Architectural models come into their own when they are on display. As tools of communication, an audience brings them to life. Models can be found displayed in many different settings: enlivening the lecture room of an architectural school, ornamenting the sideboard of a collector’s study, casually positioned around an architect’s office, presented in a town hall for a competition, put on view in the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy, or presented in a museum as a teaching aid.

Whether the context of display is personal or civic, fleeting or prolonged, the model’s purpose is to meet its public – or indeed, publics, given that models can be displayed to a variety of different groups over their lifetime. Not all models are primarily intended for display, but even expendable sketch models produced solely for the architect’s own eyes are arguably also put on view, albeit to a very small audience, when they are reviewed by the architect and their office.

Presenting models demands the consideration of many elements – the scale of the model, the degree of finish, whether the model is displayed uncovered or under a hood, and the effects of lighting. No matter what the context or the purpose, the theatricality of models on display is part of their appeal and power.

Case Study: ‘Architects Stanton Williams’

Architects Stanton Williams describe themselves as passionate about model making. The practice creates and displays models at very different scales: from the cardboard table-top sketch model used to begin a conversation about form, through presentation models, culminating in large structures that become human-scale platforms for interaction and intervention.

Models are employed by the practice as design tools to develop and understand space and form. Simple cardboard models such as the Shadow Pavilion model made as a proposition for a public space in Albania travelled from London to Tirana to convey an idea for a multi-purpose pavilion. The model was displayed as a prop detailing a design intention. Afterwards it was passed from hand to hand to be held at eye level where it engaged the viewer directly with the pavilion’s intention to frame the house behind it.

The display of models is in Stanton Williams’ DNA. The practice has exhibited models in the Royal Academy Summer Show for many years. During 2018’s Great Spectacle exhibition staged to celebrate 250 years of the Summer Exhibition, the practice displayed ‘Intangible’: a model that pushed the boundaries of representation to imagine four seminal buildings in a shared architectural form.

1:1 models are made by the practice to analyse detail, functionality and form. The recently completed Royal Opera House, London, necessitated the fabrication of 1:1 models to test designs from complex theatrical lighting scenarios to bespoke vanity units. Stanton Williams describe the use of such models as a way to ‘allow proportions to be gauged against the scale of hand or body’. They form the interim moments between design and construction and through dissemination of photographs – putting them ‘on display’ – become part of the project’s story.

At a much larger scale, Stanton Williams designed Baldacchino – in reference to ornamental canopies above altars or thrones – as a response to the Interni exhibition theme ‘House in Motion’ for Milan Design Week, 2018. Describing the piece as ‘choreographic architecture’, the pavilion was created with the intention of ‘giving physical form to the idea of movement through space’. The pavilion functions both as an amplified maquette and scaled-down architecture; a perfect but playful moment of display.


  • Mari Lending & Mari Hvattum, eds. Modelling Time: The Permanent Collection 1925–2014
  • Fiona Leslie, ‘Inside Outside: Changing Attitudes Towards Architectural Models in the Museums at South Kensington’, Architectural History, 47, 2004, pp. 159–200.
  • Matthew Wells, ‘Relations and Reflections to the Eye and Understanding: Architectural Models and the Rebuilding of the Royal Exchange, 1839–44’, Architectural History, 60, 2017, pp. 219–241.


MOMA online archive of architecture exhibitions –

Architectural models in the collection of the Danish National Art Library –

Model as Ruin: The Oslo Architecture Exhibition 31/13 –

Foundation Archi-Depot, Japan –

The Serpentine Gallery online archive of pavilions – http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/explore/pavilion

The Great Model of St Paul’s on display at St Paul’s Cathedral – https://www.stpauls.co.uk/history-collections/the-collections/collections-highlights/the-great-model

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