Last spring the ICA commissioned An Liu, a master’s student in the School of the Arts Department of Interior Design, to build an architectural model of the Markel Center. Liu is an expert model builder. He estimates having constructed more than 50 architectural models since he was a bachelor’s student in exhibition design at Nanjing Normal University, School of Fine Arts in China.

Liu met with Michael Lease, the ICA’s Interim Director of Facilities, Installation and Exhibition Design to discuss the Institute’s needs for this particular model. Unlike most architectural models which show granular detail and are designed to showcase what a building will look like when complete, this is a working model to be used for exhibition programming and planning. An important planning tool for the curatorial department, the model needs to be durable, mobile, built to scale, and easy to disassemble and reassemble.

The curatorial team will interact with Liu’s model by configuring exhibitions, placing and replacing miniaturized, replica artwork through trial and error to consider the relationship of the works to each other and their galleries. Artworks are placed to be in dialogue with one another. A smaller artwork could be over-whelmed if placed in certain gallery spaces.  In others, it could be cramped. Can visitors move through the installation comfortably? Modeling assists in working through those issues and in addressing them so visitors can have a seamless experience.

Built from quarter inch birch plywood, the model is a 1:48 ratio of the actual, Steven Holl- designed building. Each quarter inch of the model represents one foot. Liu estimates it took him approximately 180 hours to design and construct the model.

A primary feature of Steven Holl’s design is the curvature of several exterior walls facing Broad and Belvidere. This became a particularly difficult feature for Liu to model.

Liu says he has an appreciation for the construction crews working on the real building at Broad and Belvidere. Making a miniature ICA was challenging and that did not include site excavation, installing HVAC or electrical systems, nor working in extreme heat or cold.

Even though the model is for working purposes, and not for display, Liu hopes visitors and students will still get to see it in use, and discover how much work goes into planning an exhibition. “The curators spend a lot of time designing the exhibition. Visitors rarely notice those details because they don’t observe the curators working. Seeing the model in use may help people have a deeper understanding of the exhibition,” Liu says.

Photos: Model of the Institute for Contemporary Art at the Markel Center, Summer 2016. ©ICA at VCU