Architectural Model Making Advice For college students

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Permit me to explain first of all that we're writing this from the perspective of someone who has had knowledge of having to make architectural 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 just as one important part of the design process. Through my three years on the course and subsequent several years in the model making profession I've come across, or made myself, most of the common mistakes people make when setting out to produce an architectural model. Hopefully I will help you avoid these errors and save you a lot of wasted effort and time.

Planning your architectural model

Creation most important step for any architectural model making project is defined a clear goal to the model. In other words, what's the model for, precisely what is its purpose, what does it need to communicate? Few people have the budget and resources to produce a model that shows everything with regards to their project. It is more realistic to choose an aspect of your design how the model can show well.

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

Another approach is usually to let your drawings show the overall overview of your project and use an architectural model as an example one of the detailed aspects. By way of example you could make a part-model of the particularly interesting portion of the building; an entrance feature perhaps or a decorative elevation. Or you will make a sectional model that slices over the building to show the inner spatial organization.

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

What scale when the architectural model be?

Once you've 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 region you need to model and exactly how much detail you want to show. If you need to show a major area, perhaps for any site context model, you would have to choose a smaller scale, say 1:500 or even 1:1000. This really is to avoid the model becoming too big to be practical. But at these smaller scales you have to be aware that is not really simple to show much in the way of detail.

If the purpose of the model is usually to show just the building itself you could think about 1:200 as well as 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 or even 1:20 scale.

No matter what purpose of your model, being able to understand scales enables you to work out practical, achievable options for your particular project. Most students will already have an obvious understanding of scales and those that have can skip this next bit, but if you certainly are a little unclear about them it is probably worth reading.

Scales are in fact very simple. The scale of architectural models can be 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") could be one tenth of actual size. Likewise, 1:100 can be one hundredth of actual size, and so forth. The larger the scale indicator number, smaller the model, this means less detail can be shown.

Another useful method to think about scales is always to work out how many millimetres represent one metre with the particular scale you're looking at. We do this by dividing 1000 through the scale indicator number. As an example, for 1:200 scale, divide 1000 by 200 and you also get the answer 5. Which informs you that one metre in real life will probably be represented by 5mm for the model. So if the location 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 need to use a much smaller scale, say, 1:1000. Only at that scale the architectural model will likely 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 from the scale indicator number (in this instance also 1000). The solution is obviously 1, which means 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 like a 1:1000 scale model.

Architectural model making methods and materials

To the purposes of this general guide I can't 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. Here are some basic rules to adhere to though.

Be realistic in what you can achieve with the time, materials and facilities accessible to you. Don't try and make the model show all the info of your design or perhaps you just won't finish it. Frequently it is students with good model making skills that will not finish their architectural model, simply because their enthusiasm gets the better of them with tried to show excessive. Or, the model does get finished nonetheless it has taken up most of their time and energy that other important aspects of their presentation need to be rushed or do not get done at all.

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

The application of colour is another area where models can go wrong. Sometimes it's advisable to keep things monochrome (white, as an example, can look quite "architectural" and classy) unless you're very at ease with colour or it is a vital part of what your model is attempting to show.

Always present your model on a good, solid base using a clean edge finish - this acts just like a picture frame and enhances the general appearance of one's model.

As far as materials have concerns, unless you have easy access to a workshop as well as a reasonable level of knowledge of machinery, it would be best to work with card or foam-board or similar, easy-to-cut materials including Balsa or Lime wood. To put it differently, anything that you can cut with whether sharp blade or junior hack saw and stick as well as conventional shop bought glues.

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

If you are cutting with a craft knife or a scalpel, it's safer to use several light passes as opposed to trying to cut right through with one go. You're going to get a cleaner cut and you are less likely to slip and cut your finger.

Sourcing materials can be challenging, but your best bet is always to investigate your local Art & Craft shop and view also if there is a hobbyist model shop in the area. These shops in most cases have a good range of materials but don't realize what you need early. It's surprising how quickly a small grouping of students all working on a similar design brief can empty the shelves of all the so-called best materials. Architectural Presentation


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