An architectural model is a type of a scale model, tangible (also called sometimes physical) representation of a structure built to study aspects of an architectural design or to communicate design ideas to clients, committees, and the general public. Architectural models are a tool which may be used for show, presentation, fundraising, obtaining permits, and sale purposes.
Rough study models can be made quickly using cardboard, wooden blocks, polystyrene, foam, foam boards and other materials. Such models are an efficient tool for three-dimensional understanding of a design, used by architects, interior designers and exhibit designers. For a highly detailed presentation model, architects would employ a professional model maker or model making company.
Architectural models are used by architects for a range of purposes -
Some types of model include -
Over the last few decades, detailed construction has been increasingly designed in CAD (Computer Aided Design) systems. The technology is improving rapidly. Early virtual modelling involved the fixing of arbitrary lines and points in virtual space, mainly to produce technical drawings. Modern packages include advanced features such as databases of components, automated engineering calculations, visual fly-throughs, dynamic reflections, and accurate textures and colours.
Common materials used for centuries in architectural model building were card stock, balsa wood, basswood and other woods. Modern professional architectural model builders are taking advantage of twenty-first century materials, such as Taskboard, a variety of plastics, wooden and wooden-plastic composites, foams and urethane compounds.
A number of companies produce ready-made pieces for structural components (e.g. girders, beams), siding, furniture, figures (people), vehicles, trees, bushes and other features which are found in the models. Features such as vehicles, people figurines, trees, street lights and other are called "scenery elements" and serve not only to beautify the model, but also to help the observer to obtain a correct feel of scale and proportions represented by the model. Increasingly, rapid prototyping and solid freeform fabrication ('3D printing') are used to automatically construct models straight from CAD plans.
The challenge with using these tools lies in the CAD file format. The majority of 3D printers accept the stereolithography (.STL for short) file format, which is basically a mesh that wraps around the object in 3-dimensions. It helps to visualize this as a bag of oranges wrapped in a mesh bag. If there is a "tear" in the bag, the oranges will spill out. This is similar to what happens when an STL file is not cleanly produced and prematurely sent to a 3D printer. Clean STL files are a major challenge for architecture models produced using this technology.
Other rapid prototyping technology, also CAD based, which become very useful for architectural model making is CNC carving. Large CNC carving plotters are able to carve out of high density foam boards up to 10' x 4' topography for architectural or urban model.
Architectural models are being constructed at much smaller scale than their 1:1 counterpart. Standard architectural scales are different, although some of them are close to the standard scales acknowledged in the model/hobby industry. Such similarities allow us to provide high quality scenery elements for architectural models. Sometimes model railroad scales such as 1:160 and 1:87 are used due to ready availability of commercial figures, vehicles and trees in those scales, and models of large buildings are most often built in approximately that range of scales due to size considerations. Models representing 1-2 buildings and a modest piece of surrounding landscape may be built at a larger scale such as 1:50 or even 1:24. Here is a useful *Scale Guide to obtain more information about standard architectural scales and to help with scale selection.