Architectural Model Making Advice For Students

Let me explain first of all that I am writing this from the perspective of someone who has had personal experience of having to make Fort Lauderdale architects models with limited resources. Although I am now a professional model maker I was once a student at the Welsh School of Architecture where they viewed models as an important part of the design process. Through my three years on the course and subsequent many years in the model making profession I have seen, or made myself, most of the common mistakes people make when setting out to produce an architectural model. Hopefully I can help you avoid these errors and save you a lot of wasted time and effort.

Planning your architectural model

The first and most important step for any architectural model making project is to establish a clear goal for the model. In other words, what is the model for, what is its purpose, what does it need to communicate? Very few people have the budget and resources to make a model that shows everything about their project. It is more realistic to choose an aspect of your design that the model can show well.

For example, if you are designing a building in a sensitive area, a monochrome massing model can show the overall form and layout of your design and how it sits in its context. This will give viewers an instant general understanding of your project. The colours, materials and any other detailed elements can be explained through additional drawings, photographs, swatches, etc.

Another approach is to let your drawings show the general overview of your project and use an architectural model to illustrate one of the detailed aspects. For example you could make a part-model of a particularly interesting area of the building; an entrance feature perhaps or a decorative elevation. Or you could make a sectional model that slices through the building to show the internal spatial organization.

The important thing is to start with a clear purpose for your architectural model and then work out what sort of model will best achieve your goals.

What scale should the architectural model be?

Once you have decided what your model needs to illustrate, the next step is choose the most appropriate scale. This decision is affected by two things; how big an area you need to model and how much detail you want to show. If you need to show a big area, perhaps for a site context model, you would have to choose a smaller scale, say 1:500 or even 1:1000. This is to avoid the model becoming too big to be practical. But at these smaller scales you need to be aware that is not really possible to show much in the way of detail.

If the purpose of the model is to show just the building itself you could consider 1:200 or even 1:100 scale. At these scales you can show windows, doors, balconies, etc. However, if your goal is to illustrate a particular area or detailed element of the building you may well need to go bigger again, say 1:50 scale or even 1:20 scale.

Whatever the purpose of your model, being able to understand scales will enable you to work out practical, achievable options for your particular project. Many students will already have a clear understanding of scales and those who have can skip this next bit, but if you are a little unclear on the subject it is probably worth reading.

Scales are actually very simple. The scale of architectural models is a ratio – in other words, the relative size of the model to the real thing. For example, 1:1 scale (we would say it as “one to one”) would be a life size model. Whereas, 1:10 scale (“one to ten” or “one tenth scale”) would be one tenth of actual size. Likewise, 1:100 would be one hundredth of actual size, and so on. The larger the scale indicator number, the smaller the model, which means less detail can be shown.

Another useful way to think about scales is to work out how many millimetres represent one metre at the particular scale you’re considering. We do this by dividing 1000 by the scale indicator number. For example, for 1:200 scale, divide 1000 by 200 and you get the answer 5. Which tells you that one metre in real life will be represented by 5mm on the model. So if the area you need to model is 100 metres x 100 metres square, your 1:200 scale model would be 500mm x 500mm (100 x 5mm).

For particularly large sites you will need to use a much smaller scale, say, 1:1000. At this scale the architectural model will be one thousandth of the actual size. To work out how many millimetres will represent a metre we redo the sum we did above, 1000 divided by the scale indicator number (in this case also 1000). The answer is obviously 1, meaning that one metre on site will be represented by 1 millimetre on the model. A square site 1000 metres x 1000 metres would therefore be 1000 millimetres square as a 1:1000 scale model.

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