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Super Structures

August 15, 2006, by Bill Cawthon

I am a fan of modern architecture. I was fortunate enough to spend a number of years living in New Canaan, Connecticut, a small town that is nonetheless famous for its numerous avant-garde homes, like Philip Johnson's famous glass house on Ponus Ridge.

Click for a larger view. Front view of Tak Yamamoto's stunning Los Angeles Automotive Museum. Photo by Tak Yamamoto. Copyright 2006 Tak Yamamoto. Used by permission.

Click for a larger view. This side view gives you a good look at the entrance escalator and its cantilevered support. The lower floors at the left would actually be in the side of one of the hills overlooking the Hollywood Reservoir. Photo by Tak Yamamoto. Copyright 2006 Tak Yamamoto. Used by permission.

Architecture doesn't need to be full-size to be interesting. One of the pleasures of model railroading is the opportunity to build unique structures for the layout. While most of the structures I have built have had a distinctly southwestern flavor, when I have the chance, I enjoy adding modern touches and experimenting with different styles.

I also enjoy seeing the creative work of others, especially those with far more talent that I possess. Recently, I got to enjoy the vision of Tak Yamamoto, who will graduate from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, soon after this column appears. Tak, who is majoring in product design, designed and built the Los Angeles Automotive Museum in 1/87 scale. The structure is fictitious, but it is designed to fit the terrain of the hills above the Hollywood Reservoir northwest of downtown Los Angeles.

Built around a central supporting pylon, the L.A. Automotive museum has a total of five stories with display space for about a hundred cars. Tak, who has been a collector of 1/87 scale vehicles for about ten years, will have no trouble filling the display floors with an assortment of vehicles from various nations. There are also restoration shops, offices and all the other facilities necessary for a functioning museum.

Entry to the museum is via a spectacular five-story escalator that carries its passengers up the hillside to the top floor of the museum, which is the only level visible from the outside. The escalator is actually a suspension bridge supported by a cantilevered arm and touches the ground only at the entry and exit points. At the end of the ride, visitors enter the top floor of the museum whose shape is clearly influenced by natural shapes like the chambered shell of the nautilus.

On the top level is the American car exhibit, surrounded by landscaping and gardens that not only beautify, but are intended to help moderate the temperatures in the building and preserve the environment by reducing storm runoff. Upon entering the building, the miniature visitors begin a tour that will take them through all every exhibit level without any stairs or elevators. The floor has a gentle, seven-degree slope that descends one level in each revolution.

Click for a larger view. The top floor is the entry level. Your tour begins with the gardens and the American car exhibit. Photo by Tak Yamamoto. Copyright 2006 Tak Yamamoto. Used by permission.

Between the top level and the main floor of the museum are three exhibits. The first features Italian cars, the second is devoted to British and French cars and the third is given over to competition cars from around the world. On their way down, patrons can stop for refreshments at the museum's restaurant and bar. The main floor is stocked with German cars including a scale replica of the original Benz Patent Motorcar, the first modern automobile.

Each floor is supported by cables attached to the central pylon. From above, Tak notes the arrangement resembles the spokes of a classic wire wheel.

Though they have reached the main floor, museum visitors still haven't completed their tour. A ramp takes them down to the exit level where they can see over-sized vehicles, a wind tunnel display, a restoration display and a drag strip display. Then it's off to the gift shop and the ground level exit, a tunnel that opens out into a sculpture.

While the main floor houses the executive and administrative offices, the lowest level is where the real work of the museum goes on. There are the facilities and grounds maintenance offices, security, work and delivery areas and storage for vehicles not currently on display. There is also a large service elevator that permits cars to be taken from or returned to storage.

Click for a larger view. This side view of the museum shows the various exhibit floors and the inclined ramps used to move through the exhibits. On the bottom floor are the restoration shops not normally open to the public. Photo by Tak Yamamoto. Copyright 2006 Tak Yamamoto. Used by permission.

I wouldn't even begin to guess how many hours Tak Yamamoto has put into the L.A. Automotive Museum. The design went through various stages of development from the original sketches to computer renderings with Alias software. Then it was on to three-dimensional concept models before Tak finally built the 5-foot by 2-foot by 2-foot scale model that will be on display this weekend.

The few pictures I can show here can give you only as taste of the work Tak has done. I suggest a visit to Tak's website for a more complete tour of the Los Angeles Automotive Museum.

If you are in the area, the graduation show is in Room 223 of the Hillside campus at 1700 Lida St. in Pasadena. The show runs from 6:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. on Friday, August 18 and from noon to 5:00 P.M. on Saturday, August 19. Tak's diorama will be on display along with the work of many other students graduating from one of the world's most prestigious design schools. The Art Center College of Design counts futurist Syd Mead and the legendary Gordon Buehrig among its famous graduates along with Freeman Thomas, J Mays and Chris Bangle, some of the best-known modern automotive stylists, and Chip Foose, probably the leading designer of hot rods and custom cars in America today.

Click for a larger view. The real Grollo Tower never rose above Melbourne, Australia, but this 1:87 scale model towers over Mark Maticek's layout. Photo by Mark Maticek. Copyright 2006 Mark Maticek. Used by permission.

Among the influences cited by Tak Yamamoto is Santiago Calatrava, the well-known Spanish architect and engineer. One of Calatrava's early design concepts for the Tenerife Opera House has been reproduced in 1/87 scale for a model railroad layout near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

I have known Mark Maticek for a few years through the 1/87 Vehicle Club and the forum. Mark, whose real-life occupation is in the medical field, is a vehicle collector and model railroader who is building a small urban-themed layout. His collection of structures ranges from kits that can be found on any number of model railroads to one-of-a-kind buildings that are instant attention-getters.

On a hill above the layout is perched a pagoda-style building, complete with statue of Buddha. Descending into the heart of the city, one finds a potpourri of traditional European architecture mixed with modern buildings that could be at home anywhere.

Soaring above the downtown skyline is a four-foot tall skyscraper that is a replica of the proposed Grollo Tower. The real Grollo Tower was a project intended for Melbourne, Australia, that was never able to get funding. Richard J. Tickner, a very talented architectural modelbuilder, created the model for Mark's layout from a single drawing.

Mark also commissioned the Calatrava Museum after seeing the work the architect did for the Milwaukee Art Museum. Like the Milwaukee museum, Mark's museum is positioned on his layout's waterfront. The model's walls are removable so Mark can add scale works of art. Incidentally, Calatrava's final design for the Tenerife Opera House and the Milwaukee Art Museum would make wonderful models, though they would no doubt be quite challenging.

Click for a larger view. Talented architectural modelbuilder Richard J. Tickner built this HO scale version of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The original, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry, is in Los Angeles. Photo by Mark Maticeck. Copyright 2006 by Mark Maticek. Used by permission.

Click for a larger view. Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava created this design as a concept for the Tenerife Opera House. Richard Tickner built this scale replica for Mark Maticek. In the background can be seen part of the skyline of Mark's city which features an eclectic collection of architectural styles. Photo by Mark Maticek. Copyright 2006 by Mark Maticek. Used by permission.

Click for a larger view. Created by Ned Cain, a Wisconsin artist, these miniature sculptures are all about an inch tall. Photo by Mark Maticek. Copyright 2006 by Mark Maticek. Used by permission.

Moored to a wharf in the city is a beautiful two-masted sailing ship. What a contrast is right next door! Richard Tickner built an HO version of Frank Gehry's fabulous Walt Disney Concert Hall. The Disney Concert Hall was developed from the concepts Gehry used for the world-famous Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. The juxtaposition of the sailing ship and concert hall is not just fortuitous; the themes used in the Disney Concert Hall have been compared to an abstract sailing ship.

Richard Tickner builds these models for a living. He works from photographs and a description of the desired size and features. As each piece is custom-made, the models are not inexpensive, but from what I understand, Richard's work is quite reasonable for what one receives in return. He is particularly fond of the work of Louis Sullivan, an early Twentieth Century architect whose assistants included Frank Lloyd Wright, but as can be seen from the photos, he can handle almost any style desired. If you are interested in a architectural model of your own, you can contact him at Heritage Modelworks, Ltd., 833 Washington St., Galena, Illinois 61036.

My friend Mark doesn't just enjoy museums. He also believes art is not just for indoors. He has managed to acquire some beautiful pieces of miniature sculpture created by Ned Cain, a Wisconsin artist whose work was displayed at the Kohler Art Museum in Sheboygan. The exhibit was entitled "An Inch of Art" and was restricted to pieces no more than an inch tall. Since an inch is the equivalent of seven feet, three inches in HO scale, these miniature masterpieces are perfect for courtyard and public sculpture. Unfortunately, unlike the architectural models, Mr. Cain does not produce his miniature sculptures commercially, so we will have to enjoy them through the photos.

When Mark isn't collecting buildings and art, he is collecting car models. When he completes his layout, I wonder what kinds of cars will fill the streets. I know that one of the models he has been wanting since it was announced at Spielwarenmesse is the new Fiat X 1/9 from Herpa. I got mine not long ago and it's a very nice model of the second-generation car that was sold in North America. Perhaps one of these days, I will get a photo of Mark's X 1/9 in front of one of his marvelous buildings. I'm looking forward to it.

Many thanks to both Tak Yamamoto and Mark Maticek for sharing their scale architectural wonders and especially for all the photographs. I am looking forward to seeing Mark's layout develop in the years to come and hope to visit it again.

I especially want to congratulate Tak Yamamoto on his graduation from the Art Center College of Design. I hope he has a great show this weekend and I wish him a very successful career.

See you next time!

- Bill Cawthon


Bill Cawthon is a modeler and collector. His primary hobby interests are vehicle models in 1:87 and 1:160 scales and model railroading. He is one of the creators of the award-winning "Grimy Gulch" model railroad layout.

In real life, Bill is a marketing and public relations consultant working with the information technology and hobby industries. He is an associate editor for Model Railroad News and writes a monthly column on the U.S. light vehicle industry. He is a member of the 1/87 Vehicle Club and the Texas Auto Writers Association.

He lives in Houston, Texas with his wife, Marge, and their children.

Bill's columns appear twice monthly on Promotex Online. To learn more about him, click here.


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published by Cadabra Corp. This page was lasted updated: August 15, 2006