Design and Assembly

A reference guide for managing the design and fabrication of an Architectural model.


The first step in planning and designing an architectural model is to establish a clear understanding of the purpose of your model. While your design process is unique to you, it may be helpful to categorize reasons for modelling to establish some guidelines. Here are some examples.

Sketch Model

A sketch model is typically used to describe a conceptual or formal idea. It often made quickly and roughly as part of a working process. These models are most commonly made by hand from a single, inexpensive material such as cardboard or foam.

Process Model

A process model is more refined and dimensionally specific than a sketch model. This model is used as a tool in the design process to consider specific design decisions rather than broader concepts or forms. A process model might be of an entire project, or a single detail. Commonly these will be made from simple, workable materials, such as boxboard or balsa.

Presentation Model

As it sounds, a presentation model is a final finished model which aims to articulate your design to an audience. This model might be a scale model of a building, a 1:1 model of a detail, or a sculptural model which conveys concept or process. These models require large amounts of work and are typically crafted from high quality materials with permanence in mind.


Once you have decided on the purpose and scope of your model you can begin to plan. Planning your model is the process of making macro decisions about feasibility and desired outcome. Whether you are thinking of making a single model or a series, it's advisable to make a rough plan of basic material ideas, scale/dimensions, and intention.

Here are the key things that you may like to consider in planning you model. Decisions you make here may affect the design and accuracy of the outcome.

  • Time

  • Cost

  • Scale/scope


Time is probably the most important consideration when planning anything. Given that you may be working to deadlines, have a good understanding of the processes and materials you want to use in your model and how those relate to the time constraints. A simple schedule will help.


Making models can be incredibly cheap or incredibly expensive. A sketch model should be as cost effective as possible, while a presentation model will most likely require cost to achieve the level of finish desired. Setting a budget can help you to design your models by opting for materials or processes which fit. Alternatively, having a budget may invite you to look at re-using or recycling materials, or perhaps using experimental materials; you could make a massing model by baking bread in the desired form, or you might use only offcuts from the recycling. These constraints can add new levels of interest to your work.

Scale & Scope

Scale refers to the size of your model. If time and cost are an issue, making a large model may not be ideal. If there is a scale that you desire to show a particular level of detail, consider making sections of the model which highlight this detail and others that are as basic as possible. Hierarchy is a powerful principle.

Scope refers to the comprehensiveness of your overall modelling project. If you want to show process or iteration, you may want to plan a series of similar models. Additionally you may want to show high levels of design detail with 1:1 models. When planning the scope of your models, remember to be concise and thoughtful about what is important. Plan to focus the attention of your audience just like you might with a drawing.


When designing models, there are a number of things to be taken into account.

  • Materials

  • Methods

  • Detail

  • Display

  • Longevity


Consider how your model is being displayed and what your intentions are around its display. A three-dimensional model is not restricted to being shown on a table. You might like to build a special plinth for a detailed model, or frame a section model and hang it on the wall.


How robust does the model need to be? Is it operable, will it be touched? Is it delicate? Should it be protected in some way? Do you need a custom container to keep it safe?

Scaled Model Making

Scaled model making refers to the process of rationalising a 3D model in digital space and transforming it into the physical realm. By doing so, the limitations of scale, geometry and material will affect the realisation of a project. Ideally, when planning a model for the real world simplifying a digital model for digital fabrication is essential to achieve accurate and realistic parameters for a desired physical 3D model.

While choosing the best fabrication method is secondary yet equally important, material selection determines which method and what finish can be achieved.

Other resources

The following links provide useful background knowledge into some of the things that need to be considered when designing a high quality architectural model.

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