How to Make a Scale Model City

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Model cars are a good feature to include in your scale model city.
Model cars are a good feature to include in your scale model city. (Image: model car. hobby, collection image by Ana Vasileva from Fotolia.com)

People are fascinated by cities, enough to create their own with video games like SimCity. Still, some hobbyists prefer the brick-and-mortar approach, building a three-dimensional model city from the ground up, and perhaps running a model train through it. Careful planning helps you to create a realistic and well-laid-out city of your own design, or perhaps a miniature Chicago or New York. You can build the skyscrapers yourself, then populate your city with scale-model people from a hobby store.

Things You'll Need

  • Adhesive
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Plywood
  • Paint
  • Styrofoam
  • Wood blocks
  • Model cars
  • Model people
  • Model trees

Building a City

Sketch your city, and plan its layout carefully. Consider factors like downtowns, uptowns, shopping areas, transportation, and open spaces such as parks. Will your city be small or a metropolis? Will you have public transportation or lots of roads? How many parks and squares do you want? You can also use a drawing or design program to do this on your computer.

Determine the scale. Once you have your plan, figure out how much space you will need to build your city. No matter how big of a city your model will represent, you can scale it to whatever size you want (provided you have the space). If you want to rebuild all of New York City, you will probably have to significantly scale it down to fit in your living room. A scale of 1 inch to 50 feet could make your buildings more than a foot tall. If you are building a city for your model railroad, the scale will be determined by the size of your train, and the scale of your buildings. Once you determine your scale, the more accurate and consistent you are in your scaling, the more realistic your city will be.

Create a base. Plywood makes a good base to work from. Find or cut a piece so it is the appropriate size. This is also the time to make the basic topography. For example, you can use Styrofoam to build up anywhere the ground is not supposed to be flat and paint rivers that you want to runt through the city.

Construct the buildings. Check online for ideas for the kinds of buildings you want to make. Check your scale to see what's feasible. Lay out newspaper where you are working and measure out pieces of styrofoam, cardboard or both for cutting. If using cardboard, you can either cut one piece and fold it or, for more complex buildings, cut several pieces for each wall and glue them together. Draw the windows and doors at this point before putting it on the base. Once you have a building together, glue it to the base and allow the glue to dry, then add antennas and other identifying details to the model.

Add details, like people, cars, lights, trees, animals, bridges and other objects. To keep it realistic, keep the scale consistent. For example, if you are using model people that are 2 inches tall, a car that is 3 inches tall will not be the same scale.

Tips & Warnings

  • Most hobby shops will be well equipped with parts for you model city such as small people, cars and such, as well as building materials. Visit a hobby shop for ideas before you start planning your city.
  • Paint a backdrop if you wish, to include the horizon, or buildings and landscape in the distance.

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