Architects Do It With Models

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I’ve never been much of a model maker, it could be that the very first model I did went horribly wrong and wanted to avoid that again. During a group assignment I nominated myself NOT to help with the model making and have even turned up to reviews with no models (despite it being a requirement). Needless to say models and myself haven’t had a strong relationship but I feel as though it’s on the mend and things are looking up for us.

Thankfully there is no evidence of my first model attempt, but I’ll try and explain the disaster. It was for my first project at TAFE, a bathroom design. I decided to build it out of foam core, and right from the start it never went my way. The cuts weren’t straight, nor neat and I think doing it freehand with my dad’s Stanley knife (which was probably blunt) was a small part of the problem. I lacked the ability to model somewhat complex shapes such as a toilet and bath, and the gluing wasn’t exactly neat and clean. Probably the most face-palm part of the model was the Vegemite on the walls, as I didn’t wash my hands after eating.

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Fast forward to my undergraduate studies and there were only two times I made a model, with one was in a group project building a design at 1:5 scale. We are talking proper pieces of timber, metal plates, screws and nails. That was for my first studio in architecture school, the other model came about in my second studio. It was another group project and a couple team members were building the proper model and I decided to build a 1:10 model of a bedroom pod, all laser cut. However it didn’t turn out very good due to some human error in not taking account of physical material thickness versus scaled material thickness. That mistake resulted in gaps at the corners and areas being extra tight. For the rest of undergrad I didn’t build a model, and even for the first studio in masters.

Why am I talking about models now? Before the mid-semester break (which ends tonight, sad face) I had a desk crit with my tutor about my current design. It involves a second skin “shrink wrapped” around my main volumes and at the time I couldn’t show her the idea as I hadn’t figure out how to do it on the computer. She then asked a simple question, “Why don’t you build a model and wrap it?” That is what I spent much of today doing, building a 1:1000 scale model, and shrink wrapping it in various ways to physically see how certain areas react. It was then when I really noticed the power of a physical model.

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After making the model I really noticed how easy it would be to communicate my ideas and intentions. I could simply point to areas, move my hand around to show movement patterns and you get a sense of the volume in 360deg. On a computer there is zooming, scrolling and orbiting, and even then you don’t get the whole picture. As a communication device, this little 1:1000 model is quite helpful.

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When I went to test wrapping, it was literally that, I bought a small shrink wrap tool from Officeworks and wrapped it. I could test degrees of stretch, how it would work in certain areas and areas where I need more consideration. The wrapping wasn’t 100% accurate and was difficult in some areas but if I tried to do the same on the computer it could have taken hours. However by testing it in a physical realm prior, I can anticipate what will happen on the computer and what I can do (even before the computer) to improve it. The only downfall was the time it took to build the base model, but I’m sure over thing it would get quicker.

I’ve wrote about the computer model versus what happens on a job site, and how on a computer it’s easy to set-out a job but in real life there is a bit more thinking. The same was with this model (and when I go to build my urban massing models) as it wasn’t 100% parallel. There were some angles and I had to figure out how I would translate it from the computer to a piece of cut cardboard, which was a nice challenge. Had I laser cut the pieces I would have avoided the issue but I think there’s something about hand-making the model. At the moment I don’t possess the true craftsmanship of it, my cuts are crude, I somehow cut on an angle and my glue work can be sloppy but that’s because I don’t practice it enough. Model making, I believe, is a skill that can be learned. Yes I could send a model to the 3D printer or a DWG to the laser cutter, but being able to stand back and say ‘I built that with my hands’ is something worth pursuing. It’s the closest I can get to feeling like a builder at times.

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It’s taken me 6 years but I am now understanding the benefits of a physical model, and the feeling of accomplishment after building it. Trash my model for being of low-quality, it does deserve it, but the way I look at it is I’m a beginner and it’s only going to improve. And the only way I will improve is if I keep making models, and that’s what I will do. I still need to building 4-6 models for final review (which should have been done for mid-sem crits but this happened), so over the next few weekends I’ll take a few hours out of them to build some models by hand. Some of these models will be complex and will use a great deal of brain power but I’m determined to work it out. I will also look at doing a couple extra models for my presentations, including my little shrink wrap test one.

I now want to the end the post with a question, for your final review model do you get it laser cut or make it by hand? Leave your answer in the comments

1 comments on “Architects Do It With Models”

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