PEOPLE & PERSPECTIVES | 17 / 2013

werk5 – Model-building in Berlin

The architects’ first master builders

PEOPLE & PERSPECTIVES | 17 / 2013

werk5 – Model-building in Berlin

The architects’ first master builders

Photo: werk5

You might think in an era of 3D-renderings it would no longer be necessary to present architecture models. But good architecture requires models. The model-builders at werk5 are well aware of the valuable qualities models offer. Small wonder that specimens made by the Berlin firm have modeled for 250 prize-winning designs.

At first sight you might think you are in a typical architect’s office. Maybe this is because werk5 is located in Deutsches Architektur Zentrum, an early industrial building directly on the River Spree. Staff members sit around a long counter area in front of black screens and design components in 3Danimation. In the meeting room, also known as the “samples room”, there are large and small architecture models or façade sections in a variety of materials. It’s what you are used to seeing in architect’s offices. But a quick glimpse behind the tall glass panes and the sound of a machine in the background leave no room for doubt: Not only are things designed and planned here, this is also where they get made. Admittedly not entire houses, but most certainly models – houses and views of cities in miniature format.

As soon as the door behind the office and design department closes, it gets loud and dusty. In the large tools room, computer-controlled 3D-plotters and large CNCmilling machines work automatically as if they were part of the “ghost production line” at VW. Making an earsplitting sound they cut out bizarre shapes from wood, white varnished plastic or Corian. It soon becomes evident that the bits then form the many individual parts that will be combined to produce architectural models as soon as you enter the assembly shop. As with the tiny model railway houses, entire sets of items are put together for the respective model; it’s a job reminiscent of working on jigsaw puzzles with countless tiny pieces.

Using digital design to produce a specific model

“That is precisely what so attracted us about modern model-building,” relates Hauke Helmer, one of the two founders of werk5. “We plan and design using digital equipment, steer a laser and produce models of houses or towns without having to employ construction workers.” But as a qualified carpenter he remembers the time when building models was a true craft. The nostalgiclooking carpenter’s bench in the assembly shop recalls the early days: That was 18 years ago. Yet the founders of werk5 belong to the first generation to recognize and utilize the new options offered by CAD technology. However, they could not develop any enthusiasm for the digital visualization of architecture or rendering, which soon became state of the art in architecture presentations. As qualified architects they wanted to produce something solid, not houses, but models.

Success was quick in coming, in fact while they were still students: Twenty years ago they submitted the winning entry for the Berlin Palace competition. “Back then the model of solid wood was a treat for the eyes,” says Gunnar Bloss, who holds power of attorney on behalf of werk5. “Most people had those standard typical white models. Ours was different and sophisticated.” From then onwards things just got better for the model-building firm in Berlin. Today, werk5 not only produces models for all the renowned architects worldwide, but also for investors and project developers in Germany and Asia. The model-building company in Berlin’s fashionable Mitte district is also highly sought-after for large public construction projects such as the modernization of Deutsches Staatsoper: conservationists, the municipal director of urban development, architects, engineers (all of them professionals) needed the model in order to reach a final decision on the project. Specifically, they all got together and literally stuck their heads in the model of the Opera House, to inspect the exact positioning of columns and seating. Model-builders, argues Helmer, were the architects’ first master builders. What works in a model, also works in the finished building and vice versa: What does not work in a model, will not work in a later building. “That’s why,” adds Bloss summing up, “you need good architecture models. Without an attractive architecture model there is no construction contract and most certainly no competition prizes.”

You will find an interview with Hauke Helmer and Gunnar Bloss here.

Cornelie Kister