Special for the Armenian Weekly
Richard Tenguerian’s architectural model making studio is located in NOHO in New York City. There, Tenguerian and his colleagues create minute versions of some of the most towering buildings in the world, real and imagined. The architectural model making business is a highly specialized niche industry, requiring painstaking attention to detail and an understanding of the artist’s vision. It is a specialty practiced by very few, and Tenguerian has acquired a reputation as the best among them.
“Even in this time of digital technology, the power of building a model—not a rendering, not a 3D image, not a video flythrough—still holds sway with both architects and clients. Although many firms do their own model work, certain projects and clients require the hand of a master. And Richard Tenguerian is among the best,” said Brauilo Agnese in the March 2014 issue of “Cool Spaces! The Best New Architecture.”
Born in Aleppo and raised in Lebanon, Tenguerian discovered his passion for model making at 14, when he was interning for a large architectural firm in Lebanon. Even then, he knew his future was in architecture. After the civil war broke out in 1975, Tenguerian moved to the U.S. to live with his aunt in New York. He studied architecture at Pratt Institute, and graduated in 1984. While studying at Pratt, he worked as a model maker to finance his college education.
Tenguerian had planned to work as an architect, but he found that there was a much greater demand for his skills as a model maker. In 1988, he founded Tenguerian Models. The demand for architectural models has since spread all over the world. Tenguerian has had the opportunity to prepare physical models for many high-profile projects and travel all around the world.
The quality of his work stems from innate craftsmanship combined with the use of advanced technology. “Relying only on technology, the product loses its spirit and does not become a work of art,” he says.
Each of Tenguerian’s models is custom-made, even down to the shade of paint. “Every project is unique in its own way and they all have a story behind them. People often look at display models and think model building is only cutting and pasting. However, there is much more to building a model. A model maker translates the architect’s invisible vision and turns it into a visible reality. Outstanding capabilities of mind and soul are required for such a demanding role in architectural creative order. Only perfect communication with the architect and faultless understanding of his purpose can create the professional environment where such translation into three-dimensional space may happen. The profession can be very demanding. What keeps me going are the different experiences and the creative processes that make each model memorable. We look at our models not like products, but pieces of original artwork.”
Tenguerian’s artistic approach does not mean that he is averse to technology. Many of his models come fitted with lighting that can often be controlled remotely. Components are sometimes made using laser cutting and 3D printing, and the result is a perfect synthesis of modern technology and hands-on craftsmanship. But it is Tenguerian’s innate ability to visualize a building that sets his finished products apart from the competition. He explains, “There is a process but no formula that someone can follow and visualize. It is more like reading someone else’s mind instantaneously before they complete a sentence. This is one of the unique characteristics of this profession.”
The visualization often remains with Tenguerian long after the model has been carefully packaged in a custom-built wooden case and shipped to the client. “Every time I see a project in real life and I walk through it, I feel like I have already been there. I feel shrunk and it feels like I am walking through my model. Even though the building is brand new, I know where everything is and how to get around.”
The primary importance of models lies in their power to convey visually what blueprints and descriptions often cannot. The intricacy and detail of Tenguerian’s models bring architectural visions to life: If a picture is worth a thousand words, a model is surely worth thousands more. As Tenguerian puts it, “Architects always struggle to convey their vision to their clients. Developers often cannot visualize the architect’s idea or concept. Therefore, physical models are the unspoken language between architects and the client.”
Models at times have audiences beyond the clients of architects. When CBS News was preparing a “60 Minutes” episode about the SEAL raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, the producers felt that the best way for viewers to visualize the raid was through the use of a model. And for that model, they turned to Tenguerian. His model of the compound now resides as an exhibit at the Navy SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce, Fla.
When asked if the process of creating a model of an existing building is different from creating one from a blueprint, Tenguerian explained, “The definition of a model can be very broad. Model makers can build a replica of an existing building or can build from sketches on a napkin where the building is just a vision. Our expertise is to transform something from [the] virtual world into physical reality.” In his case, the transformation is a seamless one.
Tenguerian has also had the chance to put his skills to use for the benefit of the Armenian community. A life-long attendee of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Tenguerian cites it as a source of inspiration. When he was approached by Father Karekin Kasbarian about building an Armenian church in Westchester, N.Y., he became heavily involved in the project. Working with architect Vatche Aslanian, the plans were drafted and approved, and the Church of Saint Gregory the Enlightener was constructed and has been in use for over a decade.
“We should not take things for granted,” Tenguerian says. “We should grab every opportunity. Everything is possible when someone is passionate, committed, and works hard towards their vision.”