Model Making Tips That Save Money

Model making is like 3D visual sketching.  Unlike a computer rendering, models are great because you can pick them up and spin them around and look inside of them.  

A model leaves some things open to interpretation and keeps your initial design not so hard and finished.  As you're working on a model it keeps design decisions open and allows for more creativity.

Morphosis: Buildings and Projects is a great book illustrating these incredibly detailed models that were open-ended in a way...that suggest doors, windows and structure and material.  It's a great style of model making to emulate and make it your own over time.

One thing you'll notice is that the models in Morphosis is the use of planes to create space..they're not building masses or blocks to do this.

Models that uses varying planes help create depth and shadow in way that makes the design much more appealing.


When you're just getting started, it's best to keep a minimal material palette, one that is monochromatic overall with some browns and greys like:

Basswood: It takes paint better than chipboard, can be cut easily and doesn't dull your blades as quickly and has a nice rigidity.  It doesn't curl like chipbaord.

Mahogany Sheets: These should be about 1/16" and you generally can get them in various strips and sizes.  Great for accent materials.

Cork:  For a site that has a lot of topography, cork is a good choice.  Try cork underlayment.  It's a lot less expensive than buying modeling cork.  You can even buy it in large roles for very little money.

Stone samples:  You can find some thin stone samples at the home center or reach out to a stone distributor for some.  A model base is important and it's nice to have a solid  plinth that the building sits on. It also forces you to think about how your building meets the ground plane. All buildings have a relationship to the site and it's critical your model address this is a real way.

Acrylic samples:  You might be able to find some scraps from a local sign company.  Acrylic is nice to help represent water features.

Coir mats:  A coir mat with vinyl backing is great to represent vegetation on the site.  You can also use it to represent a green roof element.

Guitar Strings: These are nice to have in your model making toolbox and range in different wire gauges.  Guitar string is a lot less expensive  than going to the model store and buying their strip wire or piano wire.  Use guitar string for representing swinging doors, or bend it to represent circulation paths, stairways or handrails.


If you think about the construction sequence and how you'd actually construct a real piece of architecture you'll start answering the question on what you need to model.  Consider thinking of materials for:

1. The site - remember the buildings relationship to the ground is important.  A material change will help show this.

2. The foundation.  You don't need to be literal and completely representative of what the foundation is, but the idea that the foundation is lifting the building off of the site is what you what to convey.

3.  Bearing walls and Roof planes, walkways:  You don't have to necessarily have to model all of these pieces, but the ones you do choose to model can give you some design inspiration.

The best way to decide what to model is to determine what element is going to have a big impact on your design.  If vegetation, as an example, is really impacting how you move around the site, you probably should model it.

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