Think Small

Think Small

Modernism in Miniature: Points of View
Canadian Centre for Architecture
1920 rue Baile, Montreal
Through January 8, 2012

Curated by Davide Deriu, a senior lecturer in architecture at the University of Westminster, in London, Modernism in Miniature: Points of View explores the encounter between photography and model-making between the 1920s and the 1960s.

Models, or paradigma in ancient Greek, have long been a prominent tool used by architects to clarify their ideas and help them communicate with clients and builders. However, from the beginning of the 20th century, this tool acquired a new status. Within architectural avant-gardes, it gained autonomy and became an exploratory object in the design process.


Consequently, many architects began to feel that a model’s three dimensions offered a more objective approach to design, in comparison to the architectural drawings subjected to the rigid codes of representation popularized by the Beaux Arts school.

Considered as a “thinking machine” or a “laboratory space,” the model was allowed, thanks to its photographic expansion, to overcome architecture’s unbending representational conventions and turned into a reproducible, ubiquitous object circulating among a larger audience.

As Davide Deriu points out, what model photography may have lost in three-dimensionality, it gained in reach and visual possibilities. The resulting photographs seem to hover between the realm of documentary and fantasies of the future. They are thus situated between representation and abstraction, sign and narration.

The five sections of Modernism in Miniature display with dynamic evidence the different ways in which architects approached the genre and redefined the architectural process and its results, from models and imagery used as communication tools to their role in promoting icons.


Drawing from the rich CCA collections and archives, the exhibition assembles about fifty different objects, and includes photographs of projects by Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, Mies van der Rohe, Lásló Moholy-Nagy, Vladimir Tatlin, Arieh Sharon, Constantin Melnikov, Carlo Mollino, J. J. P. Oud, as well as images from influential design schools from the Bauhaus to the Vkhutemas.

The works collected in the show illustrate problems of conception and analyses scientific devices developed to help architects (and clients) to visualize the three-dimensional structure of the object. They sometimes appear as abstract constructions made of heterogeneous materials, sometimes as “machines to see,” which are reminiscent of Brunelleschi’s perspective machine, Dürer’s triangle and glass, and other kinds of Camera Lucida.

They also reveal the mutual dynamic between the object in its materiality and its ideological context. It may be said that these productions illustrate Foucault’s heterotopias: spaces of otherness, which are neither here nor there, that are simultaneously physical and mental and have more layers of meaning or relationships to other places than immediately meet the eye.

The four decades presented in the show seem to give ample and concrete form to what Deleuze in The Fold (1988) has designated “the new status of the object.”