Architectural Model Building Tips


Architectural models are required professionally for representing buildings and building sites prior to creation. As a way to demonstrate design details and visual impact on the environment, a model draws the viewer in, showing from every angle precisely what the builder has in mind. Providing the proper impact with a model can make the difference in getting across your idea, so keep a few useful tips in mind when performing your model construction.

Building to Scale

  • For visualization, scale is extremely important. Choose a scale for your building that shows off the design details without overwhelming the viewer by being too large. For residential models a 1:50 scale of 1/4 inch representing 1 foot is commonly used. If your model includes landscaping features you can drop the scale further in order to keep the model's base size manageable. For commercial buildings, smaller scales are used for the same reasons, to keep the base the model sits on small, and to allow viewers to take in major architectural features while still being able to see the building as a whole. Commercial models should be kept smaller than 1:100 scale or 1/8 inch to the foot.
    When modeling interiors, a scale of 1:25 which is 1/2 inch to 1 foot, is common. The larger scale is useful for when you need to show specific patterns and textures in interior design. Another common scale you can choose to model interiors in is 1 inch to 1 foot, which is the scale commonly used by miniaturists and dollhouse manufacturers. This scale is particularly useful for the number of interior items available for use in your model, including building materials, windows and doors, carpets, wallpaper, furniture and lighting fixtures.


  • You can use many different modeling materials in building an architectural model. The materials used are not as important as the way in which they are used. A model put together well with inexpensive materials based on a good design is better than any model using expensive materials but designed poorly, so spend what you feel comfortable with on materials you're confident in working with.
    For ease of use when modeling, both amateurs and professionals use high-impact polystyrene. You can typically find this plastic material in sheets of solid white from hobby shops. The material is easy to cut and color, and binds well using solvent cement.
    For creating the base for your model, the material used in household insulation can be easily shaped into any needed form with a hot wire cutter. You can also use this open cell spray foam material for creating block buildings where little detail is required, for example, when demonstrating a large industrial site or cityscape.

Visual Aids

  • To aid in the visual appreciation of your model, include extraneous objects such as cars or people. Additional objects can help to provide scale comparison for your model as well as to show entrance and exit areas, traffic and activity areas. For example, if your model includes a playground, playing children can bring attention to the feature; shopping centers can include figures of shoppers, and parking areas adjacent to a building can include cars to show comparative size.
    Include landscaping for your models. Even if you're modeling a single-family residence, a minimal amount of landscaping can help the viewer relate to the model as a representation of an actual object. Foliage, sidewalks, parking lots, anything that makes your model look a part of the surrounding landscape can help connect viewers to what you're representing.


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