The value of the Maquette

By Mike Birch — October 16, 2020


noun: maquette; plural noun: maquettes
An artist’s or sculptor’s small preliminary model or sketch.


In my earlier blog post “The art of creative engineering” I talked about the first stages of any project, where we begin to deconstruct creative concepts into their layers or core elements and begin to add structure, limits and material response. Following an initial phase of detailed conceptual sketching and 3D modelling, perhaps the most important phase in achieving an exacting creative response is the production of maquettes, samples and proof of principles.

This is often the first opportunity for our clients and partners see ideas translated into physical form, as we welcome them into our workshop and invite them to become more integrated within our own fabrication and delivery processes. During these workshops we explore our initial approach to materiality, movement, construction and fabrication techniques and experiment with lighting and SFX overlays, in an open and collaborative way.

“It doesn’t have to be right, it just has to be done well” – whether it’s an already highly specified design or creative journey into the unknown, this phase cannot be judged in the same way as other project metrics. This doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be expected to be 100% right first time. It’s a journey; we view a successful outcome often not by the maquette itself, but by the conversations and ideas which flow from them and inevitable twists and turns this process takes us on. It’s the ultimate goal is to further develop and hone creative ideas, experiment, guide and inform, delivering a more streamlined design process and a more thought out finished piece.

Our maquettes range from small scale models or discrete elements of a larger piece that all but fit in the palm of your hand, through to entire sections of bigger structures, where the internal space and approach to lighting can be developed and experienced in “maquette” form 1:1. Some are simple, some are more complex, with initial automation to experiment with and define performance parameters. Each is an individualised response to an unknown variable, whose approach we seek to define and whose value is intrinsically linked to the success of the project or piece.

Drapes, lighting and atmosphere are tools we use to mask the back drop of our busy production workshop, providing focus and the room to step back and appraise the small details. We love what we do and so there’s always certain nervous anticipation as you walk with the client / partner into a space for the first time to present these pieces as part of a shared personal and collaborative project experience. If a picture is worth a thousand words – being able to view, explore and feel first-hand these initial models / design responses must be worth something more even valuable.

This opens up another question, does the increasing use VR and AR technologies take this process one step further. Can we use these as tools to accurately place digital maquettes within the contextual environment they will ultimately call home, allowing changes to be made quickly and immersive worlds to be built, that cannot be cost effectively replicated in a studio.

Whilst I can see certain advantages of a more modern approach, for me the analogue and physicality of this stage is one that’s almost impossible to beat.

So embrace the journey of this rewarding process, collaborate to push boundaries and look to develop ideas with an open mind – it’s priceless.