S. Raeber, L. Hurni

ETH Zurich, Institute of Cartography, Zurich, Switzerland



A terrain model is a plastic, three-dimensional representation of a landscape section and it is also a concrete way of depicting mountains. Such models serve as a realistic copy of the earth's surface in schools, communities, exhibitions, museums, travel agencies, visitor centres, public buildings and the military. Some practitioners, e.g. geologists, use such models to investigate and examine the morphology of landscapes. After all, many of these terrain models are works of art and therefore outstandingly precious and of great value. Locations where the original terrain models are situated are often unknown. Some models are stored in shelters and identified as cultural assets while some are held in private property. Others simply remain untraceable.


The construction of terrain models has a long tradition in Switzerland. Masters of the construction of alpine relief models are, among others, Pfyffer, Meili, Imfeld, Becker, Simon, Reichlin and Imhof. The culmination of terrain modelling was between 1870 and 1914, just after Switzerland was entirely mapped at a large scale. Today, Toni Mair remains the only professional in the domain of handmade terrain models in Switzerland. In contrast, private companies commercially produce computer-generated relief models by applying different techniques. These models, however, do not yet achieve the quality professional handmade terrain models accomplish.


This paper gives background information about handmade terrain modelling. For this purpose a new website provides information about physical terrain models, e.g. about different terrain model types and production techniques, about the history and the artists as well as about applications of terrain models as from the 16th century until today. In my presentation some sequences of a movie will be presented showing the traditional terrain modelling process as it used to be applied by most Swiss artists.


It is the author's hope that the knowledge and ability of the handcrafted terrain model construction will be conserved.