It's been almost a year since I built my cardboard study model of the now non-existent Bata Headquarters, a fine example of Canadian mid-century modern architecture designed by John B. Parkin, and I'm now just about at the painting stage with my proper scale model. This build has been frustrating at times, but always interesting and a great learning experience. I'm having lots of fun with this and I'm pleased with how it's coming along.
View from Eglinton Avenue.
(just east of Don Mills Road)
(just east of Don Mills Road)
This is pretty much the view I had of this beautiful building each time I went to St. Clement's or the Science Centre in the 1970s and '80s (yet somehow completely ignored it/took it for granted when I worked next door at The Radisson in the summer of 1989). Because this was the only angle from which I'd ever seen the building, I had no idea there were six, three-storey-high tower blocks on the opposite side where the main entrance is.
My model will have some of that landscaping (and I'd like to include that Bata sign), but I want to keep the base size to a minimum as the long side of the building itself is 16".
I made the study model above to get a sense of the scale I'd be using, get my measurements in order, and get some much needed practice with scratch building architectural miniatures. I built that model pretty quickly and it came out okay, all things considered (one of those things being the mistake of having two rows of eight (instead of nine) windows on the long side).
Cardboard (in this case, cereal boxes) is a good practice/study material, but I knew this was a project I'd want to build more definitively using a sturdier and easier to paint material like plastic (I ended up using wood as well).
I couldn't get ahold of (or find samples of) the original architectural drawings (they might be at the Bata Shoe Museum (maybe even a model or two), but I never got around to checking), so all my measurements are pure conjecture based on the height of the doors (presuming they're standard 7' tall commercial doors). So, while my model is probably not technically accurate, it's as close as I could get (I'm no architect –I'm barely a model builder).
Drawings for laser cutting.
Because the upper floors had many oddly-angled (not perfectly squared) windows, I was doubtful I'd be able to get the consistent precision needed to depict this building properly if I made them by hand. I looked into some laser cutting options and decided Toronto Laser Services might be able to make me the parts I needed. I imported a good elevation view into CorelDraw, drew my best-guess plans over it, and made a file compatible with TLS's specific requirements.
The top box was top priority, but there was so much room left on the workspace that I decided to draw components for the rear towers and the posts as well. The posts were the most complicated shape in the whole design of the actual building and I was intimidated a bit by them, thinking I'd never get them looking right. I thought simplifying them might help and designed an interlocking system where I could get some semblance of the actual thing.
Laser cut bass wood.
These were the parts I got back from TLS and it's all really good, except everything's twice as thick as I'd like it to be (not their fault; I knew the thickness of the wood they'd be using, but I thought it would work). This thickness slightly changes the dimensions of the upper floors, but I can manage –however, the interlocking posts are now too thick and weird, and not elegant at all. Again, all my fault, but I carried on...
Assembling the top floors.
I used my 1-2-3 blocks to get the walls as square as possible but still screwed it up (the short walls were vertically square, looking directly at them, but they were at slight angles when viewed from the side), so I broke them apart and tried again.
Vincent helps put the pressure on.
I got some balsa wood for the floors and ceiling and this picture shows the newly-aligned walls getting glued to the floor with the help of an impressionist. I should have cut the wood to fit inside the walls rather than underneath them as this adds to the height of the building, but I'm still figuring out how to build stuff (I'm not used to this kind of precision).
Test-fitting the posts.
Inspected by Han and Chewie.
The figures helping with the inspection are 1/144 scale Han Solo and Chewbacca from my Factory Stock Millennium Falcon build. They were helpful in determining whether I got the heights of the posts right since they're the same scale as the model and they could fit in the colonnade.
Inspection not going well...
While the overall headroom added from the floor's thickness looks correct, the vertical pillars of the posts look too short (even accounting for the base he's attached to). Deciding how to proceed held up construction for too long (I should've been building the main floor or the rear towers while deciding the fate of the posts).
Rejecting the laser cut posts.
These simplified posts didn't do any justice to the beautifully designed tree-like shapes of the originals and the rectangular (rather than square) vertical posts (due to the thickness of the wood) looked not only wrong, but bad. So all these guys had to go.
Also rejected were my laser cut tower blocks, the measurements of which were totally off with the rest of the model. It was a good try, and these were bonus elements anyway, the windows being the main reason for laser cutting.
Base frame jig.
Reinforced base frame.
I reinforced the frame in case it went out of alignment, something I didn't really need to do since I'd be attaching a floor on top of this, but stronger is better, I guess.
Base floor jig.
That's a single styrene sheet attached to the frame, but I now realize I didn't really need a floor on top of that frame (plus, it adds even more to the overall height of the model). I really don't remember, but maybe I thought I'd be using clear plastic for the main floor windows, rather than building opaque plastic walls which I will then paint to simulate windows. Maybe I was vacillating between these options and installed the floor just in case. Either way, the base is very sturdy, now.
Building the base box.
I used just about every tool at my disposal to build the walls of the main floor and make sure they were as square as I could make them. There's machinist squares, 1-2-3 blocks, magnetic clamps, rulers...and lots of patience and concentration (not depicted).
Taller and thinner posts.
My solution for the posts was to saw off the vertical pillars and attach longer pieces of square rod styrene to the old bases (which are still too thick).
They're not great, but they'll do. I'm hoping that the eventual paint job will mitigate or obscure the inaccuracies.
I hope the Weld Bond and super glue keeps all this together during all the building, painting, and assembly to come. Note the rear tower block reference photo of the actual Bata building on the laptop (the title image I shot of my model for this post closely matches that photo).
Main floor with Bondo.
Since the interlocking bases were shorter on one diagonal than the other, I cut some styrene to beef up the outer (more visible) angles to better match. Slightly better, albeit slightly awkward since they're squared at the bottom (I couldn't find the patience to finely shave down 13 tiny pieces of plastic to make the joins seamless). It's another compromise I'm just going to have to live with.
As long as I was adding slightly better, albeit slightly awkward elements to the post bases, I decided to add the second cross by cutting little triangles (four for each of the 13 posts)...
So many tiny triangles.
Slightly more accurate posts.
I'm still hoping all these slightly-better-yet-slightly-awkward details will be mitigated by the paint job. I had an idea of building one, good, as-accurate-as-I-could-make-it post out of plastic, making a mold, then making duplicates, but that idea didn't get far. I did try building these things in 3-D using SketchUp (to eventualy have them 3-D printed), but I had no success since I have no experience with that program and the shapes are very complex...I mean JUST LOOK AT THEM:
They're probably really simple to model for an experienced 3-D modeller (they're just four intersecting triangles), but I didn't stand a chance without months of learning and practice. I just wanted to get on with this project, so I did, and started building the rear tower blocks...
Building the towers.
Moving on to simpler forms I started building the rear towers blocks in assembly line fashion which worked very well. I made 12 right-angled walls, reinforced them with square rod styrene, then attached them in pairs to make the six towers.
Test fitting the main masses.
Since this photo was taken, I cut plastic to close up the tops of the towers (the only thing on this list not visible in the title image), cut an opening in Tower #4 for the main entrance, built the portico over that entrance, and built two sets of stairs for the side entrances.
Now I just have to wait a bit for warmer weather to apply primer to all the parts. The upper floors will be spray painted, but I think I'll use my airbrush for the rest. I also have to figure out what to use for and how to apply the glazing on the upper floors.
All that to follow in PART TWO...