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By Laurie Green MMR

The 12th Australian Narrow Gauge Convention was looming and I needed an idea for a structure to enter into the model competition. I tend to build most of my structures in timber, but wanted to try something different (and probably more difficult), and was considering an inner city brick building. This idea for a diorama has reared it’s head quite a few times since my trip to New York a couple of years ago.

Many of the older and smaller brick commercial buildings in New York had old retractable metal security screens, rear fire escapes that looked straight out of the 1920’s, an ornate frieze on the top of the front fascia and great old and faded signs, some that went back many years. There was also the opportunity to include many and varied detail parts, including figures and lit detailed interiors.

The building was fortunate to win the 'STRUCTURES' section at 12th Australian Narrow Gauge Convention. This competition is voted by the attendees to the convention.

The model shows what can be done with cardboard and other basic materials when building structures.




Research - often this was a stumbling point in earlier days when trying to find information on a model you wanted to build, but now the internet is a huge resource and worth using. For this project I turned to, first inputting ‘New York brick buildings’ into the search box. This brought up many useful images which I saved to a file on my computer. I tried other searches like ‘fire escapes’, ‘security grills’, ‘New York post boxes’ etc. which resulted in many images of detail parts for the diorama. One of these images can be seen opposite.






The structure had to have at least three stories to warrant a rear fire escape, with a diner on the ground floor and rooms to rent (by the day, week or hour) on the two floors, as shown in the plans seen here.

This exercise of drawing floor plans for each story allows for the logical placement of windows and doors, which is important if part or all of the interior is going to be modeled. I had planned to model at least the diner and one of the front rooms, having both fully lit. These floor plans were drawn with the help of a Computer Aided Design program. At this stage in the design process they were approximate only and are used only as a guide to further design work.

Using a Computer Aided Design (CAD) program on my computer (I use ‘Visual CAD’ version 5, but there are many other programs that can be used, such as AutoCAD or CoralDraw). I started to outline the approximate outside basic dimensions of the building, as seen in the elevation drawings shown opposite.





now had the basic external and internal scale dimensions needed for the building. They are: 197 mm long on the side wall, while the front of the building was set at about 150 mm, which is about 75% of the side walls. This is a percentage that I have used many times in my model buildings, and seems to give a  nice proportioned model structure. The height is a total of 70 mm for the ground floor, 6 mm for the ring beam and 117 mm for the two upper stories, gives a total of 193 mm, close to length of the building. Again, a nice proportion to the overall proportions of the model building.


Opposite can be seen the finished front of the building. drawn in CAD. While this does not show the three dimensions required, it shows all the sizes and details. This front wall and the other three walls now have to be divided into layers that that will produce a three dimensional finish.


I am very fortunate to be a co-owner of a small kit manufacturer (Outback Model Company) that uses a laser cutting machines to produce most of it’s kits, and I am able to use it for my personal models. All cutting by the laser cutter is by using a CAD drawing produced on a computer, which interfaces with the laser  cutter, much like a printer or plotter. Draw a line in the CAD program and the laser cutter will cut that line exactly the same.

Access to a laser cutter allows a modeler to achieve outcomes in his models that are otherwise difficult or   impossible to make. We have a 40 watt Epilog* MINI laser cutter with a 450 mm x 600 mm cutting bed. As well as cutting right through the card, by adjusting the settings, various depths of etch can be achieved. This would be very handy to create bricks by etching the mortar lines into the card.

A view of the roof of the building The interior of the ground floor cafe
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