Why Architects Make Models

A Short Blog Post on Modelmaking…

Following on from the blog post on rebuilding my bike; it brought me to thinking about the model building process as an architect.

The design process is an interesting one, primarily cyclical in nature; from taking the brief, proposing sketch designs, analysing the design, reevaluating the brief, tweaking the design further – a cycle of design, analysis, tweaking and fine-tuning. So therefore,here are the benefits and methods of using a model in the design process:

1. The model is a key part of the design process

The model making process is an aid to the architect in understanding the design, to actually see the project fully in three dimensions. Even when the entire project is modeled on the computer in three dimensions (which is how I work where all my projects are modeled using VectorWorks); nothing replaces the feeling of being able to actually pick up a reduced size version of the actual project. (VectorWorks 3D model shown below):


2. The models should be a ‘work in progress’

Now, my models ain’t pretty, they are designed to aid the design process, bits are glued down, taken up, scalpelled, rearranged – they are not designed to be ‘finished’, model makers models. But equally, these finished models don’t give the same input to the design process as shown below:


First sketch design/model with perpendicular wing, even at single storey this reduces the courtyard size and light penetration to windows opposite.


Revised design with ‘canted’ wing creating a larger courtyard and better light penetration.

As you can see above, I can even use sunlight to simulate how shadows are cast across the site in a similar way to the sun studies I undertake in my CAD software.

3. They help explain the design to the client

Drawings are brilliant, even 3 dimensional perspectives help, but a real model that the client can hold, imagine themselves walking through and visualising how they would live in each space is irreplaceable.

It gives the client a real stake in the project, they (probably for the first time) can really see how the house will function on the site, with their lives and the way the client would like to live.

4. It’s a tangible, solid device that gives the client a vision in seeing their project through.

In today’s economic meltdown in Ireland, with the current difficulty in obtaining money from the banks; the model gives the client something solid to hold during the darkest days of trying to get planning permission and subsequently trying to get money out of the bank. During this process I give the clients the model (I generally ask for return once the project is on site as a. They will have the full size version and b. I add the model to my ‘Architects Model Town’ collection (below):


I don’t always make a model as sometimes a project has a low design input but generally with any new house or extension,I’ll use the above guidelines to push the design process forwards and help the client visualise the concept of the design. It should be remembered that the model is only a means to an end for a good design and you still need the skills of an architect to understand your needs and requirements and then to translate these into a design that satisfies these, the planners requirements and the sites features, ahem

Comments as always welcome…

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