Tim talks 100 Models w. Melbourne Design Week

"BKK Principal Tim Black shares the stories behind his 4 favourite models…"
-BKK Architects

100 Models is an exhibition by BKK Architects that celebrates the network of ideas within an architecture studio. Each model is a fusion of influences – culture, technology, science, philosophy, politics and urbanism – that are processed by our collective design intelligence. Each model is an unpolished prototype, folly, or experiment made to be handled, observed, critiqued, bent, prodded, turned upside-down, broken, and stuck back together. Each model is the collateral produced in the pursuit of architecture.


BKK Principal Tim Black shares the stories behind his 4 favourite models…



Tim Black on design across vastly different scales…

What is special about this model?

This model continues a fascination with the Earth g

Tim Black on design across vastly different scales…

What is special about this model?

This model continues a fascination with the Earth generally, and also with scale. It is a replica of the Wheeler Solar System installation along Melbourne’s foreshore. Tony and Maureen Wheeler funded a 1:1 billion scale model of our solar system stretching from St. Kilda’s marina to Port Melbourne.

At 1:1 billion, if you do a fairy walk – when you walk heel to toe successfully – it puts you at a pace of approximately 1km/h, which is at scale means that you are walking 1:1 billionth the speed of light. It takes light 8 minutes to get from the Sun to Earth. At St Kilda, you can walk from the model of the Sun, which is about 2m in diameter, to the model of the Earth, which is about 13mm in diameter, which – in fairy steps – also takes 8 minutes. I know this for a fact as I’ve done it with my daughter!

For us, this fascination with scale puts things in perspective. What is utterly astounding is that the Earth is one of 9 planets that sit in a vast field of emptiness. It is just amazing how little matter there is.

Where and when did the idea behind this model originate?

The idea comes from a long-standing fascination with the nature and scale of the Earth, and really thinking about design at all scales: from the detail to the building, to the city, the planet, to the solar system.

It also comes from the way GPS heightens our awareness of our geo-location, so that we are constantly aware of where we are on the planet at any time.

Another inspiration for this is Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of 10

Has this influenced any projects within the BKK studio?

It is influencing a project at present: the ACMI Renewal Project at Federation Square. We have been talking to ACMI and to our collaborators about how we can ready the space for a new kind of augmented reality experience that is geo-located.

How do we build an accurate geo-located model based on a 3D point cloud and refit model survey? And can that provide a new space for a new type of technological design entrepreneur? Accurate geo-location can form a foundation of a new layer of experience through digital media. As yet, we don’t quite know what this is, but we think the opportunities are huge.

How does it relate to the other 99 models?

There are quite a few models that have geo-spatial references or play with scale.  For example, the model M001 draws upon publicly available cadastral data. It is a smaller component of the planet, but it nevertheless engages in big thinking about spaces and place beyond buildings, or even cities, including entire mountain systems.




Tim Black on translating 2D doodle to 3D folly…

What do you find special about this model?I enjoy the fact that ‘Trunk Cell Split’ came from a two-dimensional sketch but it found three-dimensional expression as something entirely different. In this sense ‘Truck Cell Split’ is the unanticipated end point of a speculation, and it is the expression of the exploration which is at the heart of what we do as designers. We start out, and we have no idea what’s going to result. However results do come, and are realised through a degree of rigour around exploring a problem.

I also like that is has an element of wit about it, intended or otherwise. And like many of the models, it reflects a particular way of thinking and exploring somewhat freely as a designer, free from the constraints of an actual brief or a real problem.

Where and when did the idea behind this model originate? It essentially came from a doodle. Sketching remains a pivotal part of what we do as Architects and whilst the exhibition presents physical models, a lot of the models arise out of hand sketches as they are such a critical way of thinking.  Not just doing; through sketching you are actually thinking.

I still have the very original sketch that I did. It was a geometrical thought experience, born on the page, where I happened to draw two cells that appeared to be dividing from a single cell. The sketch was a simple speculation where I wondered what the geometrical relationship was when a single circle is split into two, whilst retaining the same surface area. It turns out it’s not a different problem to solve. But then I wondered what happens when those two branches split into a further two, and they split again into a further two. And then, what happens if that evolutionary split continues whilst maintaining the same cross sectional area all the way through, and this collection of circles is then stretched out in a ‘z’ direction.

The result is this interesting tower form that could be seen in one of two ways.

It is an extruded tower form of consistent cross sectional area in the same manner than any floor plan is, in the same way that any tower is a continuous floor plate. But with the ‘great granddaughters’ pointing upwards, it presents opportunities for multiple penthouses. It’s a silly idea but also an interesting and fun one.

Alternatively, if we flip it the other way, it is a tower of many legs. It then has touches of delight and the folly of some of the Archigram’s Walking City and of Theo Jansen’s Stranbeests.

Has this influenced any projects within the BKK studio? Not yet, but if you look at the pantscraper currently under construction on 447 Collins Street at the moment and you see that this model is the ‘multi-pants’ building! It ‘out-pants’ the pantscraper.

How does it relate to the other 99 models?It relates to M003 ‘Torus Tower’ in that it is one of those open-ended speculations that starts with an experimental wondering and ends in a delightful surprise.

If you were to iterate another version of this what would it look like? I kind of have in a way, as it did inspire M051 ‘Trifoil Curves’. It doesn’t have the same consistent cross-sectional analysis, but it is also a contortion; in this case a tapering contortion.




Tim Black on translating hand-made to digital…

What is special about this model?

Vaughan Howard, one of our very clever BKK staff, brought this to life. I love the inventiveness of this; its true ‘maker’ spirit.

It’s a mechanical system for fitting components together in the tradition of nail-less connections found in Japanese carpentry. It is Vaughan’s creation and I think it’s beautifully inventive. For me it captures the spirit of the ‘maker movement’ of which 3D printing is a core technological element. For me it tells a nice story about how architecture has the capacity to be a very inventive practise.

Vaughan has come upon a problem that I have also been tackling in a side-hustle called Nudel: how do you make something using digital techniques of design and manufacture, and make it easy for humans to put things together? He has approached this in a very different way to Nudel and has created quite a unique thing.

Where and when did the idea behind this model originate?

Vaughan is an absolute craftsman. He runs his own furniture-making studio outside the office and he – a little bit like me – is an inveterate tinkerer. I think this largely comes from his timber practise and he has extended that into 3D printing.

What else does this model reveal?

One of the things Vaughan has had to think about with this component was the need to adjust it for quite different manufacturing tolerances than he’s used to with his work in timber. So, as a craftsman, he has moved nimbly between mediums. He has translated the skills he has learnt working with his hands into a digital application.

Has this influenced any projects within the BKK studio? If not, what opportunities do you see in it for transferring into architectural practice?

This is very transferable. Vaughan has recently located a commercially available nail-less cross laminated timber (CLT) connection from Europe.

There are also great historical precedents, such as Walter Burley Griffin’s interlocking brick system Knitlock, of which there are a few remaining houses. I think with the rise of pre-manufactured housing we’ll see increasing component and sub-assembly style manufacturing of housing elements. Within the context of high labour costs, anything that can go together in an easy ‘Ikea-style’ manner is going to have a viable place in our industry.



Tim Black on how civil infrastructure can celebrate a civic identity…

What is special about this model?

This was a proposal for a huge 70m single-span sculptural gateway across the West Gate Motorway, on the western side of the West Gate Bridge. It was part of an urban design scheme that BKK worked up as part of the FastFlow bid team on the West Gate Tunnel Project, in which we were ultimately unsuccessful.

We saw this as the ‘Gateway to the West’ that hadn’t so far been acknowledged. It was, for us, an expression of Melbourne’s West’s coming of age. While the project was just a toll road, it had the capacity to do significant things for the inner western suburbs; practically – by removing trucks from the road – but also culturally – by acknowledging the West as a place of importance. It was a 7 x 7m steel box truss, wrapped in perforated Corten steel. It was a monumental sculptural gateway in steel.

Where and when did the idea behind this model originate?

It came from a series of sketches by Adi Atic, a former colleague of ours, and it revolved around a core conceptual framework around notions of flow. The concept aimed to draw together layers of narrative about Melbourne’s West. It was partly a play on the bid team’s name (FastFlow),  but it was mainly about the geological story of the West. One of the greatest basalt plains in the world is covers Western Victoria, extending from the Maribyrnong River all the way out to Warrnambool and beyond.

It was also intended to be a lyrical interpretation of the DCM’s ‘Cheese Stick’ that marks Melbourne’s entry from the north via Tullarmarine Motorway. We saw ours as a fluid riposte to the very rigid yellow chip. Formally, it was a nod to Clement Meadmore; a son of Melbourne who ‘made big’ in New York, and one of Australia’s pre-eminent post war sculptors. There is a really fabulous piece of his down on Southbank outside Hamer Hall – a bit of a personal favourite.

Where in the office would you place this model, if you could put it anywhere? Where should it live?

It should live on the West Gate Motorway at 70m long! [Laughs.]

It usually hangs on our boardroom wall, but we sometimes wear it around the office as a fascinator; it looks a little Napolean-esque in elevation. I think it should be worn to the races.

Has this influenced any projects within the BKK studio? If not, what opportunities do you see in it for transferring into architectural practice?

The geometry of this model was established using a highly flexible parametric model, so while it is a rigid engineering-style truss it can actually be traced out to any base line. It was coded in that way to easily test the sorts of knots and variances that Meadmore did throughout his career, but in a very quick manner. This ‘coding’ approach to architecture has all sorts of potential applications in projects, and we use it all the time.