Model Village


Hand sewn filled/
weighted objects,
various sizes
This is an ongoing visual inquiry into abstract representations of the buildings and structures we dwell in, into the shapes of our built communities.
   The term Model Village relates to housing (dating back to the late 18th century) built by wealthy landowners for their workers, as well as the miniature tourist attractions I visited as a child. It evokes an idealised community, an idyll; and provides a useful lens through which to observe the distance between the ideal and the built reality.
Model villages: a scene from Land Ground Earth Soil (2019) and one of my own childhood visits.
Unlike digital communities, which pervade and influence so much of our collective consciousness; physical communities, as in the geographic places where people dwell, can seem arbitrary and undynamic by comparison. I use the word ‘dwell’ here advisedly, to mean where a person lives, works, resides or exists.
   So why do you dwell in a particular place? Did you choose to be there? If so, what were the physical characteristics about it that attracted you? Its houses, green spaces, local amenities? Or where it is in relation to other places? Do you engage as a member of its community?
   My interest in this springs from previous research for Land Ground Earth Soil, which includes a theory in evolutionary psychology that 150 is found to be the optimal number of people who can live in a community together, based on trust and moral obligation.
   Historic records reveal that 150 was not only the average village size in the 18th century, but also in the Domesday Book of 1086. Interestingly this is also found to apply to social media, irrespective of how many ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ a person appears to have.
Sketchbook pages.
The project uses abstracted forms of buildings and structures, stripping away as much detail as possible while retaining recognisable features.
   The process of thinking through creating ‘representions’ uses the prevalance of the pitched roof as an important symbol. It excludes housing and office blocks which are too bland when translated into smaller simple shapes; but includes what might otherwise have been obsolete industrial buildings because they now contain apartments, offices and retail. Crucially, it also includes temporary static structures like tents, with uses ranging starkly from homelessness to festivals and glamping. 
Paper prototypes and patterns for fabric versions. 
The models are worked to represent types or categories of buildings and structures, but with occasional exceptions that bear a notable resemblance to The Shard and Canary Wharf (which is actually One Canada Wharf). 
  The models are out of scale with each other in the real world but have each retained their own proportions. The absence of scale strips the power that comes with size from the larger buildings. It allows them to viewed objectively as mere shapes, as objects that can now relate instead directly with each other.
Early tarpaulin prototypes, made from used camping ground sheets.
The inclusion of temporary static structures like tents in Model Village means that their lightweight material and form must be represented in some way. Is it as simple as: permanent structures = hard, temporary structures = soft?
   In the context of our broken housing market, overcrowding (revealed so cruelly by Covid) and homelessness, it feels appropriate to endow all the models with the properties of temporariness. ‘Soft’ tent-like representations of buildings and structures, filled/weighted and sewn out of tarpaulin, itself a rudimentary material normally associated with shelter and impermanence.
White tarpaulin models.