Work on 44 East Avenue, one of the tallest downtown Austin condo towers planned at the moment, should kick off any time now in the Rainey Street District. Its developer, our exceedingly polite Canadian friends at Intracorp, recently opened a leasing office for the 49-floor community at 401 West Third Street, and inside you’ll find among other wonders an incredibly detailed physical model of the project.
I didn’t whip out a tape measure or anything weird like that, but the model looks about five feet tall — meaning it’s at something like 1:117 scale of the actual building, which will supposedly be about 580 feet in height. Visits to the leasing office are by appointment only, and I think they’d appreciate it if you actually had some potential of buying a unit at the building rather than just gawking at their model, so in the interest of everyone’s time we’re going to show you some photos instead.
These models aren’t cheap — we don’t know how much the 44 East miniature cost, but we’ve heard some custom jobs ring up around the “multiple tens of thousands” range. But in a world of developments so defined by 3D renderings that you’ll start noticing obvious and hilarious cliches repeated across them after looking at a few hundred, physical architectural models are an old-school delight, charming roughly the same part of your brain as a nice model train set with all the little people standing around.
Renderings in still image form have a fixed perspective, and the lighting effects of their virtual suns don’t always reflect how a building’s usually going to look. Architects (or the 3D modelers they hire) sometimes stage their visualizations at sunrise or sunset, ensuring the skies and colors appear very dramatic — but even if it’s accurate, that view’s only going to apply for a limited part of the day at best.
A real model you can examine at your leisure from all angles, even if it’s rougher around the edges than a perfect 3D model, gives you a better idea of a project’s physical presence. In other words, even if their creators aren’t trying to deceive you, renderings lie.
Walt Disney, though clearly not anyone’s dream boss, understood this concept even before our modern era of architectural visualizations, allegedly insisting on physical models for projects like Disneyland instead of drawings partly due to the deception made possible by static illustrations. Disney also required the Imagineers designing the 6,900-square-foot model of the original Epcot theme park in 1966 to furnish and light the interiors of each miniature building, despite these spaces being mostly invisible to anyone looking at the model except for a few small windows.
In keeping with its Canadian roots, for its miniature 44 East tower Intracorp hired Vancouver-based design firm AB Scale Model, a shop run by husband-and-wife team Ming Yang and Sharon Xie that cranks out, with the help of more than 40 employees, hundreds of detailed architectural models like this every year. Despite the quaint effect of hand-built miniatures compared with a modern rendering, computers still drive the shop’s laser cutters and 3D printers as they fabricate many components of these models — it just so happens that the end result, assembled by hand and decorated with the added care of human eyes, feels a tiny bit more real.