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I became a tour guide and conducted a guided tour of Beckonscot Model Village as part of Architecture Week 2004, organised by The Arts Council and the Royal Institute of British Architects


Model as Ideal
Building a complete world in miniature allows it's architect free reign to construct a personal ideal. Ideas of what constitutes Utopia are of course subjective and, beauty is, as we have been told, in the eye of the beholder. Some Model Villages are an attempt to construct such an Utopia without the imperfections of the real world entering in or indeed the differing opinions and views of others.

Real vs Ideal
The struggle between Real and Ideal is present in the battle for accuracy of representation at scale - materials are asked to perform beyond their expectations to achieve the real at miniature scale. This is a challenge and they are often defeated in their search for perfection by the very stuff from which they are constructed, which try as hard as the craftsman might, cannot hold the required level of detail for us to really believe.

"Some people lose their sense of proportion, I've lost my sense of scale."

Will Self in his novel Scale 1992

Model Worlds as critical counterpoint
Despite this, they offer us a critical counterpoint against which to question 1:1 scale reality. They play games with our understanding of reality. They create fictional pasts, fictional places and remixed territories. They make fun of themselves and of the subjects they represent.

We can take their speculations and simulations as a starting point for a critical debate about where our ideas and longings for perfection come from and where they might lead us should they come true. On another level we can enjoy the purity of their depictions, their puns and comic narratives. Adults and children alike can enjoy our changed physical transformation into giants, looking over our new world from a priveleged position.

Model narratives: memory, present and future
As a young child I was taken to a model village in Bourton on the Water (the Venice of the Cotswolds). As an art student commuting between Oxford and London on the Oxford Tube I passed the road sign every day that signalled the nearby presence of Beckonscot Model Village.

In the 90's I read Will Self's book Scale (in a limited edition diminutive form) and my interest was piqued once more. I applied for research grants to visit some of Britains remaining model villages (Babbacombe, Bourton on the Water and Beckonscot and as well as Madurodam in Holland).

Guided Tour as Research Dissemination
For Architecture week in 2004 I decided to become a tour guide to disseminate the research I had done into model villages. architecture week is organised by Arts Council of England and the Royal Institute of British Architects.

The Real vs Ideal tour discussed the micro narratives within Beckonscot itself, in relation to the real-world contexts and histories that shaped them. It also referred to findings from the other model villages I had visited over the two years of research.I organised tours over a three days in the summer of 2004. The model is both a representation or reference to another thing, but also it is a thing in itself. Model villages refer to the real, the ideal and projected imaginaries.

architecture week

real vs ideal tour

Photo by Richard Nicholson commissioned for the YCN Design Catalogue in 2004.



scale novel by Will Self