An architectural modeller

Why metric is better

Phil Durden

Fortunately I was born a few years after decimalisation and metric conversion had already started. This meant that my entire education throughout school and college was in metric. Consequently it is natural for me to use metric, although I was always aware that ‘older generations’ used different measurements.

My lifelong creative interests turned into a career in architectural model-making once I had left college. As I was entering the industry, the company I first worked for had just installed a CNC machine along with CAD (Computer-Aided Design) programs. We use these to draw up sections of a building then input the data into the CNC, which cuts out components to a high precision. Although some CAD packages do have the option of imperial units, I can only imagine the nightmare confusion that could result of trying to work in fractions of inches. In an industry where deadlines are often tight, there is no room for long-winded calculations: only a simple, user-friendly system is acceptable for the job.

Many years ago, architects’ plans were dimensioned in feet and inches, and drawn at bizarre scales such as 1/8th of an inch to a foot, which equates to an illogical 1:96. Imagine that on a drawing the height of the building is given as 27 feet 9 inches, then having to divide that by 96! Here goes… if every foot is represented by 1/8th of an inch, then 27 feet is 27/8ths of an inch (3 3/8 in). That is the ‘feet’ part. Then say that 9 inches is 3/4 of a foot, so 3/4 x 1/8 in = 3/32 in. Then add 3 3/8 in to 3/32 in, which is 3 15/32 in! The potential for errors is horrifying, and some drawings might have hundreds of such dimensions on them.

Thankfully architects’ plans have been drawn and dimensioned in metric for many years now, and always use rational scales, such as 1:100. This could not be easier – 1650 mm (millimetres) on the plans equals 16.5 mm on the model. What could be easier and quicker than that? And all done in the head instantly! Now with CAD to draw, CNC to cut out parts, and of course metric units used throughout, we can turn out a high-quality, accurate model in weeks rather than months.

As well as his day job, Phil also finds a bit of spare time for mountain-walking, cycling, working with young people and collecting. He detests house prices.