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14 Nov 2015
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Permit me to explain first of all that I am writing this from the perspective of someone who has had personal expertise of having to make architectural models with limited resources. Although I will be now a professional model maker I was once a student in the Welsh School of Architecture where they viewed models just as one important part of the design process. Through my several years on the course and subsequent a long time in the model making profession I have come across, or made myself, almost all of the common mistakes people make when getting down to produce an architectural model. Hopefully I will help you avoid these errors and save you a lot of wasted commitment.

Planning your architectural model

Creation most important step for any architectural model making project is to establish a clear goal for your model. In other words, exactly what is the model for, precisely what is its purpose, exactly what does it need to communicate? Not many people have the budget and resources to create a model that shows everything regarding their project. It is more realistic to decide on an aspect of your design the model can show well.

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

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

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

if your architectural model be?

After you have decided what your model should illustrate, the next step is select the most appropriate scale. This decision is suffering from two things; how big a region you need to model and the way much detail you wish to show. If you need to show a big area, perhaps for the site context model, you would have to choose a smaller scale, say 1:500 and even 1:1000. This is to avoid the model becoming too big to be practical. But at these smaller scales you'll need to be aware that is not really very easy to show much in the way of detail.

In the event the purpose of the model is usually to show just the building itself you could look at 1:200 and even 1:100 scale. At these scales it is possible to show windows, doors, balconies, etc. However, in case your goal is to illustrate a particular area or detailed element of the building you may well will need to go bigger again, say 1:50 scale and even 1:20 scale.

Regardless of the purpose of your model, having the capacity to understand scales will enable you to work out practical, achievable selections for your particular project. A lot of students will already have a clear understanding of scales individuals have can skip this next bit, but if you certainly are a little unclear on the subject it is probably worth reading.

Scales are in fact very simple. The scale of architectural models is a ratio - in other words, the relative height and width of the model to the real thing. For example, 1:1 scale (we'd say it as "one to one") has to be life size model. Whereas, 1:10 scale ("one to ten" or "one tenth scale") could be one tenth of actual size. Likewise, 1:100 could be one hundredth of actual size, etc. The larger the scale indicator number, the smaller the model, this means less detail can seem.

Another useful approach to think about scales would be to work out how many millimetres represent one metre with the particular scale under consideration. We do this by dividing 1000 by the scale indicator number. By way of 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 probably be represented by 5mm on the model. So if the location you need to model is 100 metres x 100 metres square, your 1:200 scale model will be 500mm x 500mm (100 x 5mm).

For particularly large sites you will need to use a much smaller scale, say, 1:1000. With this scale the architectural model will probably be one thousandth of the actual size. To sort 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 solution is obviously 1, and therefore one metre on site will probably be represented by 1 millimetre around the model. A square site 1000 metres x 1000 metres would therefore be 1000 millimetres square being a 1:1000 scale model.

Architectural model making methods and materials

To the purposes of this general guide I cannot go into a lot of specific detail on architectural model making techniques and materials since this is a very broad area and will also be covered in a separate article. Below are a few basic rules to adhere to though.

Be realistic about what you can achieve together with the time, materials and facilities accessible to you. Don't try and make the model show everything of your design otherwise you just won't finish it. Often it is students with good model making skills that will not finish their architectural model, due to the fact their enthusiasm contains the better of them and they've tried to show a lot of. Or, the model does get finished but it has taken up most of their time and energy that other important parts of their presentation need to be rushed or don't get done at all.

It is tricky to get the balance right however it is better to be a little less ambitious using the model and focus on submitting a coordinated, fully realized overall presentation.

The use of colour is another area where models can go wrong. Sometimes it's far better to keep things monochrome (white, for instance, can look quite "architectural" and trendy) unless you're very confident with colour or it's a vital part of what your model is intending to show.

Always present your model with a good, solid base which has a clean edge finish - this acts similar to a picture frame and improves the general appearance of one's model.

As far as materials are worried, unless you have easy accessibility to a workshop along with a reasonable level of knowledge of machinery, it would be best to work with card or foam-board or similar, easy-to-cut materials for example Balsa or Lime wood. In other words, anything that you can cut with whether sharp blade or junior hack saw and stick as well as conventional shop bought glues.

When you are cutting, when possible, try to use a square, particularly if you are cutting out floor plates or elevations. Keeping everything square is important if you want to achieve a neat, crisp finish to your building. It is also worth purchasing a metal ruler because you will find a plastic or wooden ruler can get damaged very quickly.

Regardless if you are cutting with a craft knife or even a scalpel, it's preferable to use several light passes rather than trying to cut all through with one go. You will definately get a cleaner cut and you're simply less likely to slip and reduce your finger.

Sourcing materials can be hard, but your best bet is always to investigate your local Art & Craft shop and look also if there is a hobbyist model shop in the region. These shops in most cases have a good range of materials but don't realize what you need early. It is surprising how quickly a group of students all working on a similar design brief can empty the shelves of all best materials. 3D animation

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