From the country that never hesitates to remind us of its greatness comes the project to become small. In the US, there’s a private plan afoot to build the tourist destination that the country has never had: a big park full of mini buildings it can be proud of.
Well, maybe not that mini. In addition to thousands of cars, hundreds of trains, and dozens of flying planes, the planned Mini America Park promises 20 foot-tall (6 m) replicas of the country’s most famous skyscrapers that “tower” over park visitors, while “redefining what it means to be a ‘miniature’ model”.
If it is completed, Mini America Park will join the ranks of long-established national parks like Minitalia Leolandia (Italy), Miniatürk (Turkey), the Splendid China Miniature Park and Switzerland’s own Swissminiatur. While many of these parks were built in the 20th century, our fascination with tiny buildings goes back a long way.
Model buildings have been used to guide urban planning since at least the Egyptians (remember the scale city model Indiana Jones discovers in the snake-filled pit that helps him discover the location of the lost Ark in Raiders?). City models carved from boulders (with possibly working hydraulic systems) were built by the Incas or other pre-contact civilizations in the Americas. Christian church mosaics and frescoes often depict saints or kings offering models of cities to Jesus and the Renaissance abounds with models of famous Italian monuments.
King Louis XIV had full towns modelled to physically map their defensive capabilities – when it came to toy-sized buildings his commanders weren’t playing games. In fact, since ancient times military leaders and strategists have used scale models to simulate battlefields, plan troop movements, and devise effective strategies. You could also probably lump plastic racing car models, children’s tin soldiers and doll houses, and Naples’s famous nativity scenes in with our immense fascination for smaller versions of life. But why?
Whether for toys, towns, or wargames, all our tiny replicas may serve similar purposes. To give us a bird’s eye view of sights normally much bigger than us. To provide a sense of control over the world around us. To help bridge the gap between distances (as Madurodam claims: “the Netherlands in one hour”). And most importantly, to convince and communicate. Architects have used them to secure funds from ancient pharaohs or modern investors, and nation states have built them to show citizens all the neat stuff the country has to offer. To truly know your greatness, they seem to be saying, start small.
And, of course, they’re fun. Especially when you can stride across Istanbul’s Bosphorus Bridge in a few steps, or spy down from above into Locarno, Switzerland’s cinematic piazza. They can reconnect everybody to the magic of playing with toys (especially since today’s preferred medium for model building seems to be Lego), while still on a scale to make us feel small.