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Ask MR: How best to shrink a structure’s footprint?

By | May 15, 2020

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Question: I’m in a conundrum and would love to hear an expert’s opinion. I’m planning to build a replica of an Alexandria, Minn., cold storage building for our club’s HO scale layout. If the structure is to fit the space, it will have to be selectively compressed, compromising its accuracy. To remain proportionally accurate, it would have to be built in TT scale (1:120), which is about 1 ⁄3 smaller than HO scale. In your opinion, which is better: to model the building “full size” in TT scale or to selectively compress the model and keep it in HO? – Lloyd Berger

Answer: Selective compression is an accepted and common practice in model- ing, and not something that needs to be avoided in the name of accuracy. It can be accomplished almost unnoticeably by omitting a few windows and doors or shortening the distance between them. Nobody’s going to take a measuring tape to your building if it looks right to the eye.

Using smaller scale buildings is also common, though not for the reason you cite. Smaller scale structures are sometimes used in the background to force perspective, making that scene appear farther away in photos. But using a smaller scale structure trackside would look stranger than a selectively compressed building would. It would be shorter and therefore appear dwarfed by the HO scale rolling stock and figures alongside.

If you feel preserving the accuracy of this particular structure is crucial, consider omitting less important nearby structures to make more room for it or turning it to a background flat that would present a similar profile in less square footage. Cold storage buildings tend to be both large and visually uninteresting, so putting it up against the backdrop as a flat may be the way to go.

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