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Advice on best practices when building a 'crowded' city area on a layout?

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Advice on best practices when building a 'crowded' city area on a layout?
Posted by Onewolf on Monday, February 13, 2017 8:14 AM

I plan to build a fairly large "High rise" city area on my layout that is currently under construction.  The area in question is about 46" deep and 84" wide.  My plan for this city area is to have city 'blocks' that are 36" x 30".  The streets are 6" wide.  The buildings in this area will range from 14" to 40" tall. 

I have never built any structures beyond individual buildings or small dioramas. Suffice to say I am completely bumfuzzled as to how to get from bare plywood to large high rise city. Smile

Here is a photo of the area on the layout as it currently exists and a virtual image of the layout design in the area that I have envisioned.

 

Note that the backdrop on the left is removable to provide access from the 'back' side of the city.

I assume that I don't want to permanently affix the individual buildings to the foam base in order to be able to perform maintenance on them and the city area in general.  The question is whether each building should be constructed as an individual movable diorama?  How easy/difficult is it to hide that many diorama seams?  I assume block size 30x36" dioramas be too large/unwieldy/heavy?  Maybe 1/2 block size (18x30) dioramas?   Quarter block size (18x15)?

Would it be best to build the streets permanently attached and leave bare plywood in the 'block' areas to insert the removable dioramas? 

Any/all advice is appreciated as I am totally ignorant and mostly clueless. Thanks.

Doug

Modeling an HO gauge freelance version of the Union Pacific Oregon Short Line and the Utah Railway around 1957 in a world where Pirates from the Great Salt Lake founded Ogden, UT.

- Photo album of layout construction -

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Posted by michaelrose55 on Monday, February 13, 2017 8:36 AM

Doug,

I would avoid the straight rectangular block and street grid design. It's better to have angles other than 90 degrees, makes it easier to create the illusion of a bigger city. I would build the streets permanently and make the buildings removable. 

As far as buildings go you can start with the one I gave your wife, just scale it up! Btw, I found the missing ground level part...

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Posted by wickman on Monday, February 13, 2017 10:45 AM

I would think you would want to make any streets permanent and the buildings removeable.

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Monday, February 13, 2017 10:46 AM

I build all my structures first, so I know exactly what I'm working with.  These give me outlines for the "sidewalk" cutouts I make with styrene.

I cut two of each of these shapes, which will stack on top of each other.  These are the top pieces, and only the top ones have the cutouts for the buildings.

Here, I've glued the lower pieces on to the base, and filled the gaps between them with Durham's Water Putty which is my preferred material for roads.

I paint the "sidewalk" layer with gray primer, and I just use a #2 pencil and a ruler to scribe in the sidewalk cracks.  Then I glue the layers together, so that the top layer becomes sidewalks elevated a bit above the roads.

This approach provides a recessed space in the sidewalk for each structure.  That way, they don't "meander around" with vibration, and there is no light leakage from under those that are illuminated.

Many of my buildings have interiors, typically constructed on separate bases.

Eventually, all the parts are there.

I like to make my city streets congested and busy-looking.  I've got Walthers traffic lights (which change colors in sequence) and a few street lights, plus some animated Miller Engineering signs, in addition to fire hydrants and a mailbox.  Nothing actually "moves" here, but the changing lights give an impression of animation.

 

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Monday, February 13, 2017 10:53 AM

I took advantage of the limited space to do a form of "selective compression" on this street.  It's in HO, but the roadway itself is only 2 1/2 inches across and the sidewalks are a half-inch on either side.  The narrow road gives me more of the "urban canyon" look that I was going for, even though the buildings are only 2-4 stories.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by richhotrain on Monday, February 13, 2017 11:02 AM

Take a look at the CMR products.

http://www.custommodelrailroads.com/ho.aspx

Also, Bachmann CityScenes.

http://shop.bachmanntrains.com/index.php?main_page=index&cPath=258_660

All of my structures are removable.

Rich

Alton Junction

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Monday, February 13, 2017 11:11 AM

Lunde Studios, too.

http://www.lundestudios.com/

Another way to avoid the "square block" look is to orient the roads so they are not parallel and perpendicular to the aisles.  As the viewer wallks alongside the scene, the angles constantly change, exposing new views.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by Medina1128 on Monday, February 13, 2017 11:58 AM

I would think that 46" deep is pretty deep. It's hard enough to reach over and around things with a shallower depth.

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Posted by Paul D on Monday, February 13, 2017 12:18 PM

Hi Doug - A lot of good specific suggestions on here, so I'll offer a few generalizations. Mr B & I are often singing out of the same hymnal, and I also build all my structures first 'cause I ain't that great with a blank sheet of paper. Once built, you can do unlimited arrangements until you land on one that rings your bell. I hold off on permanent streets so as not to box myself in until I have what I want.

Many buildings sit flush on the surface, so I lay them on a large sheet of .030-.040 styrene with an inch or so sticking out front for the sidewalk. Otherwise, patrons would be stepping down into the shopping/lobby area. 

It appears you haven't started assembling bldgs yet, so I'll point out they may take you longer than you anticipate, especially the tall ones with loads of windows. Short ones with cast-in-place windows are also slow to paint. After 18 City Classics, Lunde, & Bachmann bldgs, the best I can do is 4 to 6 weeks depending on complexity. There's waiting for paint to dry, glue to set, etc. I add a few operations that others may not, like interior floors, a removable back wall for future inside work, lighting, furniture, wall decor, etc. 

I do all my painting & weathering before any assembly 'cause it's easier to paint a flat surface than a rectangular box.

I make great use of Google Street View and spend a lot of time "driving" around the SoHo district of Manhattan for color & painting inspiration, and my home town of Boston for interesting (pronounced CRAZY) street patterns.

Good luck. Keep us informed.

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Posted by ROBERT PETRICK on Monday, February 13, 2017 1:09 PM

Medina1128

I would think that 46" deep is pretty deep. It's hard enough to reach over and around things with a shallower depth. 

OP states that the rear panel is removable and access is possible from the back, so reach-in might not be a problem.

Robert

LINK to SNSR Blog


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Posted by cuyama on Monday, February 13, 2017 2:42 PM

Building City Scenery For Your Model Railroad (Kalmbach, 2000) by John Pryke. Excellent examples and ideas.

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Posted by Lone Wolf and Santa Fe on Monday, February 13, 2017 5:32 PM

An empty sheet of plywood is perfect for rearranging buildings until you like how they look, then plan out your streets and sidewalks after you’ve settled on a location.
I would choose your buildings first and build the city around a couple of anchor buildings and then fill in the space around them. Don’t make your city a perfect grid, use forced perspective to make it seem larger by making your streets narrower as the get farther away from the viewer. Also don’t run your streets straight into the backdrop unless the street ends in some kind of city hall type building where you have to turn left or right. Make the streets disappear behind other buildings.
Also the buildings in the back can be facades. They might only be an inch wide or maybe only was wide as the side of a building kit. They can be overlapped like a collage to make the city seem more dense.
You have an open canvas. Experiment with it until you find what you like.

I never glue down structures. They usually stay in place after you start applying the ground cover etc. The streets and sidewalks you will want to secure but like I said, decide the locations of your buildings first and then make the streets and sidewalks last.

Modeling a fictional version of California set in the 1990s Lone Wolf and Santa Fe Railroad
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Posted by Colorado Ray on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 1:29 AM

With that much depth have you considered raising the terrain in the back?  I'd think that elevation change, coupled with slight reductions in scale as you went back would make a very "deep" looking scene.  It would also be protypical for your Ogden area and the Wasatch range.  Don't forget the Mormon Temple either!

Ray

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Posted by rrebell on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 11:14 AM

If you want to build quickly, then stick to buildings that have separate windows unless you don't mine them being the same color as the walls. Most of my buildings are not attached to the base. I glue blocks on the base so that I can lower the building into the right place and with the blocks against the inside walls in places, you can whack the building and it will not move but can easily picked up and moved out of the way if neccisary.

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Posted by gmpullman on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 11:43 AM

Colorado Ray
With that much depth have you considered raising the terrain in the back?

That's a very good point and something worth considering.

I am in a similar stage in the development of my downtown scene. One thing I wish I would have planned for is a simple street car loop or possibly an elevated line using the Micro-Engineering city viaduct kits. Just for animated visual interest.

Depending on your era it might be fun to incorporate some form of "light-rail" for your little people to ride on. I have one of the Bowser PCC cars and they make a pretty neat focal point on the layout. The MTH subway cars would look neat on an elevated railway.

Just something to mull over... With DCC you could program macros to have a car or two come out from behind buildings, pause here and there at "stops" and duck back out of sight for a pre-determined time, maybe have a second car then come out in another direction.

Regards, Ed

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Posted by DigitalGriffin on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 12:19 PM

Yep I'm planning something similar.

From everything I've "seen" and "read" you want to be able to remove the buildings easily.  So build them up, reinforce them internally, and then build them up on platforms that you can "plop" down on a flat surface.

Small buildings are best up front.

Another piece of advice is "Never build your streets on perpendicular angles to your viewing."  You'll eventually hit a wall which ruins the illusion.  If you build at an angle, or with a cross street before the wall, you build more visual interest any way.

Mirrors work great at creating the illusion of depth for many cities.  Check out the videos of "The Cities Edge".  This layout does a lot with "limited" depth.

Don - Specializing in layout DC->DCC conversions

Modeling C&O transition era and steel industries There's Nothing Like Big Steam!

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Posted by MisterBeasley on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 12:47 PM

They are kind of pricey, but the Faller Car System could give you automobile, bus and truck traffic.

It takes an iron man to play with a toy iron horse. 

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Posted by hon30critter on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 3:51 PM

Colorado Ray
With that much depth have you considered raising the terrain in the back?

Another alternative is to increase the height of the background buildings by adding extensions to the bottom of the buildings where the bottoms can't be seen. Simple styrene boxes, or even cardboard for that matter, can add multiple storeys and they can be hidden behind foreground buildings or mirrors placed behind the foreground buildings but in front of the extensions.

Also, N scale buildings work well behind HO scale buildings to create forced perspective. These are built from N scale Walthers Modules and they will be used in a corner about three rows back in the scenery. They will have approximately 15" extensions added to the bottoms. The foreground will be double high City Classics kits:

Here is a side by side view showing the comparison of the N scale Modulars windows to an HO scale City Classis building front:

Note that I did not use the original N scale windows. The panes were too small and the muntins were too thick. Adding a simple sash joint with 1/16" styrene modernized the buildings a bit and made the windows look larger.

I realize the Walthers Modulars aren't available anymore, but I think the same effect could be had with any N scale structure.

Dave

I'm just a dude with a bad back having a lot of fun with model trains, and finally building a layout!

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Posted by Onewolf on Tuesday, February 14, 2017 4:05 PM

Thanks for all the great replies so far.  Very informative! I will definitely lay out the street grid so they are not perpendicular/parallel with the benchwork edge.  I will also try some of the forced perspective tricks as well.

Keep the comments/suggestions coming!

Thanks.

Modeling an HO gauge freelance version of the Union Pacific Oregon Short Line and the Utah Railway around 1957 in a world where Pirates from the Great Salt Lake founded Ogden, UT.

- Photo album of layout construction -

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Posted by ctyclsscs on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 8:17 AM

Someone may have said this, but I'll mention it again. If you raise your streets towards the rear, you can also compress the widths of the streets running parallel to your backdrop. Especially if you can't really see down into the "canyon" created by your buildings. Why waste prototypical street widths on something you can't see? It's different if you're looking down a street, but when you're looking at a street from a 90 degee angle, you can't really tell how wide it is anyway. George Sellios did this on his one city that rises towards the backdrop and it allowed him to squeeze in a lot of compressed buildings giving a real feel of depth to the scene.

Jim

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Posted by BroadwayLion on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 9:46 AM

LION too is pondering the tall buildings. We are talking New York City here. WTC was 200' x 200' or four 50' subway cars square. It is a good thin that my train room has 12' ceilings.

But the LION does not want to build the buildings quite that tall. Lion will cheat down on the building sizes. A WTC building might be 100' x 100'. I will scale back the size of Penn Station too. The tracks are under the street and the station after all, so visitors will not be able to compare the size of the trains and passengers onon the platforms with the buildings and pedestrians on the street. I might do the street in N scale. If I model WTC at all (after all it did fall down.) and it would be too far down town as to be visible from this location, but till I will need tall buildings.

LION thinks to build the building boxes from plexiglass, afix opaque facades to the buildings, maybe tinted material on the inside to tone down the lighting from a single LED lamp. (The kind you screw into your light fixture.)

I was watching one building go up in NYC, whole walls of brick were preformed elsewhere and lifted into place. For pre-war buildings this mdoular approach seems most resonable. Use the plexiglass box, and glue your painted sections to it to create your building.

ROAR

The Route of the Broadway Lion The Largest Subway Layout in North Dakota.

Here there be cats.                                LIONS with CAMERAS

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Posted by Doughless on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 7:45 PM

I think the way you have it mocked up digitally looks pretty good.  

You'll get more mileage from a building kit by using only three walls of kits. The fourth can be used to make the building larger or can help build a two dimensional array just before the backdrop.  Paint that wall a different color and use it in a different part of the city.  

Putting a wall into a photo copier does a neat job of creating pictures of buildings for backdrops and extending the scene's depth, but you will need to detail the windows.

- Douglas

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