Architect Damien Murtagh has always made physical models of his buildings to present to clients. But when the recession hit in 2008, creating disposable models to use only once or twice became too costly. To curb the expense, he started creating a series of reusable parts that snapped together to create a to scale model.
Fast forward seven years and Murtagh is the owner of a start-up called Arckit, which sells architectural model kits that allow people to build and rebuild models with a set of interchangeable components. After a successful year in Murtagh’s native Ireland as well as in the UK, Arckit is set to launch Stateside this fall.
Unlike traditional models, which are typically tossed out after they’re presented (or stored forever in a huge facility in New Jersey, if you’re Richard Meier), Arckit offers a set of components that can be used a multitude of different ways, like Legos or Minecraft. Users can download “architextures,” or adhesive vinyl sheets that look like wood floor or stone walls, and print them out to spruce up the building’s facade or interior. And with access to a 3D printer, they can design and print their own components using an easy-to-use 3D system called Sketchup. In that way, Arckit becomes a limitless platform on which to build, or what Murtagh calls a “continuous evolutionary system.”
“The whole idea for the system is that it’s a lifelong product and one that can be reused again and again,” says Murtagh. “We’re not in the business of creating a box of stuff, and you use whats in the box and then buy your next box. We want you to build something beautiful and take it apart and build something different.”
Besides creating a tool for architects to use professionally, Arckit has also found a place for its models in the educational market. When they launched at a design fair in London in May of 2014, Murtagh says he was surprised to find kids flocking to the Arckit booth and stayed for hours to play with the models. Inspired by their enthusiasm, Arckit is now working schools to distribute their kits to be used as learning tools in STEM programs and in engineering curricula.
With all of its focus on the physical over the virtual, Arckit hasn’t ruled out digital technology all together. With many architects exploring the use of augmented reality to present their renderings, the company is looking into how they might be able to incorporate AR into their rapidly evolving business model. But Murtagh is quick to assert that despite technological advancements, people are still inherently drawn to a model that they can pick up and handle. “No matter how good a drawing or a video or a walk-through on digital is, it’s still digital,” he says. “We’re human beings, we like to hold things, see things with our own two eyes. There’s nothing better than having the model on the table beside you.”
The kits, which range from $70 for the least components and $400 for the most, are set to hit the shelves of Barnes & Nobles around the country in mid-September.