Layout design – different voices – the art of presentation

Over the next few weeks, I want to explore some ideas about layout design.  There are a number of interesting voices in the railway magazines and on the internet, with practical ideas that are can be of interest and help in layout design.

But first I want to head for Australia.  The Prince Street Terminal blog recently drew attention to an interesting narrow gauge layout:

Years ago I came across photos of the Totternhoe Mineral Railway exhibition layout and instantly “fell in love” with their approach to layout design and the space it occupies. In line with what I’ve been trying to explain above, its builders determined the arrangement of track and scenic elements within the overall scene and then wrapped beautifully flowing benchwork around the whole thing. Trying to make such a free-flowing design structurally stable would be very difficult for a layout that stays home and even more so for one that is expected to be portable and to attend exhibitions. To respond to those practical demands they developed a very innovative approach that feels so beautifully architectural in its very nature and just so elegant: They perched their beautifully flowing scenes on top of regular, rectangular, frames and then painted everything flat black. The layout is carefully lit to focus the lighting on the scenes. In many ways the presentation style draws a lot from theatre design and it just works so well. The lighting focuses the viewer’s attention squarely on the layout itself without any distraction away from the show. Furthermore, the whole layout, not just the track, appears to meander through its environment. A viewer seeing the layout for the first time can instantly relate to it and the builder’s intentions with little explanation and that’s the essence of good design.

The pictures below have been taken from the Gn15 (minimum gauge modelling) forum.  More can be found at

aus_2 aus_1

I like the concept.  Flowing curved benchwork is good to look at, and allows the layout to flow with the changing size and shape of the railway and its surroundings.  However, it is not easy to make, and even less easy to incorporate odd shaped baseboards into our club modular systems.  The concept of a flat black background also eliminates any problems with backscenes, square corners to scenes, how to get the train into and out of the scenic section, and all those problems that we have developed scenic tricks to hide.  90% of a fine layout is in the quality of modelling.  However, what sets it all off is the presentation, or perhaps the ‘theatre’ of the model.  This approach achieves this only too well…

About snitchthebudgie

Secretary of the East Surrey N Gauge railway club
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