A Comprehensive Guide To Modelling (In Architecture)


It’s that time again… four weeks into the major project, and out comes the card, glue, and craft knife, not to mention the wallet.

Modelling is a very important tool, especially in architecture. Models can help immensely to portray design ideas from a different perspective. This is key to expressing complex designs, especially when 2D representations don’t get across the essence of a design appropriately. Make sure a portion of time is left to model each developed proposition for a design, not only to ensure a decent outcome for a review, but to also convey a high level of clarity in your portfolio. Don’t forget that you’re not always going to have the chance to explain your ideas verbally to the person who is going to later mark your portfolio – you need your final sheets to spark this conversation with the marker. You need the sheets to clearly explain your proposal, and portray the work in as many proficient ways as possible. What helps to express your work in a different perspective? What might tip you over the grade boundary? Pictures of good, well thought out models.

Now, there are many ways you, or your group, can go about making an effective model, and hopefully this guide will help by saving you a lot of time and a decent amount of moolah.


Context (Type of model)

First, the type of model. Although a very basic point, it has to be made. What’s the context? What does the model need to show?

Do you want to show the way in which a building interacts with the landscape/site? If so, you’ll want to be looking at building a model which represents the site at a larger scale, including contour heights and adjacent buildings (if any are present). Depending on the site, this can vary from circa scale 1:200 all the way up to 1:5000 (and possibly even larger).

Or, do you want to show the internal arrangements of the building interact with one another in detail? If so, then you’ll want to focus on crafting solely on the building at a much lower scale, with paying attention to detail. Keep in mind that you do not have to model the entire building if you only wish to show a particular function – you can focus on the function being a model in its own right. Depending on the size of the building, and the arrangements you wish to show, you are most likely going to be looking somewhere between scale 1:5 and 1:100 (depending on context).

You are not limited to choosing between these two possibilities. Depending on what the purpose of the model is; it could take aspects from both detailed modelling, and site modelling, and combine them to create a hybrid model. Although a picture paints a thousand words; a picture of a well-made model might not express every aspect of your design. If you are pondering crafting another model, – stop pondering. Get to crafting.



Now, with a type of model in mind, you need a process in order to create. (Please note that this guide notes methods which are readily available at MOST universities – your place of education may vary).

By Hand

The first, most time consuming, but most creative method: modelling by hand. Modelling by hand is not always the quickest or most effective method to creating a model, but allows for creative changes during the creating process, and can help the architect gather a better understanding of the voids, junctions, and movement paths throughout a building. For a look at materials, jump to the next section.

Laser Cutting

The second, quickest and moderately creative method: laser cutting. Depending on the accessibility of a laser cutter, laser cutting can be the quickest and most stress-free form of modelling, with the cost being incredibly low for the efficiency. However, pieces cut on a laser cutter still need to be glued together, and might need sanding, which are not very time consuming tasks, but involve time nonetheless. Also, during busy teaching blocks, laser cutters can become very busy and therefore difficult to book in order to cut out model pieces. The main drawback with laser cutting is that the user has to know how to use the software which is compatible with the laser cutting machine. This can sometimes be an issue due to the fact that there are many different types of laser cutters, and therefore many different programs. Two examples being Ethos, and Techsoft 2D Design V2.

3D Milling

The third, easiest and least hands-on method: 3D milling. 3D milling is not often used for model making, and is rarely used outside the context of site modelling. Again, as with laser cutting, a program has to be learnt in order to use the machine and understand 3D milling effectively; with the main program being 3DS Max. On the other hand, the only work required is the file for the 3D mill – no glue or sanding is required. The main drawback to 3D milling is the cost, with an A2 sheet usually costing between £60 and £80. However, the standard of the model is very high and incredibly accurate, and the cost for the model might be considered worthwhile if split between group members, if all of whom require the same model.



Materials are an important part of model making, and can (literally AND figuratively) make-or-break a model.

By Hand

When you decide to create a model by hand, you need to think about three main points: aesthetics, cost, and survivability.

It’s all well having a model that looks great, but if it’s going to fall apart before the review, you might not be the happiest bunny. You need a model that’s going to look good, and one that’s going to last. (As with above, please note that this list notes materials readily available at most institutions – your place of education may vary. Each material is kept concise for clarity and takes into account variances [GSM, manufacturer, etc.]).


Card is one of the most readily available materials, and one of the most used, for a simple reason – it does the job, and it’s cost-effective. Personal recommendations of mine include:

Kraft board (Easy to cut. Inexpensive. Lacks aesthetics due to being a dull brown colour.)

Greyboard (Stronger than Kraft board but a lot harder to cut. Inexpensive. Lacks aesthetics due to being a dull grey colour.)

Mountboard (Easy to cut. More expensive than Kraft board and Greyboard, but still relatively inexpensive. Has a choice of colour to be shown – with one site being white and the other being black. Has decent aesthetics due to this function.)

Corrugated Sandwich (Generic cardboard. Easy to cut. Very Inexpensive. Lacks decent strength and aesthetics.)

Honeycomb board (Amazing strength. Needs to be machine cut to be effectively shaped. Bloody expensive. Very thick and sturdy with decent aesthetics.)

I would recommend Kraft board or Corrugated Sandwich for simple concept modelling, due to the lesser need for aesthetics, and the low cost. However, for a final model, I would recommend something with higher aesthetics such as Mountboard for very fiddly details, and Honeycomb board if you want to go full out with an indestructible (Nokia-style) volumetric model.


You’re going to need something to stick the pieces together.

Uhu (Cost-effective. Weak tube that often leaks. Strong adhesive once set. Difficult to control the amount used – often comes out erratically. Very difficult to clean up mistakes.)

Uhu Plus for Styrofoam (More expensive than normal Uhu. Generally has stronger, more resilient tubes that rarely leak. Sets a lot quicker than normal Uhu. Although labelled as ‘for Styrofoam’, Uhu Plus works on almost any material better than normal Uhu.)

Pritstick (Useful for sticking paper to other materials. Little other use in architectural modelling. Cost-efficient.)

Superglue (Very strong adhesive. Risk factor – materials glued together with superglue cannot be separated. Quite expensive.)

Epoxy 2 part resin (Decent when required – high performance. Used very rarely for architectural modelling – has relatively poisonous fumes and is generally used for plastics. Relatively expensive for the amount and possible usage.)

My personal recommendation for an adhesive would be Uhu Plus for Styrofoam due to the need for a medium strength, fast setting adhesive. Although superglue is stronger, if a mistake is made, the pieces cannot be taken apart. Flexibility is important and often occurs during modelling buildings due to changes of heart mid-construction.


Anything that hasn’t already been noted, which I feel needs a mention.

Foamboard (Relatively inexpensive. Has decent thickness. Very useful for layering contours. Shows slight mistakes and can be awkward to cut.)

Balsa Timber (Mid-priced. Low strength but very lightweight. Very useful for beams/bridges/pillars.)

Fake Trees/Grass/Felt (Do not use these in architectural models. Although they might look pretty or possibly realistic, they take away from the structure and portray the building in a very literal way.)

Laser Cutting/3D Milling

Most materials can be laser cut, however NEVER use reflective materials as this will reflect the laser and is a major safety hazard. Common materials include plywood and matt plastic/acrylic.

3D Milling materials will be sorted through the person operating the machine – completely subjective to institution/machine. Very rare to have a decent variety of materials.



Although models are very useful and can portray ideas in a lot of different ways, highlight certain aspects, and overall increase your chance for a higher grade when it comes to it, make sure you save yourself a headache and think carefully about what you want to gain through modelling before you start the making process. This will save you a lot of time, a lot of stress, and will leave you with a bigger bank account.

I hope this guide will be helpful to you! All the best. – Walluh


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