3d Models - options?

Hi everyone,

Firstly, let me say I am not an architect - however I'm looking for a little advice regarding what you guys do for creating physical models of your projects. 

Obviously, I've seen the amazing handmade visions of skyscrapers and multimillion-dollar apartment blocks, but I'm interested in what's currently possible for smaller projects where there isn't budget to create a glossy handmade models?

If, for example, you were designing a million dollar house for a client would you create a physical model for the client? What does something like this cost? Which materials would be used and how long does it take to create?

Many in thanks advance for those who are able to advise.

Kind Regards,

Scott Mansell.

Feb 13, 13 9:55 am

There are a few ways to make physical models. I am not a professional model maker, but I've made a lot of models in school and out of school. 

Generally, the cost of materials and quality of the models depends on the level of detail you want. If you are doing a study model in which you just want to throw a few ideas at the client- make it out of cardboard or chipboard. It should cost you only a few dollars. If you are doing a final presentation and want the model(s) to look really nice you can:

1) 3D print the model (very expensive- usually starting at $10/cubic inch of material)

2) Hand make the model with laser cut components. You need a laser cutter. Assuming you have one available for free, the cost is exactly the same as making the model by hand. The trick is to have the entire building laid out in autoCAD and have the components you want laser cut put on the laser cutting template. You can laser cut wood, plexi, and other materials. 

3) Hand make the model. Buy the materials, cut them into their size and shape, and assemble everything by hand. This is a lot more time consuming. If you aren't experienced, it can be messy and involves the risk of cutting yourself. My advice: Don't use a lot of glue and don't rush. Hand models need time to dry. Be clean and precise about your cuts. If your materials have tags or bar codes, remove them. 

Some of the basic model making materials are as follows

a. Wood: Basswood, Cherry, Maple (etc)

b. MDF- Multi-Density Fiberboard

b. Plexi Glass

c. Various metal components from art store

d. Acetate

e. Foamboard

f. Foamcore 

Depending on how realistic you want your model, you can either etch details into the materials by hand or by laser cutter. If you want to incorporate color, buy spray-paint. I usually like my models to be very plain and represent the massing of the building and maybe just a little detail to add to the sense of scale. As you know, detail can be increased, but for a price... Usually models and renderings complement each other. Therefore, you can have a  very plain model and very real renderings to effectively communicate a concept.

Feb 13, 13 10:25 am

If, for example, you were designing a million dollar house for a client would you create a physical model for the client?

No.  1990 came and went and it's not coming back.  Sorry about that.

What does something like this cost?

if you engaged me for this project today, i would probably start at $12,000.  of course we would need to clarify the scope.

Which materials would be used and how long does it take to create?

my $12,000 price would probably lean towards bass wood, but that's flexible depending on the scope clarification discussion mentioned above.  i would start with a month for timing, but again that depends on the scope.  a 6" cube could be done in a couple days, but some big fancy model with a bunch of roof slopes and chimneys would take much longer.

the model could be 12' across or 12" across.  I would expect that sort of thing to have a fairly significant effect on both the time and cost of materials.

Feb 13, 13 11:09 am


Physical models are very valuable design and presentation tools. We still regularly use them, and are in the process of adopting 3D printing & CNC cutting technology to allow rapid prototyping during the design process. As great as virtual design models are, there's really no substitute for being able to lay your hands on the thing.

For presentation models, we usually have outside contractors build them for us. There are several Chinese companies that do so fast and cheap with reasonable build quality. You can also find local model builders in the US who can build a model for you quite economically, but you'll need to search for them. Most of them are working out of basements or garages. Arch students will sometimes make them for you on the cheap too. The professional model shops in the US tend to be very good, but also very expensive.

For study models, just build the things yourself. It's not hard. Start with scissors, corrugated cardboard, and cello tape. You can get old boxes from any big box retail store and just cut them up. Graduate to X-acto blades and glue when you're feeling a bit more confident.

Feb 13, 13 12:40 pm

Every practice is different. Some offices like to get the client’s feedback to see what they’re getting into by making physical models, digital models, or simple hand sketches. There’s all types of mediums. Some included a separate fee into the contract that allows the architect to include a physical model of the final product or a series of processes along the design development. While digital medium is a common practice, some give the owner a combined master model of all the consultants work into a cd or such and have them poke around at every milestone of the project for no cost, as its stated in the contract. 

if you let the owner know in advance to what they might expect, then they might not really want a model to begin with. 

Feb 13, 13 3:50 pm

hi scott - typically the shiny expensive models for larger projects are for marketing purposes and presentation to the public and/or investors.  you don't usually see this for smaller projects because the client isn't interested in spending extra money for something that's really just for themselves.  Some offices still do physical study models (and I agree, it is useful), but 3D is usually good enough for smaller projects.

Feb 14, 13 2:53 pm

im in complete agreement with toasterover..

we sometimes make high end models for the developers marketing needs. these massive models can run up to half a million.

our other models are purely for massing studies. 

if this is a small project, id go renderings, site plans and the materials catalogs interior designers put together. 

Feb 15, 13 2:21 pm

3D printing may be the future. Cost of materials seems to be an issue now at $20 to $80 per kg. This cost may come down when home and community size extruders are made to recycle old plastics and mistakes. Hammermills can be bought on Ebay to grind pastics small enough for extruders.

Feb 18, 13 11:22 am

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