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Architecture Model Making: A Lost Art?

Architectural Model Photo by Marsumilae

As an architecture graduate, I have vivid memories of working late nights on my architecture models. The process of making a physical model helped me tremendously as a designer. Seeing my designs come to life in physical form, even if they were just school projects, was incredibly rewarding. I have many fond memories of college days spent in the studio working on models (and the occasional exacto knife mishap!). However, as we progress further into the digital age, I wonder if architecture model making will become a lost art with the advent of 3D animations and architectural VR.

Professional Model Makers Conference 2023 

Recently, I attended the Association of Professional Model Makers (APMM) Conference in Dayton, Ohio on March 3-4. The APMM is an organization dedicated to advancing the field of model making. I attended the conference out of curiosity since I work in the business of providing support for architecture and design firms. The conference was a four-day event that included workshops and tours of model making shops. One  tour was held at the model shop of architectural giant NBBJ in their Columbus office. NBBJ provided the group with a behind-the-scenes look at their model shops and insights into the leading-edge technology and techniques.

Aya Shlachter and MGS Global Group Exhibit Table

I also attended the panel discussion on “Hiring Model Makers” led by Aaron Williams of Perkins and Will. Finding and retaining talent is difficult in the architecture profession, and it’s even more challenging for architectural model makers. According to Aaron, finding an experienced model maker is like “finding a needle in a haystack.” One must be very creative in bringing talent in and use a lot of grass roots initiatives. He mentioned that most of his model makers are through referrals and High School Co-op programs that he has built through his 20 plus years as a model-maker.

Building New Relationships 

As a first-time attendee, I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the people at the event. Everyone was kind and genuine. We kicked off the event on Friday night with a “Meet and Greet” at a local brewery, Carillon Brewing Company. The energy during the “Meet and Greet” felt like a huge family reunion. Since this organization is very niche and tight-knit, most attendees have known each other for years. This was the first in-person event held since Covid, so the energy was electric. I had the opportunity to meet several architectural model makers, engineers, and even a shoe model maker for Adidas! It was an intimate event with over 150 attendees.

Carillon Brewing Company

This organization provides a variety of resources and networking opportunities for professionals in the field, making it an essential resource for anyone interested in architectural model making. By joining this organization, model makers can stay up-to-date with the latest trends and technologies while also connecting with other professionals in the field.

US Firms with Architecture Model Making Shops 

In the United States, there are a wide variety of firms involved in architectural model making, ranging from small boutique shops to larger companies with a global reach. This diversity of firms highlights the variety of approaches to the field.

Among the most well-known firms in the industry are SOM, Perkins and Will, NBBJ, Gensler, and HOK. These firms have established reputations for producing high-quality models that accurately reflect the design intent of their projects. Many firms have also incorporated the latest technologies into their model making processes, such as 3D printing and laser cutting, allowing for even greater precision and detail in their models.

Benefits of Architecture Model Making 

Architecture model making is an ageless art form with numerous benefits that go beyond what computer-generated images can offer:

  • Model making provides a tangible way to visualize designs.
  • Models are a great way to test out different design ideas and make adjustments as needed, ensuring a better final product.
  • Models can be used as a tool for design development.
  • Models allow us to understand a finished space in ways that two-dimensional drawings cannot.
The process of actually making something with one’s hands leaves room for inspiration. Quoting from Nick Dunn’s book “Architectural Modelmaking,” architecture model “enable the designer to investigate, revise and further refine ideas in increasing detail until such a point that the project’s design is sufficiently consolidated to be constructed.”

Architectural Model Making vs. 3D Renderings 

Each firm has its own unique approach to model making, reflecting its individual design philosophies and creative processes. Some firms specialize in creating highly detailed models that are almost indistinguishable from the final product, while others focus on creating simplified models that highlight the overall concept of the design. Despite these differences, all of these firms share a passion for bringing architectural designs to life through the art of model making.

While architectural model making is often compared to 3D rendering and animation, it is important to note that these are different tools with different strengths. While 3D rendering and animation are great for creating realistic visualizations, architectural model making offers a more hands-on approach that can be especially helpful in the early stages of a project. By incorporating both 3D rendering and architectural model making, architects can provide a comprehensive and detailed understanding of their projects.

Choose What Works Best For Your Client 

With the advent of new technologies in 3D animation and architectural model making, there is no wrong or right way of doing things. Architects and engineers have a variety of design tools to help them explore their creativity and bring their ideas to life. Therefore, it is important to choose what works best for your client and what has been successful for your firm.

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G. Todd Yeomans
11 months ago

Aya, we happened to make a model this week in order to present our design concept to the client because we thought they wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate the form using computer renderings. We recently bought a laser cutter, but are still learning how to use it, so we went old school and whipped out a basswood model by hand in a couple of days. It was really fun and brought us right back to our good old studio days. In the end, the clients loved the concept and told us the physical model really helped understand the design. We promised them that we would make them a nicer version of the final design using the laser cutter to put on their shelf and share with friends.

Aya
Aya
10 months ago

Hi Todd,
That’s fascinating that you built a model. Would love to see it! It really is fun and brings a different client experience toward the design process. BTW- I met a bunch of freelance model makers in the conference is you are looking. Happy to introduce you. Best- Aya