Art of Architectural Models

When the “60 Minutes,” news show had an exclusive interview with a member of the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden, the first thing it did was search for a model maker who could replicate the killer's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Art collectors of Art Kabinett social media network often acquire stunning architectural maquettes to display with other collected artworks.

Richard Tenguerian, creator of the bin Laden model, is considered to be one of the best architectural model makers around. His bin Laden replica is displayed at the Navy SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, FL.

Tenguerian, 57, pictured here, is from Aleppo, Syria. He has worked for Richard Meier, Philip Johnson and Renzo Piano. He built the official model for the Yankee Stadium, which resides in the team's museum.

His subterranean studio is located in Manhattan on Lafayette Street, where employees can often be seen toiling away, applying leaves to miniature trees.

Architectural models can cost upward of $100,000, and sometimes more. Architects use models to realize and improve upon their designs; developers rely on them during presentations, hoping the models will convince the relevant authorities to approve their plans.

For brokers, models are used to persuade buyers to shell out millions of dollars for homes that have yet to be built.

Artistic Heritage

Tenguerian comes from a long line of artists. His family, which is of Armenian descent, can trace its origins to the 1700s, and includes artists, diplomats, clergy and translators.

His parents, who survived the Armenian genocide before fleeing to Syria, worked in creative fields. His father was a sculptor and his mother a clothing designer for Chanel when the design house had an outpost there.

Summer months were spent in Beirut where Tenguerian started working at age 14 as an architectural intern. There he built his first model, and was subsequently recruited for the task every summer thereafter.

In 1975, when Mr. Tenguerian was 18, the civil war in Lebanon broke out. He had been accepted to the American University of Beirut, but chose to leave for the United States.

In New York, Mr. Tenguerian found a job at AWAD Architectural Models. He saved up enough money to attend Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, working during the day and attending classes in the evening. He graduated in 1984 with a degree in architecture.

Architects offered to hire him, but he was given too many jobs making models. In 1988, he opened his own model company.

Depending on the size and type of project, it can take anywhere from a few days to more than a year for Tenguerian to complete a model. He typically hires carpenters, painters, and electricians to help.

Technology has also become integral, including LED lights, 3-D printing, and computer programs which allow for a model to be controlled using an iPad.

His ability to translate an architect’s dream into miniature reality is the key to his longevity. He states that, "Architects have their own expectations and ways of looking at things, so a model maker should treat the model as a piece of art."