model_making-01

Beginner’s Guide to Model Making

Concept model for the Sir John Soane’s Institute of the
Picturesque (3rd year’s project).
Materials: White thin card paper, PVA
All details cut by laser cut.

There have been a lot of discussions going on in terms of architectural drawing as a primarily media for architectural education. While model making seems undertaught in architectural education, it is a brilliant skill to have for your further career in architecture. Model making is one of the most effective ways to present the proposal in competition layout and is used heavily to ‘win over’ the client. As I have been working in model making previously, I would like to share some knowledge and some tips to boost your skill in model making.

Where to start?

Model making can be intimidating to a lot of students who prefer to work through drawing or 3D modelling software. It can take a lot of time and materials do cost money. I like to remember the saying, ‘think seven times before you cut’, which is one of the good principles to set your mind to in model making. 

Don’t try to fit all in one.

Similar to architectural drawing, models also serve different purposes. It can be a concept model to convey your idea, it can be a technical model, it can be a proposal model for a competition etc. It is important to understand what purpose your model will serve before you start making it. Don’t try to fit the massing model within a final proposal model.

Where to begin?

Concept model for the Royal Doulton Pottery centre.
Inspired by the geometry of Art Deco. (2nd year’s
project)
Materials: Gray carboard, tracing paper, PVA glue.
All details cut by hand.

When you have decided what your model is for, test your idea in a sketch. I prefer to use gray cardboard for this exercise. The reason you should make test models is similar to drawing – before you make the actual model, it is important to consider if it will work. There is nothing more disappointing than starting a final model and running into unsolved issues. For instance, material thickness, joinery of the materials or change in design. As I previously mentioned, materials cost a lot of money and by making sketch models from cheap materials, it can prevent you from unnecessary expenses in architecture school.

Another reason why it is important to test ideas in sketch models is because it is a good medium to create conversation about your design. It also helps the staff of the university’s workshop to guide you if you are in doubt.

Construction

Do not underestimate the skill of constructing a model. Working in professional model making practice I have understood that model making is essentially constructing your proposal. I can agree that those students who tried to make their model for the first time without testing the idea first usually fail in this attempt as the construction part of the model was not thought through. Like building construction, you need to find the technique as well as the style of model that suits your proposal the most.

It also does not necessarily mean that you should start with the foundation. There are occasions when it is preferred to start building a model ‘inside – out’ starting with the most detailed part and moving towards peripheral details. Thisway you ensure that you can construct the parts that will be much more difficult to make after smaller parts are done. 

Come up with a good plan

Make a good, realistic plan for your model and leave some spare time daily. Constructing a model requires a lot of concentration and steady hands. Also, it is easier to make less mistakes when you are not rushing the process. Another reason to leave spare time and set realistic targets is inevitable mistakes that happen even to professional model makers. It is also less hard on your mental health if you have extra time to fix these mistakes.

How to choose the right materials? It is important to understand what materials would be suitable to your final model as well as the qualities of those materials and what you can do with it or represent.

For instance, if you would like to use concrete mix for your proposal model, you should research the ratio of mix to make sure it is structurally sound for your model. It also will need reinforcement bars as elasticity for concrete is very limited. 

Be resourceful with your materials! Being resourceful in terms of materials is very important. It becomes very important if you are assigned to make a model in your career path. If you are using laser-cut technology, which most architecture students do (to some extent), try to place your files (if not using full sheet) in a way that you can re-use the material. Talking from personal experience, it is upsetting to see students cut one small detail in the middle of a material sheet. It makes it much harder to arrange new details on the sheet if a student decides to re-use the material. 

This does not apply only to materials that students use for laser cut parts. Being resourceful of the materials will become very important if you will be assigned to make a model in your practice. 

Using technology in model making. It is common to use different technologies to speed up the process of model making. It is widely used in professional model making practices as well. Skill to know how to use this technology will become quite an important asset in your CV. Before using laser cutting machines, 3D printers or CNC, make sure you have enough knowledge in theory. Also it is a good thing to discuss your intended use of technology with workshop staff or manager. It will help you to understand the right way to model your details in software as well as what kind of 3D printing would be the most suitable to your intended outcome.

Technical model for the Royal Doulton Pottery Centre. (2nd
year’s project)
Used materials: MDF, Perspex, stainles steel tubes, brass rods,
spray paint.
All model made out of re-used MDF found University’s
workshop.

Make your files ready for the workshop staff! And double check them if they are in the correct scale beforehand.If you are using the University’s workshop, make sure your files are ready if you are going to use some type of technology in your model making process. There is nothing more frustrating for workshop staff than students who come unprepared or may not have a plan or any create the model that is intended. 

For laser cut – make sure your file is “clean” – make sure there are no double lines, lines are not overlapping, file is the right scale.

Material thicknesses and tolerances. Model making and modelling your proposal in 3D software are two very different things. Even if you have modelled a ‘perfect’ 3D model it might not fit together that easily when making it. It is better to test it beforehand as different machinery is set differently as well as different material tolerances can lead you to not so ‘perfect’ outcome as you see on your screen.

Joinery and adhesion methods. One of the most important aspects of constructing a model is to work out how materials will be joined. There are different ways of the joinery and adhesion methods. 

  • MDF + MDF = Gorilla glue/ super glue
  • MDF + Perspex = super glue
  • Plywood + Plywood = PVA/ Gorilla glue
  • Plywood + MDF = PVA/ Gorilla glue
  • Plywood + Perspex – super glue
  • Perspex + Perspex = plastic weld

Thank you to Elina for giving us some awesome tips on creating amazing models. We hope current and future students can benefit from some of this insight. If you have any questions or have made models using these tips, be sure to let us know over on Instagram.

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