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Architectural Model Making Advice For Students

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I want to explain first of all that i'm writing this from the outlook during someone who has had knowledge of having to make architectural models with limited resources. Although I am now a professional model maker I used to be once a student at the Welsh School of Architecture where they viewed models as a possible important part of the design process. Through my three years on the course and subsequent decades in the model making profession I've come across, or made myself, a lot of the common mistakes people make when setting out to produce an architectural model. Hopefully I'm able to help you avoid these errors and save a lot of wasted effort and time.

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's the model for, what's its purpose, precisely what does it need to communicate? Very few people have the budget and resources to make a model that shows everything regarding their project. It is more realistic to decide on an aspect of your design that the model can show well.

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

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

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

What scale when the architectural model be?

When you have decided what your model needs to illustrate, the next step is pick the most appropriate scale. This decision is afflicted with two things; how big a place you need to model and the way much detail you want to show. If you need to show a large area, perhaps to get a site context model, you would have to choose a smaller scale, say 1:500 and even 1:1000. That is to avoid the model becoming too large to be practical. But at these smaller scales you have to be aware that is not really easy to show much in the way of detail.

In the event the purpose of the model is always to show just the building itself you could think about 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 selected area or detailed element of the building you may well have to go bigger again, say 1:50 scale as well as 1:20 scale.

Whatever the purpose of your model, having the ability to understand scales will allow you to work out practical, achievable alternatives for your particular project. Many students will already have a clear understanding of scales and people who have can skip the following bit, but if you can be a little unclear about them it is probably worth reading.

Scales are actually very simple. The scale of architectural models can be a ratio - to put it differently, the relative sized the model on the real thing. For example, 1:1 scale (we'd say it as "one to one") would be a life size model. Whereas, 1:10 scale ("one to ten" or "one tenth scale") will be one tenth of actual size. Likewise, 1:100 would be one hundredth of actual size, and the like. The larger the scale indicator number, the smaller the model, this means less detail can look.

Another useful strategy to think about scales is to work out how many millimetres represent one metre in the particular scale you're looking at. We do this by dividing 1000 through the scale indicator number. By way of example, for 1:200 scale, divide 1000 by 200 and you also get the answer 5. Which notifys you that one metre in real life will be represented by 5mm about the model. So if the region 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. As of this scale the architectural model will probably be one thousandth of the actual size. To exercise how many millimetres will represent a metre we redo the sum we did above, 1000 divided with the scale indicator number (in this instance also 1000). The answer is obviously 1, meaning that one metre on site will likely 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.

Architectural model making methods and materials

To the purposes of this general guide I will not go into a lot of specific detail on architectural model making techniques and materials as this is a very broad area and will be covered in a separate article. Here are some basic rules to follow along with though.

Be realistic about what you can achieve together with the time, materials and facilities open to you. Don't try and make the model show everything of your design or you just won't finish it. Frequently it is students with higher model making skills that will not finish their architectural model, since their enthusiasm has got the better of them and they have tried to show an excessive amount of. Or, the model does get finished however it has taken up so much of their time and energy that other important aspects of their presentation need to be rushed or aren't getting done at all.

It really is tricky to get the balance right however it is better to be a little less ambitious with all 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 best to keep things monochrome (white, by way of example, can look quite "architectural" and chic) unless you're very at ease with colour or it's really a vital part of what your model is intending to show.

Always present your model on the good, solid base having a clean edge finish - this acts almost like a picture frame and increases the general appearance of the model.

As far as materials are involved, unless you have comfortable access to a workshop plus a reasonable level of experience with machinery, it would be far better to work with card or foam-board or similar, easy-to-cut materials such as Balsa or Lime wood. Quite simply, anything that you can cut with sometimes a sharp blade or junior hack saw and stick as well as conventional shop bought glues.

So when you are cutting, if at all possible, try to use a square, especially if you are cutting out floor plates or elevations. Keeping everything square is essential if you want to achieve a neat, crisp finish for the building. It is also worth getting a metal ruler as you will find a plastic or wooden ruler can get damaged very quickly.

If you are cutting with a craft knife or even a scalpel, it's easier to use several light passes as opposed to trying to cut all the way through with one go. You will definately get a cleaner cut and you're less likely to slip and reduce your finger.

Sourcing materials can be tough, but your best bet is always to investigate your local Art & Craft shop and look also if there is a hobbyist model shop in your neighborhood. These shops will often have a good range of materials but get what you need early. It can be surprising how quickly several students all working on a similar design brief can empty the shelves of all the so-called best materials. 3D animation


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Posted Nov 14, 2015 at 12:32am