Architectural Model Making Techniques and Tutorial (a step-by-step model build)

Architectural Model Making Techniques and Tutorial (a step-by-step model build)

In this tutorial, I demonstrate architectural model making techniques by building a simple study model from start to finish. I’ll walk you through each step along the way offering tips, tricks and the reasoning behind the techniques and methodology I use to build models.
We’ll follow the template outlined in parts 1 through 4 of the series, beginning with:
1 – Defining the model’s purpose. The model I build in the video is a study model and as such it isn’t perfect. It’s meant to be used as a design tool.
2 – We move to choosing a scale for the model. I found that 3/16″=1′-0″ had the right balance for our purposes; both detailed a sketchy.
3 – Next, we constructed a simple base for the architectural model to rest on. We used limestone tile for ours, but you should watch part 4 of the model making series for other ideas.
4 – From there we choose materials: chipboard (1/16″ + 1/32″) and basswood scraps will be used to build the model walls, structure, roof and details. Inexpensive materials ensure you’ll treat the model as a design tool and not be afraid to modify the composition.
5 – Next, it’s on to fabrication. Here I list tips about cutting, blade management, gluing and ways to keep your model clean.
6 – We end by discussing the details I’ve added including fine layers of chipboard, carpet samples to simulate turf, coir matting to represent landscape elements, tracks, gutters and bracing.

For more on the tools, equipment, and materials I use to construct models please see:

// GEAR I USE //

* Canon 70D:

* Canon 24mm f2.8 Lens:
* Canon 40mm f2.8 Lens:

* Rode VideoMic Pro (hotshoe mtd.):
* ATR-2100 USB (dynamic mic):

* Prismacolor Markers:
* Timelapse Camera:
* AutoCAD LT:
* SketchUp PRO:
* HP T120 Plotter:
* Adobe CC Photography (Photoshop/Lightroom) Plan:

* Architect + Entrepreneur Startup Toolkit:

Please watch: “Making a Site Model – The Outpost Project”


Hi, Eric here with Thirty by Forty Design
Workshop, in part five of our model making series I’m going to demonstrate the techniques
and methods you can use to build your own architectural models. And, to do that we’re going to build this
small study model as an example. I’ll walk you through each step along the
way from start to finish. So, let’s get into it. Now, you’ll recall from part one, every
model begins with a defined purpose. Ours will be a study model, used to test exterior
shell design ideas, a variety of elevation compositions, material options, roof forms
and the interior-exterior spatial relationships. Architects use study models as design tools;
they act as sort of three-dimensional sketches, they’re meant to be altered and to be used
for experimentation. So, this one isn’t pristine and perfect,
you’ll see that not everything lines up or is completely glue-free, and that’s okay. I think of study models as frameworks I can
use for experimentation. Now, the next step is to choose a scale. You’ll need to know the rough size of the
building before choosing one. Studying a two-hundred thousand square foot
building at one-quarter inch scale would be difficult, but a two thousand square foot
building is much more manageable. Use the rough footprint of your building along
with the level of detail you’re hoping to render to choose a scale. This is highly dependent on your program,
but for my residential work, study models range between one-sixteenth of an inch scale
and go up to about one-eighth of an inch scale. While more detailed models begin at one-quarter
inch scale and go up from there. The larger the scale, the finer the level
of detail you’re going to be able to study, but equally the more exacting you’ll have
to be in rendering materials and details. Usually when you’re just starting a design
you don’t know enough about the building to build a quarter-inch scale model and it’s
also very resource intensive. The footprint for our case study barn project
is roughly eighteen feet by forty feet and I chose three-sixteenth inch scale. This means – in real terms – that the structure
will be about three and a half by seven and a half inches. Enough to highlight some of the siding and
fenestration details yet not so big that I have to figure out more things than I’m
ready to at this early stage. Here I’m using two stone tile samples. I’ve added felt pads to the underside making
them table friendly and also providing a little shadowed reveal. Stone tile samples can be sourced many places
online. On this base, I’ve added another small slab
of limestone tile which I’ve cut to match the building footprint. It’s not important that you use tile or
any other precious material or even that you mimic this one, but your building should rest
on some sort of foundation. Every building has a relationship to the ground
plane. This one sits on a plinth or a raised base,
yours might be excavated into it or raised above it. Now, I’ve chosen inexpensive, easily sourced
materials for this model; a combination of basswood scraps I had lying around and two
thicknesses of chipboard: one-sixteenth inch and one-thirty-second of an inch. If you make your study models out of less
expensive materials you’ll have an easier time using it as the design tool it’s meant
to be. Once we’ve gathered our materials and the
tools we discussed in part three of this video series, it’s time to begin fabrication. If you’re a pro with a utility knife, feel
free to skip a little bit ahead, otherwise, here’s a few cutting tips. Number one, change blades often. Dull blades tire your hands and they damage
materials. Using dull blades is a shortcut to looking
like a novice. And, although a dull blade won’t properly
cut your building materials, it will easily cut you. Number two, use multiple passes. For everything but very thin sheets, use your
first pass to score the cut, the second to dig deeper and successive passes to finish. Material thickness will make a big difference
in the number of cuts you’ll need to make. Number three, use light pressure. Strong downward pressure can lead to slips
and cut fingers. And number four, rotate the knife down as
you exit the cut. This gives a cleaner finish at the end. Lastly, you want to use a metal ruler; plastic
ones are easily cut by sharp blades. Now there’s a number of different cut types. There’s the through-cut, which is the most
straightforward one assuming you use multiple passes. When cutting openings in a wall like a door
or window, start at an inside corner with the tip of your blade to begin the cut stopping
just short of the next corner. Turn your material and do the same for each
inside corner. For a four-sided opening this will mean eight
inside corner cuts in total; two per corner. This technique minimizes overcuts at the corners. Number two, scoring. Scoring is a partial cut through the material. This is done to mimic material joints, or
to create hinge points, say for a wall bend or a roof plane. Good model makers use this cut almost as often
as the through-cut to save time. Why cut two separate planes and glue them
together when you can cut one with a score and simply hinge the joint? Specialty cuts. Materials like acrylic, metal, wood and others
have special cutting equipment. Be familiar with the cutting methods best
suited to each material. Having once tried to cut metal wire on a band
saw with a wood blade I can say it was an experience I won’t ever forget. For this model, the only specialty cuts I
made were to the wood elements; I used a small razor saw to achieve clean, perpendicular
cuts. Lastly, a laser cut. Using a laser cutter is a time-saving means
to producing complicated cuts. But, I find it takes some of the experimentation
out of model making for me personally. But, in the right hands it can be a fantastic
tool and it cuts acrylic like nothing else. The barn study model doesn’t have a set
of drawings I’m working from. I’m designing and changing things as I build. If you’re building a presentation model,
which is basically a direct representation of your design, you’ll likely have drawings
as a starting point. If you do have scaled drawings, a common workflow
is to begin by spray-mounting the drawings to a baseplate like chipboard. Then, you’ll cut the floor plate or plates
out and then either scribe the walls onto the base or simply use the plan as a template
for laying out and gluing your walls and additional floor plates in place. If you leave the plan in place consider how
it will impact the finished look of the model. I prefer the look of scribing and removing
the printed sheet and constructing the walls on top of that, to leaving it in place; it’s
a more professional look. Because I’m designing with a purpose but
not a floor plan, I have a basic layout I’m working with and general starting dimensions,
but I’m presuming the model building exercise is going to change those assumptions and present
new opportunities. This is the true value of a study model, it’s
a place to experiment with your ideas and I find this happens best when I don’t work
from a set of predesigned plans. Either method can work though and you should
probably try both. With either, you’ll need to plan ahead. Model building is as much about planning as
it is about constructing. Knowing where stairs will be or how you’re
going to fasten the walls together will inform how you cut them and what material thicknesses
you’ll need to account for. Will the corners butt, bypass or miter? Your plan should include exactly what you’re
planning to model: spaces, forms or a combination. Now, I prefer to model the reality of space
and so my models are usually comprised of planes rather than solids. Scale will determine this too, it would be
impossible and really unhelpful to model the spaces in a small scale urban massing plan
for example. Using planes to represent spaces naturally
lends detail and expression to the model. It’s these things – for me – that spark
new ideas and suggest new relationships I hadn’t considered before. To plan this build I know I want the freedom
to modify a few key things. First, the exterior massing and roofline of
the building. Second, the exterior facades and materials,
and lastly, the interior structure. This means, upon my base I’m going to first
build the bones or structural core. This will be the framework I can then layer
the exterior facades and begin experimenting with the building form. Breaking a building apart into systems is
a natural way for architects to think and design and it will make your model building
easier. Examples of systems are: walls, doors, window,
structure, foundation, roof, landscape and of course there’s many others. Each of the study model systems will be removable
in this model so I can tweak as I go along. It’s not necessary that you separate the
building this way and in fact for small scale study models at an early stage, the fewer
the systems the better, but they may incite ideas you hadn’t considered before. We’ll start by building the interior timber
frame, beginning with the posts, then layering on the girts and the floor framing, then the
floor and finally the roof. You want to think about the real physics involved,
there are various ways to detail a timber frame – bents, bearing ridge, purlins, etcetera. So, this isn’t a hyper-realistic rendition,
but it has to be sensible from a physics standpoint or it will just look wrong. Building a model forces you to confront physical
reality in a way that computer modeling doesn’t. You’ll see how spindly a column is or how
a shear wall works quite explicitly when you build this way. Templates are the best way to duplicate results
in modeling. To cut our columns to the same length I set
up a template – or a jig – by cutting a notch in one corner of a piece of basswood. I measured the column length and taped the
jig in place on my cutting mat so I could slide my column stock into place and quickly
cut along the cut registration line. This saves a lot of time. I created one for the rafter layout too and
the siding strips using a similar technique. Next, I’ll lay out the walls. Now, this can be done by drawing on the chipboard
or basswood the design idea and cutting out the wall plane. If you have drawings, spray-mount and cut
them out. Consider lining up the drawings in a way that
will allow you to score the corners as discussed earlier to save time. Just make sure to account for the material
thickness as you wind your way around the building. This helps to ensure that last corner lines
up just as you expected. If you have multiple floor plates these can
help brace the wall planes as you stack them up. To reinforce corners cut the angle you want
to maintain out of chipboard and glue in place, consider whether they’ll be visible or not,
or whether you care. For a more detailed explanation of glue types,
be sure to watch part three. Here I’m using: white PVA glue for the fine
vertical details and thin chipboard, hot glue for the thicker chipboard and structure, and
double-sided tape for laminating wood elements. Hot glue is fine for study models, but it’s
not the best for more finished presentation-quality ones. I like it because it dries almost instantly
and I can easily remove it without a lot of material damage. When you use hot glue, apply it to the smaller
of the two pieces you’re working with; a column end for example. This ensures you’re applying the right amount
to the piece and not overdoing it. With hot glue, you’ll get lots of strings
falling all over your model. Clean these off by moving the hot tip through
and around the model when you’re finished to sever the threads. Clean up any blobs before moving on too. When using PVA glue on materials like basswood,
the water in the glue will often cause it to warp. Fix this by reinforcing it on the opposite
side. It’s important to keep a clean work surface
and clean hands when you’re building a model. Depending on your speed and glue type plan
to wash your hands at least once every thirty minutes. It doesn’t sound like it, but this will
actually save you time later and make for a better-quality product. The less gunk and grit you have around on
your desk, the less your hands will pick up. A clean desk means you’ll waste fewer materials
and you won’t spend time looking for things. I use aluminum trays to organize things and
spread Kraft paper on the table so I can label designated areas for material assemblies like
beams and columns. I also have a small desk brush from Muji that
I picked up for a few dollars that helps keep things tidy. The exterior walls can have as much or as
little detail as you choose. One of the stated goals for this model was
to render the materials, some of this I’ll do with paint, some with alternative material
choices like metal or laser-cut paper and some I’ll do by layering on thin chipboard. To make these walls I took a base wall plane,
added a few verticals to simulate strapping and glued on my siding planks to represent
an open rain-screen cladding. Adding detail and shadow even in a small-scale
model can really improve the realism and subtly suggest effects you can’t realistically
duplicate. Now, all modeling requires some suspension
of reality. It’s good to get close, but not really important
that a barn door track – for example – be represented as two-and-three-quarter inches
tall as it would really be. I’ll add a thin horizontal strip of chipboard
painted silver to represent this in the model. Now, if I were to make it the actual two-and-three-quarter
inches wide it wouldn’t even be worth modeling, but I want to suggest it and use it as a visual
tool. The vertical strapping is another example,
I didn’t space it two feet on center as you normally would, but rather ten feet on
center. But, it still renders the effect we’re going
for. This shorthand saves construction time. You can do this everywhere on your model. Use details to show design intent rather than
to necessarily accurately represent reality. Smaller scales allow more artistic interpretation
while larger scales will require you pantograph reality more closely. For the roof, I used the scoring technique
to create the pitch break at the ridge and the corner technique discussed earlier to
maintain the roof pitch. The roof is easy to make removable and I’ll
be experimenting with different options along the way. This also shows off some of the interior so
plan accordingly. For me, the details are what animates a model. Be sure to watch the first video in our series
for more on the value of narrative in model making. The details I’ve added here are: the elongated
and oversized roof gutter which describes an attitude toward water collection and addresses
site conditions. It also suggested a design idea to capture
water and use it for reflecting light to the interior of the barn. Next, bracing on the hinged barn doors. The doors would be heavy and require bracing
to keep the outer edge from sagging. Indications of real-world materials. Check out the ridge on the roof. All metal roofs have a cap to anchor and flash
the pans. A simple scored covering does this and it
also adds shadow. I’ve also added pencil marks to simulate
material sizes and joint patterns. There’s scale figures. Here I simply painted a few model train figures
black and added them to the model. Trees. These are SuperTrees and I like them because
they aren’t so abstract as to be confused for something else like a wood dowel for example. The level of detail for any landscape elements
should align with the level of detail used elsewhere in the model. Other landscape indications. Carpet samples, especially low pile ones like
this one from FLOR – work well for simulating turf. Now, if you’ve learned something here, please
hit the thumbs up down below and the subscribe button. You can help me by sharing it around which
allows me to grow the channel and tells me I’m making the kinds of videos you want
to watch. Cheers.

24 thoughts on “Architectural Model Making Techniques and Tutorial (a step-by-step model build)

  1. I have a FaceBook page with about 200,000 members. It is about Interior Design and Architecture. I just share your video because I think you do a great job with your videos. I hope i brings you more subscribers. Keep up the great work.

  2. Eric – LOVE your demo! How would you show a brick facade, one in which the brick are placed in & out at varying depths to create a tactile experience?

  3. I am an Italian architect and I often see your videos, you are very good.
    I like your approach to architecture. where do you live?
    Regards to arch. Paolo Milizia

  4. 30X40 Design Workshop I wish I would have had you as a professor for Interior Design school, maybe then I wouldn’t have left school. I’m now 59 yo and regretting my decision.

  5. Was very good basic presentation on modeling , thank you. I am retired and planning on building architectural models as a hobby…maybe more .

  6. G,day mate
    A suggestion for fast square cutting tool is a flatbed you can get from a craft shop similar idea as a tile cutter great ideas like the plinth made from a tile for a base give the idea of interior exterior floor surfaces inside to out side

  7. I'm a retired architect. Where were you when I was in architecture school? I sure could have used your videos then. I love watching them now, and you have inspired me to get back into design even if it's just for fun. Have you considered doing Udemy courses? It could be another way of monetizing your talent. You know your stuff and you're a pro at presenting it.

  8. Thank you for your advices! God knows how many young architects want to be like myself this has been of good use! 👍🏾😍

  9. I created my own model after I got out of college (BS in Comp. Sc.), … as I designed a partially underground home, and I thought it would be a great idea to visually see what I was designing. After I made my initial model, I made drastic changes over the following years to the model only, and skipped changing any drawings.

    To me, it was a fun "hobby", as I was somewhat "obsessed" with it at times. I took architectural drafting classes in high school, and was thinking of going to Ball State University for their Architectural program, … but as an 18-year old, when I found out that their program was a 7-year program, I decided against it, as I figured I wanted to get out into the workplace sooner than that.

    Looking back, I wish I would have pursued it, because it certainly was/is my passion. Although I don't know I would have paid for it, as I received an athletic scholarship to another college, where I received my IT degree.

    Plus, I'm more of a "creative" guy, that is more into the design, rather than all of the details, engineering, etc. I had a friend who went to Ball State, and went on to work for a firm in South Bend, IN, … and he told me he was tasked with drawing up specs, and detailed drawings for such, … and that doesn't interest me much, even though I know it is a necessary process. So I'd just get someone else to do that!, … ha.

  10. My professor asked us to make a massing volume. I really dont get it coz he hasnt explained about it. Do he have to place the windows???

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