A Few Amazing Architectural Scale Models

By Norman Chan

Metropolises in miniature.

Designer (and friend of Tested) Nick Acosta clued me into the current home of the Panorama of the City of New York, a 10,000 sq ft model of the city that was made for the 1964 World's Fair. The Panorama, as World's Fair enthusiasts remember it, replicates New York's 900,000 buildings in 1:1200 scale (every inch represents 100 feet), of which some 35,000 were hand made from wood or foam and painted. Visitors viewed the model from a nine-minute ride that simulated the experience of flying over the city in a helicopter, as if they were 20,000 feet in the air. I had no idea that the model was still on display. It's viewable at the Queens Museum, which is now on our list of must-visit places the next time we go to New York Maker Faire. If you can't make it to Queens, Curbed's New York blog recent visited the miniature and posted a ton of great photos.

And since I have miniatures on the mind, here are a few of my favorite scale models I've been able to see in recent travels:

Pan Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco: San Francisco's currently celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the 1915 World's Fair that was held in what's now the city's Marina district. Several dozen city blocks were turned into fairgrounds to commemorate the opening of the Panama canal, as well as the city's rebirth after the 1906 earthquake. As part of the centennial festivities, a large scale model of the original fairgrounds was restored and is on display at the California Historical Society. If you're in town for GDC this week, this is only a block away from the Moscone convention center!

Disneyland, Walt Disney Family Museum: This 12-foot model representing Disneyland as Walt Disney imagined it (including all the attractions he planned for it before his death) was built by Kernerworks for the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco's Presidio park. It's incredibly intricate, and you're allowed to get pretty close up to it for photographs. There's a similar model on display at the Opera House at Disneyland's Main Street, which is a representation of what the park looked like on its 1955 opening day.

19th Century Geneva, Maison Tavel: Joey and I stumbled onto this lavish architectural model while we were in Switzerland two years ago to visit CERN and the Large Hadron Collider. The Magnin Relief Map is housed in the attic of the Tavel House--the oldest private residence in Geneva. The 400 sq-ft miniature depicts Geneva as the city stood in 1850, complete with towering fortifications and neoclassical architecture. Architect Auguste Magnin spent 18 years building this model.

The Bay Model, US Army Corps of Engineers: One of the most famous scale miniatures in California is The Bay Model, a 1.5 acre working hydraulic model of the San Francisco Bay. It was built in the late 1950s to study hydrology in the area, and now is open to the public as an educational resource. I've actually yet to visit it, even though it was just down the block from our original offices in Sausalito!

(h/t Nick Acosta)