August 10, 2011
Today in the BuzzTalk hive, we welcome Peter McCann, a world class scale model builder. He’s the founder of Peter McCann Architectural Models and has been involved with highly acclaimed Canadian and international projects, including the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa.Peter comes from a talented family. His brother is a world famous watercolour artist and according to Peter, the artist of record for Lower Manhattan.

We caught up with Peter after he finished the scale model of the Minto WaterGarden condo tower. See if you have what it takes to build these meticulously crafted models and find out what keeps scale model builders up at night.

Enjoy!

BuzzBuzzHome: What kind of background does someone need to become a scale model builder?

Peter McCann: Architecture is a good start. You have to be able to read drawings. We have all different walks of life here — architects, interior designers, jewelry makers, machinists, so it’s all artistic stuff. But like I said, we have to understand the building and the drawings.

Most of us know how to paint, but we have one specific painter. He just took it on himself. He was a contractor before so he knows how to build on a 1:1 scale, but he likes painting.

BBH: What inspired you to pursue this career? Did you build models as a child?

PM: Yes, I built models growing up and I loved puzzles. I built a lot of ships, planes, tanks and cars. My brother went away for a year one time when I was about ten years old. He was working his way over to Europe on a freighter and I went down to see it one day. When I came home, I built that ship out of cardboard.

My dad was a tailor, so I helped him with doing patterns for about 25 cents an hour. I also loved architecture, so it was a great mix of just loving architecture and building things.

BBH: What kind of material do you need to build these models?

PM: We mostly use acrylic and wood. The base is usually made out of wood and then we’ll face it with some sort of plastic acrylic. Acrylic, wood, paint — sometimes we use vinyls.

We use electrical wire for the trees. You can use several strands and twist them and shape them and then paint the colour onto them. We have foliage we put on all the branches. All the trees are handmade.

BBH: How long did it take to build the Minto WaterGarden model?

PM: Between six and seven weeks. That’s typical for a model of that size.

BBH: What’s the longest it’s ever taken for you to build a model?

PM: That would have been the Burj Dubai, now called the Burj Khalifa. That one took close to a year. That was an unbelievable project to work on. Originally, the architect from Chicago wanted their model maker to do the model and the landscape architect wanted their own model maker for the job.

I was working with the client — I’ve done a lot of work in Dubai — and I said “Well, we’ll do the tower and the base, all the landscaping and everything.” He asked me if we could handle all that and I said “Yea, we’ll handle the whole job.” When you split up the job between two model makers, there’s the problem of who’s going to control the base and who’s going to control the tower? You have to do everything in conjunction and you have to coordinate.

That one started up slowly because drawings were changing, the landscaping and everything on the base was changing all the time. You come to a point where you have to say, “We’ve got to stop all these changes because the model will take forever to build.”

BBH: What was it like knowing that you were building the scale model of the world’s tallest building?

PM: It was very exciting. When you think about doing an icon like that, it’s going to be in the history books. You think, god, it’s going to be way taller than the CN Tower. You look at how tall the Burj Khalifa is, and you just think “Wow!”

BBH: Are you disappointed to hear that Saudi Arabia is planning on building a taller tower?

PM: No, I love it! We should keep on going as high as we can.

BBH: What’s a scale model builder’s worst nightmare?

PM: Well there’s a few things. One, you never ever want to miss a deadline. When we’re building these projects and we have a specific date to deliver them, they have to be done on that date. That’s a worry.

The other thing is shipping the model out of the country and finding out that it smashed along the way. You have to go there and repair it. You need to pay for your flight and accommodations and if it’s badly smashed, you have to ship it back.

Once in awhile things get a little bit broken, but they’re repairable. I do remember years ago, I was doing a job for another model making company. I built this model for a building down in Baltimore and the model arrived completely smashed. It was a mess.

So the client asked if I could come down because I was the one that built the model. I went down and I had three 4×8 tables and each table was covered in parts from the model. I don’t know what these guys did when they shipped it. I spent three days putting it all back together and you couldn’t even tell that it was broken.

BBH: Do you live in a condo or a house?

PM: I live in a house. I’ve always lived in a house. It’d be great if I could have both worlds, but I enjoy a house because I like backyards and gardening. I like pulling the car up to the door and being able to just walk in.

BBH: You must be in the loop on upcoming condo launches. Do you have any secrets you can reveal?

PM: We are very much in the loop. I would say we’re probably the busiest model company in Canada. We go through a lot of condos, but with our clientele, they don’t really like us to say anything. They like us to keep quiet until they launch.

BBH: What’s your favourite place in the world to be?

PM: Well, I have several places I really like, but honestly, I like being in Canada. I remember being in Italy for six weeks one summer and I came back home, and I said “Wow, I just missed most of the summer, now I can’t spend much time at the cottage.” So I’d say Canada!

BBH: How do you spoil yourself? What does a model maker do in his spare time?


PM: When you’re building models all the time, you don’t really feel like doing it as a hobby. I don’t even have any models at my house anymore. I like to play golf. I go into the backyard and do a little gardening.

Thanks Peter for taking the time to buzz with us!

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