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Let’s Build an HO scale Art Deco building!

March 13, 2009

Art Deco was an architectural movement that superceded the Beaux Arts movement in the mid-1920’s and progressed through Art Noveau and eventually turned into Streamline Moderne in 1940. A lot of new materials were used to define art deco architecture from the styles that proceeded it. One of the major materials that was popularized during the era was Vitrolite, an opaque architectural glass that covered the facades of the new structures. It basically is a giant leap forward aestetically from the stones, bricks and wood that was ornately used in the Beaux Arts movement. Also, the mass production of sheet aluminium, copper and stainless steel opened new doors for materials to adorn structures.

Geometric designs were very popular, many of these geometric designs progressed forth from Art Noveau’s heavy lean towards nature themes. Deco added the unusual step of “modernizing” ancient architectural styles, most successfully Neo-Egyptian. Neo-Moorish and other ancient civilization’s architectural motifs were added as time went on until the surprisingly odd “Pacifica” style flopped at the 1940 world’s fair in San Francisco.
Build an HO scale art deco building


Anyways, I choose a somewhat modest structure as a starting point, as I wanted it to be noticed, but now outrageously overdone. I eventually picked the “The Beacon News” building in Paris, Illinois as my inspiration. This building is covered in turqouise Vitrolite, with the letters actually made from cut black Virtolite built directly into the wall!

My building differs from the original in two ways, the Virtolite panels have become tiles, and the brick has been replaced with stainless steel sheathing.

The first step was to measure and cut the facade. This was done with an HO scale ruler, and I tried to keep the tilework matching the edges of the windows for a nice clean design. After I measured them out and marked the edges, I came in with a razor saw to cut the windows out, and cleaned up the flash with my exacto knife.


I then set took the facade outside and sprayed it a turquiose base color and let it dry.

In the meantime, I started work on the walls. I have plans to use this structure in the future, so I wanted to have all four walls detailed. The back 3 walls are made from 0.60 styrene for strength.

how to make board-formed concrete in HO scale

To simulate the board-formed concrete walls typically found on these types of buildings, I came up with this solution.
1. First you apply the tile to the edge of the building that’s facing the facade. Then take a piece of thin balsa sheet and cut random sized boards less than a scale foot wide and as long as necessary.
2. After you’ve made a substantial pile of lumber, take some carpenter’s glue and cover 1/4th of the wall, spreading it evenly. Then in a staggared fashion, build up the wooden wall, trimming the edges that overlap. I added small transom windows to let light in from the sides of the building, while still giving the newspaper employees some privacy.
3. I sealed up the wood with concrete colored paint. This step is essential!
4. Then I covered the entire wood portion of the wall in glue, to further waterproof it.
5. To fill in the cracks, I mixed a couple of teaspoons of hydrocal, which I dyed with a dab of concrete paint, and pushed it into the gaps, completing the illusion of a concrete wall (This photo will be shown in the second part.)

I temporarily placed it on the layout to see how it’d fit into my downtown.

Downtown Art Deco Structure

Stay tuned for part two!

One Comment leave one →
  1. army.arch permalink
    March 25, 2009 1:28 am

    OK, I think this is the coolest uses of one of my photos ever! Let me know how it comes out.

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