Models of Sustainability

13 June 2019

The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2019 Architecture Room. FCBStudios Croft Gardens model is shown on the right-hand side


Models as an architectural tool have long been used to tell stories about context, style, massing and more. Architectural models can also be used to tell the important stories of sustainable design.

FCBStudios' Modelmaker Cassidy Wingrove created two new pieces of work for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition which illustrate a strong sustainable agenda.

The 2019 Royal Academy Summer Exhibition Architecture Room, curated by Spencer De Grey, invited submissions that showcase how good design and a strong sustainable agenda can work together.

Accepted into the exhibition were two new models of current FCBStudios projects which stood out for their strong environmental strategies, visionary clients and contextual designs.

E3 Learning Foundry is a new, multi-disciplinary undergraduate teaching building for Trinity College Dublin. E3 stands for ‘Engineering, Environment and Emerging technologies’ and its cross-departmental courses will focus on subjects such as smart cities, wellbeing, data analysis and sustainable resources. Located in the heart of the College’s historic city centre campus it aims to set new standards for sustainable design in Higher Education in Ireland.

Croft Gardens is a project for Kings College, Cambridge, providing residential accommodation for students and fellows in a new community south-west of the city. The project is composed of three crescent terraces forming an open-sided court. The brief demanded low carbon emissions and the ultra-high standards of insulation demanded by Passivhaus and stipulated that the scheme should be designed for a lifetime of 100 years.

The models take the sustainable strategies incorporated into the projects and translate them into a physical form to illustrate them clearly to a general audience.

Our response to Trinity College’s architectural brief was to develop a tripartite concept that responds to a number of different project strands. The model illustrates this with a section of the building, showing each of the three main areas and the key sustainable systems integrated into each one.

Timber was chosen as the primary material for the Trinity College project for its versatility and its ability to convey the different teaching and learning spaces, their construction and their environmental treatment. Traditional techniques and processes which focused around accuracy and quality of finish were used in conjunction with reflective materials employed to highlight key environmental strategies. The 3D printed bubble deck slabs – which reduce the cement content of the concrete frame - were first given a chrome spray finish to accentuate the curved geometry before being clad in timber veneer and the ground source heat pump was expressed by combining polished acrylic elements with dichroic film to both simulate movement and represent heat. The central lantern, which brings light into the heart of the building, was made from laser-cut metal that would imitate the reflection and refraction of the light as in the completed building.

The building design responds intelligently to the different learning spaces required and elementally to the sustainable energy solutions using a combination of new and tried and tested technologies. Our model shows how these tactics work together across the building to create a building that is designed to NZEB compliance and BREEAM Excellent certification.

In contrast, the model for Croft Gardens focuses on the materials used and their role in reducing the embodied energy of the building both in construction and in use. The model is divided in two to show the interior and exterior shells that make up the building. A double-sided mirror separates the two halves, so from one side, the view is of the complete timber shell and on the other, the clay skin. It is a homage to Alicja Kwade’s astonishing shape-shifting work recently displayed at the Hayward Gallery which allows one to see inside and outside at the same time and transition between the two. Alicja occupies an artist’s studio we recently completed in Berlin.

The base of the model includes a piece of structural cross-laminated timber and a cast brick which appears to float within the Perspex box, both sized to the actual thickness of the materials used in the buildings. The overall energy consumption of the buildings is calculated to be 37 tCO2/ year.

In order to accurately represent the external form we first modelled it digitally before creating a 3D printed version. Crucial to this was the surface finish which we wanted to read as much like clay brick as possible. A selective laser sintering process was used to produce a grainy texture inspired by the Gault bricks specified for the scheme.

With the geometry and texture determined, the form was reproduced using material more appropriate to the project. We created a silicone rubber mould into which we were able to cast a variety of materials. After an iterative process, using a number of variations of material and treatment, the final piece shown is solid cast plaster, pigmented to resemble the gault bricks.

The building addresses all the issues of low-energy design in a subtle and understated manner. With ‘superinsulation’ we no longer need architecture that is overtly environmentally explicit. The answers are all in the layout and details, which our model explains.

The two models show approaches to sustainable design appropriate to each of the projects' scale, sector and location, and pioneer a new strand of modelmaking purpose for the practice.

Cassidy Wingrove

Run without interruption since 1769, the Summer Exhibition is the world’s largest open submission art show and brings together art in all mediums – prints and paintings, film, photography, sculpture, architectural works and more – by leading artists, Royal Academicians and household names as well as new and emerging talent.

The exhibition runs from the 10th June through to the 12th August 2019.


Top: The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2019 Architecture Room. FCBStudios Croft Gardens, King's College Cambridge, model is shown on the right-hand side.

1. Trinity College Dublin E3 Learning Foundry Model.

2. Concept sketch for Trinity College Dublin E3 Learning Foundry\, showing the tripartite scheme.

3. Details of the Trinity College Dublin E3 Learning Foundry model showing the bubble deck.

4. Details of the Trinity College Dublin E3 Learning Foundry model showing the ground source heat pump.

5. Model for Croft Gardens\, King's College Cambridge.

All photos by FCBStudios