within without

One of the biggest challenges in designing a model railway that coexists in a shared living space is how this scenario forces it to behave. Shelves beneath the layout absolutely just can not be overflowing with stuff that only has value in the context of the layout. Not just in terms of noise, the layout should be a polite guest in the space and share, too, in terms of balance—it’s form should be proportionate to the other elements in the space or be a part of the overall plan of the space.

I was working through a joyous and wonderful backlog of architectural inspiration last week when the idea came to me that part of coexisting, in terms of layout design, would explore harmony between elements within the scene and those from the greater space. In this way, design of the layout learns from how we design new buildings to fit into the context of their place so they contribute a new voice that earns its place by expressing a comprehension of its identity. Urban design looks to adjacent buildings to inherit the vernacular from the street where our new building will exist just as the rugged coastline invites our design to study how wind and water shape trees and rocks into forms that work in that environment. Good design is both a place born in contrast and proven by its participation in its environment.

In this space the existing site contributes polished concrete floors, exposed brick wearing a century of experience as the walls of a school that were also those of a emergency hospital during the Halifax Explosion, white plaster walls, and clear finished birch case goods. Drawing that palette of colour, texture, and story into the model railway can be a way of tailoring the whole scene just as we do a well put together outfit that compliments its choices and celebrates the complete joy of being well dressed.

Since the builtin case goods are finished and placed like this we are careful when adding furniture into the space that it cooperates with these existing elements to calm some of the visual noise. We’ve added some black (steel) and red wine. What little layout fascia will draw from this clear-finished birch just as paving in the scene could take inspiration from those same polished concrete floors that are our path through the space. The relationship of brick is obvious but also an invitation to connect the layout to our home—not just colour but also its sense of scale and geometry. In this way the only “new” forms are threads of green or like vegetation elements added within the layout’s envelope just as we have on sunny windowsills.

I enjoy this contemplation. Our design process is bedded into a hierarchy that starts at the train and works out. This creates our constant conflict of dream versus reality. Since I’m content with so many layout themes this hierarchy isn’t as important and I wanted to instead start from the constants and work inward toward the scene. Decisions about what to model, what scale to work in, and so on become easy to make when derivative of what stones we can’t move and I feel a certain peace brought about by this.

I have a shelf fourteen feet long. What I make fits in here.

I hate all the stuff that hangs off a model railway or hides behind (under it). I dream of all I need being contained within what is made with only minimal baggage leftover and what there is of that being politely stored.

It’s fascinating to have interplay between the layout and the environment it lives in. This runs deeper than just noise levels but, in a way, is a study of noise levels too.


Categories: How I think

2 replies

  1. DCC amd frog juicers, manual turn out throws. Somewhere an NCE Powercab ‘panel’ secreted in the layout, or at least hidden in a draw, with power to the board. On at the flick of a switch. Play time.

    I love how this dialogue/monologue echoes my own meanderings with presentation.

    • Indeed embedding control architecture within this envelope is part of the formula.

      I have NCE including their board to connect to a laptop so could embed it all within and drive from a phone or like Bluetooth throttle.

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