in a fraction of the time that it would have taken us to do on our own. The lead-time which could normally be 3 to 4 months work for a team, we managed to get through very quickly.” They also needed to assemble information from developers and architects in London on their latest and upcoming projects.  But as Pipers work on many of these projects, they were able to skip the normal bumps and blockages that occur when trying to access information (such as simply finding out who you really need to be talking with). This landscape of London includes anything that has planning permission, is under construction, or has just been built.

Latest Tech and Old School Craft

Some developers who didn’t respond to New London Architecture immediately about featuring work on the model have since got back about their schemes. Because the landscape is constructed from 64 separate baseboards, changes in the landscape of London can be replicated and swapped in very quickly and further information can be dropped in via projections. The downturn after the crunch of 2008 effected the demand for models, so even though Pipers’ business is worldwide, for London-based architects whose business is worldwide, the ripple effect of the crunch eventually caught up in all markets. But the company made a decision to use this time as an opportunity to experiment with more interactive models.


(Photography © Paul Raftery)

So what are the trends in modelmaking? “Everyone has been talking about 3-D printing, which is a fantastic tool and a lot of people thought it might replace modelmaking,” says McKeogh. For Pipers, the advantage of 3-D printing is that it replaces a lot of the time-consuming work (such as creating 170,000 buildings for the London model) allowing them to focus on what they are known for – the finishes, the detail, the craft. Developers of offices, hotels, apartments, will often require bespoke furniture and require a huge level of detail. McKeogh recalls putting together a model of an exercise bike for a gym – the operation involved 14 pieces of Perspex with tweezers and chloroform. “Now we are developing a digital library which allows us to reprint elements. We have all the furniture and can hand-finish them. The time saved is then spent on the dry-brush finishing. It’s very much about how you integrate the latest technology with old school craft to get the best results, help to communicate, to engage the audience with the project.” 


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Paul 22/05/2015 17:40

Visited the Building Centre recently - noticed that Greenwich Peninsula is particularly out-of-date - new builds and ongoing projects not included at all. Is the developer among those helping to update the model?